Acts 1:15-17, 21-end, John 17:6-19
In the name of the living God, Heavenly Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit.
We tune into the disciples this morning in the between times – Jesus has ascended back to the Father, and they are awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on the day of Pentecost. They have gathered together and devoted themselves to prayer, and this is the basis of setting aside the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost as a special time of prayer – the modern ‘Thy Kingdom come’ initiative, which we may have heard of mirrors this approach.
The disciples and Jesus followers took time out to pray with the final words of Jesus ringing in their ears – where he said as he ascended. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They gathered to pray and through the next 10 days – they prayed frequently.
I can’t speak for all of us but I am not sure my first instinct is always as spot on as this…. None of our more worldly responses to a lull in the action, will get us as far as praying does. Those worldly responses might well include:-
Have a good panic!
Letting anxiety get the better of us
Or wallowing in some guilt about something we have not done (or not done as well as we wanted)
Another favourite in a lull is ‘ostrich behaviour’ putting our heads in the sand and trying to ignore the present reality (or elephant in the room!)
Praying and praying frequently needs to be high up on the agenda of our hearts and lives…. The life of discipleship is about developing first rather than last instinct prayerfulness! The example of the disciples, the women and Jesus family is definitely an example of first instinct prayerfulness. It said in our reading the crowd gathered for prayer was around 120! Something exciting is coming – what shall we do – their answer and ours should be PRAY and rest in God’s presence.
So, the first and repeated thing the disciples did after the ascension of Jesus was pray. No doubt first instinct prayerfulness is the way to go for us too! There are lots of things to pray about at the moment. In a way I hope we are on the cusp of more exciting times as well, which in the same way as it did for the disciples, makes the prayer all the more important.
We need to pray for wisdom in all those leading our country for the changes ahead and how organisations will implement them wisely.
We need to pray for the team who develop the Government guidelines for places of worship to fit how the Church works.
We need to pray for all people all impacted by recent times in different ways – from those who are ready to go and get on with it – to those who for good reason have hardly left their houses for 16 months
We also need to pray for our world particularly for the covax scheme and for an equitable distribution of vaccines, and for those countries at the moment experiencing peaks, huge difficulties and death rates. As a world living so closely inter-related with one another, we need a global solution moving forward.
We also need to pray for this town that we serve, and our fellowship how we respond and build up our worshipping life together.
During the pandemic days I have been working primarily with small working groups in both churches, individuals to whom we owe a huge debt. We have worked with the PCCs as best as we have been able to and we have been unable to use the volunteers for various things we would usually do for a selection of good reasons. As we open out, I very much hope we will be able to share the load more widely once again. Naturally, as we approach our annual meetings – this is also a time for some responsibilities to shift and new members of the teams to emerge. Please pray we find a way through this with a full team in place
The Church is designed to be a team effort not the endeavours of a few. Stopping sharing the load more widely – is very much against the grain for me, and is what church should be about. This was forced upon us by the circumstances we found ourselves in. It is absolutely not my usual starting point, which is much more biblical. We remember that in the 1st Letter of Corinthians – St Paul uses the parts of the body to describe this. So that the church as a whole is the body of Christ – with each member representing a different part we need. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.
Paul goes on to address that he needs everyone from the weakest to the strongest and that all have something important and unique to contribute. That was true then and just as it is so very true now.
Returning to Peter and the apostles in Acts into this period of praying, they had a meeting and Peter addressed all the gathered believers about filling the gap in the team left by Judas. There is no question in his mind that the gap needed to be filled and this represents an understanding of our approach needing to fill the gaps in our team moving forward. Pray please for our annual meetings in the days ahead –which is fulfilling this same purpose.
Moving on to our gospel reading – this is amongst the last words Jesus said to his disciples at the last supper. Judas has already left the room and he is trying to prepare them for the days ahead. I have little doubt the original hearers would have not completely understood what Jesus was getting at in the moment, but subsequently remembered his words and been empowered by them.
Jesus is praying in this reading and in a way in this prayer, Jesus summarizes the message of the whole Gospel: Which is that what Jesus has received from his Father, he has given to his friends (ie us). And as Jesus entrusts the disciples and therefore us to the Father’s care, he reminds them and us that he has sent us all into the world, as the Father sent him. Effectively all of this has a purpose that as Jesus friends we should share his message whenever, wherever or however we can.
One verse within it really struck me and it is Jesus saying and praying the words – 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I was very concerned when we began to worship again last summer. How this was going to be with all the restrictions and having to do so many thing so differently and omit things I didn’t want to omit! Also knowing that some could come and some could not or should not. Therefore also not being able to give the welcome and fellowship readily we have hitherto taken for granted. Yet God was still in the heart of what we were able to do, and his presence with us has been tangible. It has been different obviously, yet God has been with us in it all – very much so – over and against and through any misgivings I may have had!
As a church we are first and foremost in the loving business – to love God and reach out with that love to others. Moments of joy – which is a fruit of the Spirit have still enriched our walk with God in these days. Joy is a funny and surprising commodity – we can be joyful (and yet still very sad). We can be joyful with the tears streaming or with love and laughter abounding or all of the above. Our final need for prayer today is to pray for the spiritual fruit of joyfulness in ourselves and those around us.
