Darkest Night Liturgy

Also called “Blue Christmas” and “Longest Night,” I’ve been seeing Darkest Night services more and more frequently over the past few Christmases.  I have no idea if that’s because there are actually more of them nowadays, or if it’s like that new song you notice on the radio that you realized has actually been playing everywhere.  Either way, I love them.

What is a Darkest Night service, I hear you ask?  Darkest Night services are held on or close to the longest night of the year (get it?!)–December 21, and provide an opportunity for lament and healing during a time of the year that, let’s face it, is just hard for some of us.  Here’s the blurb that I’m using for this year’s service–adapted from a form letter from St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in North Greenbush, NY:

Christmas can be a painful time for some.  It may be the first Christmas after a big life change: a lost job, a broken relationship, a wearying illness, a recent death—or perhaps it is simply a time that has always been difficult.

The constant refrain on the TV and radio focuses on the happiness of the season and getting together with family and friends, but it reminds some people of what they have lost or never had.   We long for the space and time to acknowledge our sadness and concern, and to know that we are not alone.

For these reasons, our church will offer a special “Darkest Night” service on Saturday, December 14th at 5pm.

You are invited to come join with us in sharing and hearing scripture, prayers, and music acknowledging that God’s presence is for those who mourn, and that God’s Word comes to shine light into our darkness.  Everyone, regardless of church background (or lack of it) is welcome.

I encountered my first Blue Christmas service a few months after a breakup with the first person I really fell in love with.  I was in the awkward stage where I was still deeply grieving, but had exhausted the patience of my listeners and the absorbency of their shoulders.  Blue Christmas was a chance to weep, to know that I wasn’t alone in mourning loss, and to intentionally open the door to healing.  (To open the door, I said. I may or may not have burst into tears over Christmas dinner and had to retire to my room for a while.  Healing is a process, not a moment, my friends.)

This year, I’m serving a church community that includes many who have lost significant others, and many more with losses I don’t even know about.  So I made my own Darkest Night service, quilting it together out of several liturgies I got through friends and Google searches.  And now I’m posting it for you.  You can use it, adapt it, whatever–please properly acknowledge everyone who helped put it together, though.  Here, I’ll make it easy for you:

  • Confession and Prayer of the Day: “Mourning into Dancing” service.  Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Wilmington DE.  (Kathy Ierien.)
  • Format and scripture suggestions for the Words of Heartbreak and the Words of Healing:   “A Service for the Longest Night.”  First United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach, SC.  (Jonathan Tompkins)
  • Litany of Remembrance:  “Darkest Night” service.  Christus Victor Lutheran Church, Naples, FL.  (Victoria Larson)
  • The Lorica of St. Patrick is a slimmed-down version of this.
  • (I cut the words of the Laying on of Hands and Anointing, because I don’t have permission to share, but I used a healing service from Sundays and Seasons.)

Further resources: this website, which has uploaded several versions of this liturgy as well.  I also have to thank Craig Ross of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Lancaster, PA, and Kimberly Cottingham, then of St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in North Greenbush, NY for inspiring ideas.

“Darkest Night”
A Service of Remembrance and Healing

 WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS

–WE GATHER–

INVOCATION AND CONFESSION
P:  In the name of the Father, + and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
C:  Amen.

P:  We praise you, O God, for you are the Father of mercies and the Mother of all consolation. You comfort and care for us.
C:  We confess the way we feel now. Our hearts feel heavy within us; we are weighed down with the loss of loved ones, the loss of opportunities, the shifting of hopes and dreams. As many people eagerly wait for Jesus’ birth, it’s hard for us to lift up our hearts. As many plan to celebrate and sing with joy, we often find the days seem gray and our tongues cannot rejoice. Help us. Embrace us. Heal us. You, who know the grief of the world, meet each of us in our aching hearts. Please hold us close until the days dawn a bit brighter and we find we can walk in delight once more. 

P:  God knows the emptiness we sometimes feel. God knows the feelings of abandonment, anger, loneliness, and relief we sometimes feel, too. God knows us from the depths of our hearts, and God sits with each one of us as we learn to be whole people once more. Be assured of God’s love and compassion.
C:  Amen.

GATHERING HYMN: “Wait for the Lord” (Taize)

PRAYER OF THE DAY
P:  The Lord be with you.
C:  And also with you.
P:  Let us pray.
C:  God of light and life, in the midst of a busy season when so many around us are making plans for the birthday of Jesus, we come listening for your voice and hoping for your comforting grace. Draw near us as we draw near to you. We pray in Jesus’ name: Amen.

–WE HEAR WORDS OF HEARTBREAK—

VERSE OF PREPARATION
O Come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel.