In a way the pandemic has taught us to be more thankful and joyful in the every day. Each small thing we can renew or revive should bring us this Joy. Jesus prayed for his disciples and prayed for us that his joy may be made complete in us. If we are reading this I want us to reflect on the hymn Crown him with many crowns – associated with this time of year in the Church (there is a link to a video version). It reminds us of the wonder and joy of our faith. Through the verses we crown him the lamb upon the throne, the Virgin’s son, the Lord of love, the Lord of peace and the final magnificent verse the lord of years, the potentate of time. I think that gets across the joy we need to concentrate on and cultivate in this next period alongside the need to pull together to serve God as only we can. Amen
A video link to the hymn Crown him with many crowns. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vWRXvWZPUQ
CCLI – Song reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989
Link to Rev Alison Way’s video reflection and rogation litany https://youtu.be/A6Co9S2ht1g
Acts 10:44-end, John 15:9-17
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
The sixth Sunday of Easter is traditionally the trigger to start 3 days of prayer called rogation in the lead up to Ascension day on Thursday. If we have been using the daily prayer resources we have been praying for rogation in the week just passed. The word rogation comes from the latin to ask and was inspired by the collect for this Sunday in the book of common prayer, which includes whatsoever ye shall ask for in my Name – he will give it you. These words of Jesus were also found towards the end of the gospel set for today.
Originally rogation was adapted akin to some Greek and Roman traditions, and included praying for the crops via an annual procession, and the marking of parish boundaries. This was one of the things that was surpressed during the reformation, being restored once again in 1559. The poet and priest George Herbert who was based not too far from here in a rural parish near Salisbury said of this occasion.
Rogationtide should be about asking God’s blessing upon the fields, a sense of justice in keeping the boundaries of the fields, caring for each other, in the model of the village walking together as it beat the bounds, offering a time for reconciliation and friendship, and care for the poor by the distribution of charity.
Let’s take those ideas in turn and dwell a little within their wisdom – It is always important to pray for the land and those who work it – all the different types of crops and livestock. Perhaps we could take a moment and pause here to think about what issues there might be. For example we will have read in the press about issues with the lack of workers to gather essential harvests. This was certainly true for some bulb growers earlier in the year and has the potential to impact our soft fruit harvest. There are also impact on any harvest that is traditionally exported and how that is working (particularly problematic for the harvest of fish, fish farming and seafood). When I spoke to Charles Buckler his first thought was the need for rain, so the grass would grow better to feed his livestock. The very cool dry spring is another concern and maybe we should be evoking the prayer book prayer for rain and warmth to swell the grain!
Other things we should reflect on and pray for are all those who bring the food we eat to our tables in all the aspects of the food supply chain. We have choices we make day by day in how we live lightly on the ground God has given us.
Our gospel reading today has given us one of the many growth and growing analogies that Jesus used. It goes like this:-You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. This is interesting – fruit by in large doesn’t last! It has a moment of peak ripeness and tastiness (and then quite quickly starts to rot!). Fruit only lasts with our intervention, and we have become quite inventive over the years in intervening. In a way in this instance our fruitfulness and that lasting says more about the work of the Holy Spirit in us – which makes that so! The Holy Spirit has always been inventive in intervening!
Interestingly the fruitfulness Jesus is most asking for us is that we love one another, which is another theme that George Herbert takes up with his thoughts about caring for each other in the sense of a small community. What George Herbert said was caring for each other, in the model of the village walking together as it beat the bounds, offering a time for reconciliation and friendship. It is interesting what we have learnt about our friendships in recent times. I don’t know about you but I have been managing in recent weeks to see a few family members and a handful of friends. Mostly those relatively local to here! It has been such a joy to actually see people – rather than talk on the phone or on a screen. Friends have always been important to us – I think we understand that in a refreshed way now! Up to now I have always enjoyed a chinwag over a good cup of coffee! It will be good when we can do that more and more in the days ahead.
Friendship plays a key role in our relationship with Jesus too, Jesus says in our gospel passage- I have called you friends. This is to indicate the kind of relationship we are to have with Jesus based on love, support and companionship. This is not a relationship based on compulsion or having to follow orders. It is about our commitment not Jesus commanding us. It has to be that way so it is a conscious choice on our part. We are not mindless automatons – we are free spirits. There is a selection of responsibilities on us in being Jesus’ friends – which is all about the fruit stuff I was talking about before.
This verse John 15 15 – I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I heard from my father – has travelled with me for a long time – it was preached at my confirmation many moons ago! The preacher was Bishop Michael Marshall, the then Bishop of Woolwich who went on to be one of the evangelists in the decade of evangelism at the turn of the Millennium. It made a deep impression on me at the time, partly because Bishop Michael reminded us that the word we hear as servant (who does his master’s bidding) could also be translated as slave (with no rights at all). What Jesus offers us in friendship is a very, very long way from being his slave. It is about all of us – following the way God has for us – responding to his call. It is a heart, mind and body thing, not just something we are doing because we are ‘owned’ like a slave.
A final part of what George Herbert attributes to rogation is about reconciliation and recognising boundaries. Reconciliation is good for us, and something that should characterise our abiding in God’s love for us as described by Jesus in this gospel. Holding on to bitterness and malice towards others is bad for us – I am not saying seeking reconciliation is always easy but it is the way Jesus would have us walk if we can. (I appreciate there are some circumstances where it is not possible or practical.)
George Herbert’s take on boundaries also struck me. He said a sense of justice in keeping the boundaries of the fields. Though originally this is about recognising what is yours from mine, in crops and livestock terms this is clearly not taking what is not ours. Using the phrase ‘a sense of justice in keeping the boundaries’ can be applied much more widely. A sense of justice means recognising when our society and our world order favours one over and against another, and doing whatever we can to try to break down such injustices. This is a big topic, but again plays into our sense of loving one another and bearing fruit. Ultimately Jesus is asking us to dig deeper (not always easy) and reminds us earlier in this reading of the consequences, where I will finish these reflections.
Jesus said – I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Let us pray
God of all, we give you thanks for the gift of friendship: for the giving and the receiving; for the opportunities and the challenges; for the laughter and the tears; for the conversations and the silence; for the moments and the memories. Draw us deeper into your love and your joy in us and bless us with the confidence to proclaim Jesus as our dearest friend, teacher and Saviour. We ask this in his name. Amen.
References: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Copyright acknowledgement Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020 and from the book of Common Prayer
The prayer is from www.rootsontheweb.com and is copyright © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission.
Acts 8:26-40, John 15:1-8
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
Let’s concentrate on our first reading from Acts – Who was Philip? There are in fact several Philips mentioned in the New Testament, including one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples, but the Philip who stars in our story this morning was one of the early converts in Jerusalem in the first days after Pentecost. It is thought he was originally a Jew who had lived outside of Palestine, but had probably come to Jerusalem to attend one of the religious festivals and stayed on after his conversion to Christ. Therefore, Philip was an “ordinary” person like us. He had not known Jesus in his lifetime. His belief launched him on a course of action that gave special significance to his life.
Philip’s story is an interesting one. Philip soon became one of seven men who had so gained the trust of the Christian community that they were appointed to oversee the distribution of food to Christian widows and orphans. Then when most Christians were forced out of Jerusalem by persecution (all around the time when Stephen – another of the recently appointed overseers was stoned) – The followers of Jesus were widely dispersed and Philip ended up around 40 miles from Jerusalem in the city of Samaria and he told the people there about Christ.
Here is a rather approximate map showing Samaria and Jerusalem So we can understand the distance involved. In Samaria, Philip rapidly inspired people through his teaching and more people became members of the early church. Earlier in Acts 8 it says that the crowds with one accord listened to Philip. He must have been very impressive and a good speaker – for people to be so rapt in attention to him. He did not just speak as he was also doing signs and wonders, and through the power of the Spirit dwelling within him many people were healed of many different conditions. In fact, so much was happening in Samaria that the disciples Peter and John also went to see what was going on and to be part of it. They also helped the people fully receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is into all of that situation, Philip, with the crowds hanging on his every word and lots of signs, wonders and excitement, that we find the angel of the Lord sending him in another direction completely. This is where our reading today starts. In Acts, we don’t get Philip’s reaction and we can wonder about what he felt about it. When we are already in the midst of something that is exciting and rewarding, it might have been tempting to ignore the angel and stay put! Certainly what he was doing and how he was doing it in Samaria was yielding significant fruit for Christ. Sometimes relative success can make turning in a different direction more difficult to take on board. Yet we have no sense of hesitation in Philip. It says plainly He got up and went. Maybe ignoring an angel of the Lord is just not what you do! For certainly, when I have had strong senses that this is something I have to do from God, this has usually been very much the case. When I have ignored such feelings I have always regretted it!
Even with our 21st century understanding, where the angel was pointing Philip too doesn’t sound terribly attractive. Go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) We know this is a disputed area between Israel and Palestine even today. Philip displayed an amazing level of obedience really, just to go as he did. He was not just willing to be both useful where he was now but also to go to an unfamiliar place where he didn’t know what would happen next. A place where it was less than obvious how his talent for inspiring people about Christ was going to be used or where there was going to be lots of people to hear.
Ah yes – we really need inspiring speakers who can draw a crowd in the wilderness!
Ah yes – we really need a gifted healer in the wilderness where nobody lives!
Both of these are clearly a nonsense! What’s more if we just return to the map, we do need to consider the distance Philip was being asked to go too. Samaria is here and Gaza is here – even as the crow flies we are looking at more than 80 miles! Certainly further than that as the tracks go! This was hardly an everyday thing to do. Philip’s confidence in what he was doing is even more admirable in view of the distances involved and his courage!