SCRIPTURE

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find not rest…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast… (Psalm 22:1-2,14)

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick…For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?  O, that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!  (Jeremiah 8:18,21-9:1)

As (Jesus) came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.  They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God. (Luke 19:41-44)

Possible alternative to the Luke reading:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.  (John 11:32-35)

RESPONSE: Litany of Remembrance

L: We light this candle to remember those who are captive to darkness. (The first candle is lit.) For those lost in the night of addiction, depression, anxiety, or unexpected grief, we pray to God, who guided the Israelites through the darkness with a pillar of fire:
C: Disperse the gloomy clouds of night.

L: We light this candle to remember those who have died, and those who mourn the dead. (The second candle is lit.) The shadow of death can seem impenetrably dark during these long nights. We pray to God, whose first act in creation was to call light from darkness:
C: Death’s dark shadow put to flight.

L:  We light this candle to remember those who are alone. (The third candle is lit.) We remember those who isolated from loved ones; far from home; wandering down the wrong path; or convinced that God is unconcerned with their suffering. We pray to God, who is like the woman who lit a lantern to search all night for one lost coin:
C:  Refresh the hearts that long for you.

L: We light this candle to remember those who are battling illness.  (The fourth candle is lit.) We lift up those who suffer the pain, indignity, and bewilderment that accompany a broken body.  For all who desire to be returned to wholeness, we pray to God, who lit the night sky with a star to guide three magi to the healing Christ:
C: Restore the broken: make us new.

L: We light this candle to remember those who feel that hardship will overwhelm them. (The fifth candle is lit.) For the poor, the persecuted, the hungry, and the homeless, we pray to God, who walked with three men through the consuming flames of a fiery furnace:
C: In strength and beauty come and stay.

L: We light this candle to remember those affected by war. (The sixth candle is lit.) For soldiers; for civilians in war-torn nations; for families who mourn the loss of loved ones to violent conflict. We pray to God, with eyes of blazing fire, who promises a vision of peace:
C: Teach us your will and guide our way.

–WE HEAR WORDS OF HOPE–

VERSE OF PREPARATION

The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes.
The King shall come when morning dawns and light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: “Come quickly, King of kings.”

Options for verses of preparation (Heartbreak/Hope):

A) “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (v.1) / “Comfort, comfort now my people.” (v.1)
B) “O Come O Come Emmanuel” (v.1) / “The King Shall Come” (v. 1 and 5.)
C)  “Lost in the Night” (v.1) / “Come Thou-Long Expected Jesus”(v. 1)

SCRIPTURE:

In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’  For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.  In the world you face persecution.  But take courage; I have conquered the world!  (John 16:33)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  (Revelation 21:1-5)

RESPONSE:  Laying On of Hands and Anointing

HYMN DURING ANOINTING:  “Come and Fill Our Hearts” (Taize)

–WE ARE SENT–

LORICA OF ST. PATRICK

L:  I arise today
C:  Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator.

L:  I arise today
C:  Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s host to secure me.

L:  I arise today
C:  Through the strength of Christ with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment of doom.

L:  Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
C:  Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
P:  Christ on my right, Christ on my left
C:  Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
P:  Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
C:  Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
P:  Christ in every eye that sees me,
C:  Christ in every ear that hears me.

P: Salvation is of the Lord
C: Salvation is of the Lord
P:  Salvation is of Christ
C:  May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Benediction

L: May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord’s face shine on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord look upon you with favor and + give you peace.

SENDING HYMN:  “Silent Night”

DISMISSAL:
L:  Go forth in the name of the promised Christ.
C:  Thanks be to God.

All may depart in silence.

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4 Replies to “Darkest Night Liturgy”

  1. Thank you, Victoria. Many families and individuals do indeed find this time of year difficult. This is the first time I’ve seen such a service but it might be something I would want to use in future.

  2. Two weeks ago I attended a Taize service at the Episcopal church on Bonita Beach Rd. with a friend at our park (while Jerry played Sunday night Pinochle). It’s very powerful but I found the one at an ELCA mission festival even more powerful with marigolds and a myriad of candles and a speaker about atrocities in Rawanda. We were all invited to join a circle on the stage and meditate there for awhile. Thanks, Victoria, for all you do for us.

  3. Upon searching for Blue Christmas worship ideas I stumbled upon your blog. Thank you for your post and ideas on this much needed liturgy. I helped a pastor friend of mine with his first Blue Christmas service last year, 2015. He rewarded me by making me the musical director for the service this year (even though I serve as Director of Music at another nearby Lutheran congregation)! One of my favorite songs to use for this service is “Night of Silence” (Worship & Praise #101) which makes an excellent quodlibet with “Silent Night”. May you find God’s peace and light as you serve others in this upcoming Advent Season. Blessings!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Mark! The repository of Blue Christmas liturgical material is only getting richer, and I think that’s pretty tremendous. Blessings on your ministries!

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