It is easy to feel daunted and intimidated by our current times and circumstances. With the power of the Holy Spirit we only need to concentrate on each step of the way, rather than have it all mapped out ahead of us. We need to pray for the Spirit to help us be courageous as Philip was. Even when we don’t know what exactly is going to happen next!! Just as an aside I do have a mix of feelings about how to proceed from this point forward. Safety and safely have been our primary concerns in all our journeys up to this point. For our churches, we will be exploring with the PCCs and our working groups how to move forward positively and where the Holy Spirit is leading us – exciting and challenging times ahead. We will need to concentrate on just knowing the next step like Philip did (not the 15 or so after that). For someone like me who loves a good plan – this is hugely frustrating, but I think the only way to do this in line with what God wants of us and to do it courageously too.
Yet to Philip following where the Holy Spirit was leading was the only course of action he considered. He was living within himself following the path the Holy Spirit had for him and as a direct result of his faithfulness and obedience, confidence and courage unpromising as it may seem, he ended up in a place where God could use him to great effect. We need to remember this too in the days ahead! Philip was ideal to help the Ethiopian Eunuch understand about the good news of Jesus Christ. How true it is even today, that God used the open door of Philip’s heart as an opportunity in his life, as God can use the open door of our hearts as opportunities in our lives, in the most unlikely of places, if we are open to his plan for our lives. How can we become more willing to listen and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit however unlikely that guidance may seem, however far the journey takes us?
Later traditions identify the man that Philip helped as the founder of the Christian Church in Ethiopia. So Philip’s obedience and courage had immense consequences for good. With hindsight, knowing the end of the story – we can see all this makes sense but that is hardly how it must have felt lived at the time . As we know too well – we do not live with the benefit of hindsight. All our lives have been engulfed by something that has shaken our foundations! And many things we took for granted! For us as it was for Philip the challenge is what we do in the middle of our daily life, where there is no hindsight to affirm what we feel we should do to follow God. Especially when we feel we are being asked to do something unusual and demanding or something we would rather not in all honesty be doing! And of course, where we need to be courageous! This is the challenge of discipleship and following the spirit’s guidance in our lives.
As the Gospel reading reminded us, we are to abide in God’s love for us and let his words abide in us. Abiding in Christ is the way to ensure that we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and living not at the mercy of our own whims. The picture of the vine in that reading is also one of growing, pruning and fruitfulness:-
Dwelling in God is the way for us to grow to be fruitful.
Dwelling in God is the way where as necessary we are pruned.
Dwelling in God is the way to give us the strength to follow where God leads us no matter how unlikely what God has in mind may seem.
I am ending these thoughts with a prayer for courage: – Holy Spirit, give us courage to move willingly into the unknown. Holy Spirit, give us courage to be willing to proceed with joy. Holy Spirit, give us courage so that our uncertainties do not turn into terror. Holy Spirit, give us courage to overcome the lures that may compromise our faith. Holy Spirit, give us courage to remain steady until we hear your voice, that in all we do and say, your name will forever be praised. Amen
CCLI – Song reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Copyright acknowledgement Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020
The prayer is adapted from www.rootsontheweb.com and is copyright © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission.
Acts 4: 5-12
God chooses the most unlikely. I am reminded of that every time I sit at my computer and try to find out what God has to say to us in this part of the service. We have often told to Tiny Church the story of how Samuel was sent to Jesse while Saul was still king, for the purpose of anointing one of Jesse’s sons to succeed Saul as king. The story is used to illustrate to the children that you don’t have to be handsome or strong to be chosen by God, as God is primarily interested in what is in your heart. David was so very much the unvalued son, that Jesse did not even bother to call him in from the fields where he was minding the sheep to show to the prophet, and he was only fetched later when Samuel had rejected all his other sons. The standing of a shepherd in Judean society was about as low as you could get – and yet the picture of the shepherd as role model of good leadership runs right through the whole Bible and is used for kings and prophets, both good and bad. Even in the days before Jesus, God was demonstrating that mankind has a knack of making the wrong choices of role model.
Returning to our story in Acts, our reading starts in the middle of the story, and if you would like to put the whole story together, it is worth reading Acts 3 and the first few verses of chapter 4 to find out what lead up to this. The prisoners referred to in v7 are Peter and John, who are probably not looking or feeling at their best as they have just spent the night in prison. You will need to read chapter 3 to find out why they were in prison, but it does go to show that you never know what might happen when you set out to do something as apparently harmless as going to church to pray, and pausing on the way in to talk to a man who is begging.
The list of people that they were required to answer to is a daunting one. The office of high priest had been instigated as a hereditary one in direct line to Aaron – brother of Moses, but by this time it was no longer passed on in this way, but was in the control of a few powerful families. You will remember that Annas and Caiaphas also presided over the trial of Jesus – Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas and had been high priest before him, and it was not uncommon for previous high priests to remain in the inner circle as powers behind the throne. And so it was to the highest and probably the most learned men in the land that Peter makes his very spirited defence – surely being aware of just how much danger he is in. The only power that these men did not have was to sentence someone to death, although as we saw with the trial of Jesus, they were in a powerful position to influence the Roman governor. To find out what happened afterwards, you will also need to read on from v13, but it is clear that despite his comparative lack of education, Peter had relied on the promise that Jesus had made for just this type of situation which is recorded in Matthew 10:19 and in Luke 12:11 that when brought before the authorities, he would be given the words to say by the Holy Spirit; and in so doing, he had thrown them into confusion.
The verse that Peter quotes from Psalm 118 returns us to the theme of God choosing the most unlikely. Had you or I been in a position to choose, it is unlikely that we would have decided that the best place for His son to exercise his ministry would be as an artisan builder in a rural backwater, a very insignificant part of the then mighty empire which governed most of the known world. Surely it would have made more sense to us to have Jesus placed near the seat of power, as Moses was in his childhood. And yet we are still here today, and while the name of Jesus is known throughout the world, I doubt if many people could name many of the roman emperors – I know I couldn’t.
Returning to our theme of vocations though, when I preached on this Sunday last year, I gave you the Church of England definition of vocation and challenged you to find yours. It is worth repeating here:
‘Vocation means what you are called by God to be and do.
For some, this is a specific calling to ministry. For others, it could mean serving God through faithful discipleship in everyday life. Everyone has a vocation. Find yours.’
Also on the website under the heading, ‘No Ordinary Ministry’ it goes on to quote from Isaiah:
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!”
It is from that verse in Isaiah that we get our hymn ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’, with its chorus beginning ‘Here I am Lord’. I have to confess that I find that hymn, and the one that starts with the line ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee’ quite difficult to sing with total honesty!
Both our churches in Wincanton and Pen Selwood will be holding their Annual Parish meetings in the next few weeks, and in both churches there are vacancies for people to serve in a number of roles, including PCC members, Deanery Synod representatives and Churchwardens. It is vital that at this time we all spend serious time in prayer to find out if God is asking us to serve Him and his church in a new way – possibly in a way that we would never have considered before. We must also pray for those already serving, and for any who are considering volunteering, that they will be upheld in any decision, and given assurance that they are doing the right thing. We are all encouraged to take an active part in the life of our churches in our New Testament reading for today which is from 1 John 3: verses 16 to the end of the chapter. In v18 John says: ‘let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’ If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be putting together services and preaching to you, I would have laughed at you, but I was delighted to learn recently that thanks to the wonderful support I received from both churches and from Alison, my licence is to be renewed for another 5 years. I would also have not believed what a joy it has been to me to be able to serve in this way, and in this time I am sure I have received much more love than I have given.
Could you be missing out on a similar joy? When Peter and John were eventually released, they returned to their fellow believers, and having told them everything, they all burst into a spontaneous prayer of worship. In John 15:11:Jesus says to the disciples: ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’ Let us all decide now to spend some time in serious prayer to find out whether God has a plan for each of us that will make our joy complete.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Acts 3:12-19, Luke 24:36b-48
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
The way our cycle of readings works is that we dip in and out of the action. That is particularly true of our gospel today. It is Luke’s gospel and as with all the accounts of the resurrection it is slightly different. Just to recap in Luke’s version of these events. The women – this time a whole group of them have been to the tomb. They encountered the stone rolled away and two men in dazzling clothes. These two tell the women Jesus has risen. The women go back and tell the disciples – who think this is an idle tale! Peter goes to look for himself in the tomb and sees it empty. He goes back home feeling amazed at the turn of events.
Meanwhile 2 of the disciples split from the rest to walk to Emmaus. This is a village about 7 miles away. They meet a stranger on the road and the two talk with him. The stranger explains the whole thing to them again as they walk – starting with Moses and the prophets. The 2 disciples encourage the stranger to stay and eat with them when they get to their destination. They recognise it is Jesus as he breaks the bread (and at that point Jesus disappears), and then even though they have only just arrived they set out back to Jerusalem to find the other disciples.
We have seen the Lord they said – as they get back and meet with the other disciples. The two were just explaining all that had happened and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. This is the point where our reading today started just after while they were talking about this. The reading today begins Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
This must have been quite a moment. Into this moment Jesus brings a deep sense of the peace of God. Let’s pause the action there for a moment and explore this peace of God before we look at what happens next.
The peace of God is easy to say but not particularly easy to explain. It is a sense of calm and the presence of God with us. It is a sense of the love God has for us, for our good and for our flourishing. We experience it whether the going is easy or the going is tough. We probably experience glimpses of it and moments in this life – one day we will know the peace of God more fully face to face. When people are having a tough time I regularly pray for the peace of God to fill their hearts or to surround them with that peace. I am trying to use words, rather clumsily in all probability, to describe the love God has for each of us. This is something right now we particularly should be praying for Elizabeth our Queen and the Royal family. Praying for the peace of God to fill her heart and to surround them all with peace. Here is a suitable prayer – please pause and pray
Merciful God, be close to all who mourn, especially The Queen and all members of the Royal Family. May they know the hope of your promises, the comfort of your love, and surround them all with your peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We have also spent many years greeting each other with a handshake or hug of peace. It grieves me that we can’t do this at the moment, though I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea. The peace reflects the calm assurance that what God is doing is best. The peace comes from knowing that God is in control, causing all things to “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
One of the other origins of sharing the peace as is our custom is to ensure we are at one with our brothers and sisters. It affords us an opportunity to put things right too before we move into sharing the body and blood of Jesus at communion. Some of the introductions to the peace puts this emphasis very clearly – for example – Let love be genuine. Never pay back evil for evil. As far as it lies with you, live at peace with everyone. OR We are the body of Christ.
In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.
Let’s leave these thoughts here for a moment and return to the scene described in Luke where we paused earlier. Jesus says peace be with you, but peace is far from the disciples’ initial reaction. Frankly they are startled and terrified and the initial reaction is they think they are seeing a ghost. In the present, in the moment and after the trauma they had experienced, this is an understandable and very human response.
Jesus does three things at this point to address the fear:-
First – he acknowledges their emotional response with re-assurance. Addressing both the fear and what for him is the root of it the doubts in their hearts.
Second – he establishes that he is with them physically in three different ways.
First, look at me, he particularly draws attention to his hands and feet where the scars would have been
Second, touch me – as he is flesh and bones and ghosts are not!
Third, because after that he could still sense both joy and disbelief in the room and with Luke with the medical spin in his gospel he says – Watch me eat. Then he eats broiled fish in front of them because in their understanding ghosts can’t eat.
This feels quite confronting to me – looking, touching and watching Jesus eat. He is trying to shake them into this new reality, shake off the doubt, and shake in the joy that he is there fully in person standing amongst them. It is worth imagining ourselves in this position and feeling the joy rising in us at the realisation of the wonder God has done. Going back to first principles and recapturing the purpose of the resurrection for us all.
The third thing Jesus does to address the fear – remembering that this comes last, and after all of the reassurance and active stuff I have just been describing. Jesus explains again what has happened and I suspect at much greater length than we have written here. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is clearer about what is coming before the cross. He is now reminding them what he said and how it fits into the story of the people of God.
He reminds them of their key role as witnesses and particularly about the importance of repentance and forgiveness of sins. In a way this tunes into what I was saying earlier about the peace of God and our reconciliation with each other. It is important we recognise in the light of the resurrection, how we lean into God’s love for us through his powerful forgiveness when we repent of our wrongdoings and short comings. We are set right with God by the power of the resurrection. This isn’t deserved or earned by us, but reflects the loving heart of Jesus for us. Our commitment to the peace of God then must be to be witnesses to it in our hearts and lives. Seeking the peace of God and being channels of the peace of God to those around us Amen
To finish I strongly recommend you listen to the John Rutter anthem at this point – which I will play in Church – Deep peace (Gaelic Blessing)– this is the link to a version sung by Libera
References The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, Some of the text is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020 Copyright acknowledgement Some material included is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020
Link to the Bath and Wells reflection:
Acts 4:32-35, John 20:19 end
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
This morning, we meet most of the disciples in our gospel reading from John, carrying on from where we left off last week. On the evening of the first Easter day, locked in their house. I say most of the disciples, because it is important to remember that Thomas isn’t there. In the room emotions are running high and significant anxiety is in the air. They are locked in the house because they are afraid. What are the disciples afraid of? Well certainly – The authorities, as Jesus followers they would have felt very vulnerable after his death, but also they were frightened by the recent turn of events like finding Jesus tomb was empty. It was worrying that the body had been stolen and then Mary amazingly saying she had seen the Lord alive again. That would really have put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.
Then in the next moment the mood swings from fear to jubilation. Jesus is there among them, and saying his familiar greeting ‘Peace be with you’. Their deep seated fears quickly evaporate and are replaced by rejoicing. There they are with the risen Jesus scars and all miraculously amongst them. Jesus lingers a while to confirm on them the power of the Holy Spirit, yet by the time Thomas returns to the group Jesus has gone. The other disciples explain what has happened – We have seen the Lord! they say, but Thomas doesn’t believe them. He says those immortal words, which have identified Thomas with the label doubting ever since: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
We now have a around 11 people saying Jesus has risen – Mary and up to 10 other disciples. We are not sure how many were in the locked room of course, but Thomas chooses not to believe any of them. His choice was not to believe his friends and those who knew him well, and those whom he shared following Jesus with for the past few years. This choice Thomas made, was not a recipe for popularity and probably would have made for a very unpleasant atmosphere amongst the disciples for the following week whenever Thomas was around.
If we think about this incident in the cold light of day, I can easily see what it would be like if 10 of my closest and constant companions were absolutely convinced of something extremely important and I refused to believe them for a whole week! The fallout from my behaviour would be pretty painful! For it was a whole week before this situation is resolved. We can only imagine Thomas sticking resolutely to his guns, being dour and miserable. Being in the depths about Jesus’ passing. I am not sure doubting really captures the nature of Thomas’ problem at the point. Maybe stubborn is more appropriate, or a touch arrogant. Perhaps even being determined to be miserable and pessimistic might be closer to the mark or a kinder confused and grieving.
Thomas’s outlook is a real contrast to the mood of his friends. His fellow disciples were joyful, expectant and excited about the future bathed in the Holy Spirit. They are praying and preparing for what was to come. The contrast between Thomas and the other disciples is not unlike the difference in the mood of worship on Good Friday – where tears can be shed in sorrow at all Jesus bore for us, and the mood in our worship on Easter Day – where if any tears are to be shed, they are shed in great joy and wonder at the moment.
It is not hard to grasp how frustrating this situation round Thomas must have been for the other disciples. I say it is not hard to grasp, because in our life experience it is quite likely that we have seen someone digging in their heels needlessly over some point or another. Refusing to budge despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary of their point of view. These things have a nasty habit of becoming points of principle and can go on for so long, that we begin to forget how they started!!
From my childhood I can remember a long running feud between my grandmother and her next door neighbour, over of all things a ‘borrowed’ garden broom. The broom was the source of much controversy. My grandmother was adamant the broom was hers and her neighbour equally adamant it was his. Every so often there were incidents of the broom being reclaimed from the shed of the other person. I remember how it all got completely out of proportion with my grandmother demanding locks be fitted to her shed – (in case the broom and other garden tools were stolen by her light fingered neighbour when she was out). Eventually and very embarrassingly, it was found that some years earlier my grandmother’s broom had been tidied away after use into the roof timbers in her garage. Therefore the disputed broom she had been arguing about all this time had indeed been borrowed by my uncle from her neighbour, whilst her broom had been overlooked in its hiding place in the garage roof – they just happened to be very similar brooms! Thus, the infamous and much disputed broom did indeed belong to her neighbour and not to her.
Another reason we can easily identify with this kind of stubborn ‘Thomaslike’ behaviour is that on occasion if we are honest with ourselves – we may well have been that person refusing to budge, clinging to our position. When in our heart of hearts, we are beginning to know we are mistaken, but somehow it all becomes too difficult (and is too much of a loss of face) to admit that we are the ones in the wrong. In our society there is a tendency to not admitting to being wrong about things. This is based on it being humbling and humiliating. We feel the need to cover our tracks or our behinds! This stuff is the cause of a lot of the time wasting and the political behaviour we experience in groups of people.
In my personal experience, admitting to being wrong about things when I have been wrong is anything but humiliating. It can be very cleansing, renewing and refining. This kind of admission has its own way of transforming the situation, allowing everyone to move on and is deeply dignified.
A week later in our gospel story, Thomas has little choice but to surrender his stand, when Jesus reappears amongst the disciples. Thomas has to let go of his doubts and his dogged determination not to believe in the truth of the resurrection. How did Thomas feel when Jesus addresses him and says – “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” I don’t think he felt humiliated, but deeply loved and profoundly moved. The gospel account doesn’t answer the question. Did Thomas reach out to touch Jesus? Did he touch the nail marks on Jesus hands and put his hand into the wound in his side? Whether he did or didn’t this was a deeply intimate encounter and a transformative point for Thomas. It was more than enough for Thomas to recognise Jesus – he says – My lord and My God! A real affirmation of all that Jesus was to Thomas.
You can almost see the grinning disciples in the background of this scene, with the light of ‘We told you so’ glinting in their eyes, as Thomas finally gets it. Their feelings for Thomas were also not about humiliation, but love mingled with relief and overwhelming Joy!
So in the glow of Thomas’ affirmation, let’s shine the spotlight on our lives for a moment. Going back to our own doubts, along with any out of date points of principle or anything we are stubbornly clinging on to (where we know we are in the wrong), or things that we know are just plain holding us back on our Christian journeys. Let’s make this the day when we like Thomas own our mistakes honestly and move on from them.
Let’s look at our issues in the face of the risen Jesus. The risen Jesus who is here with us as we read this reflection through the power of the Holy Spirit, the power he breathed on the first disciples in the locked room. The power that surrounds us on every step of our journey and is in our every breath. God’s love for us is not about humbling or humiliation for our issues but it is just us intimate, deep, profound and overwhelming as Jesus love for Thomas so clearly was.
Let’s open our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to help us let go of what is holding us back, and to move us on. Let the marks of the nails in the risen Jesus hands and the wound in his side heal and stir us this day. May our hearts echo the words of Thomas – My Lord and my God. Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18
In the name of God, loving and almighty Father, risen and conquering Son and ever present Holy Spirit Amen
I am going to teach us all a poem today, which captures why Easter is so important to us. As we get to know one another, we will come to realise that poetry is not really my thing in the normal course of events. I appreciate for some poetry is the bee’s knees, but I regret to say it is all usually a bit lost on me!! Any way, this particular poem that caught my eye is very simple and straightforward. It is not riddled with the complicated stuff of poetry like allegory, imagery, irony but it is still really profound. As we start smelling rats about what I am saying, I have to say as poems go this is probably one of the shortest and most memorable I have ever seen. It only contains 4 words spread across 4 lines. There is one more final added bonus – It was also written by a Bishop (one John Pritchard, who was Bishop of Oxford) and therefore must be OK!
Enough I can see we are chomping at the bit to hear it. Let’s reveal it one word at a time. Are you ready……..
So the first word is God. What a great place to start with God. God, all powerful, almighty, awesome and all love – God whose very being is love and who has abundant love for all he has created. Love poured out on each one of us here. Love that is all things and in all things and beyond our confines of time and space. God is love that nourishes us and wants us to grow into his cherished children. Each one is unique and special.
After that great start – the second word in the poem is Resurrection. So it goes God, Resurrection. That is very much a theme of this day – But resurrection is SOOOOO much more than just a theme. The resurrection of Jesus is a reality that changed everything, once and for all and for ever. God in his love for us sent his son Jesus to us, as a vulnerable child to change the order of things decisively. Jesus walked about amongst us, truly human. Towards the end of his life shared with those around him how God loved us. This threatened those in power, who contrived to have him put to death. Jesus then died for us on the cross, but on the third day he rose again, and lived in a new way. A way that enabled us to have real relationship with him and through him to know our God of abundant love through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus left with us
What comes next in the poem is the most surprising word. That is the word WOW!! It is important when saying the word WOW to use some technique – with a definite softer w at the beginning and end – (with a crescendo and falling on the ow). So it is God, Resurrection, WOW!!. According to my dictionary WOW is an informal word that is used to express wonder, amazement, or great pleasure, or an outstanding success. I think probably both of those meanings apply here with God and the power of the resurrection we have both – Wonder and outstanding success.
In the gospel reading the other disciple and Mary experienced amazing WOW moments at the tomb on the first Easter morning. Turning our attention to the other disciple first. After Mary had found the stone rolled away and had gone to fetch Peter and the other disciple, they had run to the tomb. Not a Sunday morning jog I suspect, but a serious sprint. For the other disciple – out of breath as we can imagine he must have been. Even though he did not see Jesus at this point, in the atmosphere in the tomb with the discarded grave clothes, there was enough for him to see and believe that Jesus had risen and walked again amongst his disciples. A serious, powerful WOW of wonder
Moving on to Mary her WOW moment is even more dramatic. First early in the morning, she sees the open tomb. She goes to get help, but the disciples she fetches don’t really seem to help her. She is left alone crying outside the tomb. She then first encounters the angels (amazing enough!) and then Jesus (without realizing who he is). There is little doubt that Mary would have been deeply distressed at the turn of events before she recognised Jesus. I can’t speak for you but I find when I am upset, and distressed or been having a difficult time (as Mary had!) I don’t see things very clearly. I get in a muddle more easily and generally it is like living life in a thick fog or cotton wool for brains!!!
Today we also have to remember that we have hindsight – which may not be helping us. We know the story, we know the ending, that is really different from being in the action as it unfolds. But let’s shake off any fat cat complacency we have today, Resurrection on this scale is not every day – it’s a one and only – an earth changing experience. Resurrection is a pure unadulterated WOW!!!!! So let’s not judge Mary for not recognising Jesus, but concentrate on her WOW moment. When it comes it comes simply when Jesus says her name – Mary. This is a very intense, intimate and life-changing moment for Mary and it demands action and response. Once she has recognised Jesus, she moves to embrace him, and then quickly and without delay she went back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples she had seen the Lord.
These biblical WOW moments – the other disciple and Mary’s are upon them without warning Things are not the same afterwards. I think that is the kind of WOW, that John Pritchard was getting to in his poem – God, Resurrection, WOW!!! I hope that at some point during today or over the past weeks we have travelled the road to the cross, we have all had some kind of WOW moment or even multiple such moments. Moments that have made us think. Moments of realisation of something new or different in the love God has for each of us. Moments that have confirmed to us all the God has done for us through the death and marvellous resurrection of Jesus to take away our sins. Moments that have brought us closer in our relationship with God and that have brought that warm glow into our hearts deep within, hearts on fire with God’s love for us. Also, moments when we have felt deeper resolve to share the good news with others. I hope we will all treasure our own WOW-moments as the other disciple and Mary did and use them to reaffirm our commitment to God and to add spring in our steps as disciples. So that above all we can say in our hearts and in our lives – God, Resurrection, WOW!
And then the final word of the poem, which is as indeed it should be Amen. So, the full thing is God Resurrection WOW!! Amen. That’s fantastic however I feel a ‘but’ coming on. That’s fantastic BUT like Mary we need to carry this message out from here and in our hearts to fulfil that Amen. Remembering that Amen means so be it! This is what our #Livelent Lent study has been all about too – sharing the good news. So today rejoicing and every day let’s live it, breathe it in and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
God Resurrection WOW!! Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 #LiveLent God’s Story, Our Story – Stephen Hance
(Church House Publishing) – Poem from Living Easter throughout the year – making the most of the resurrection – by John Pritchard, SPCK 2005.
Via this page you can access Church of England online worship for Holy Week – There will be services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day
Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Based on Luke 23: 32-38
In the name of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit Amen.
Just after Jesus was crucified, in Luke’s account of the crucifixion, Jesus says ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. It is a startling statement and one that really contrasts with all that is happening at the time. I shall be exploring just two of the evident contrasts in these words of Jesus at his crucifixion.
The first contrast I want to explore is this. The contrast between what Jesus is experiencing and what he says. In the midst of this dreadful experience, we see Jesus remaining true to his vision and his mission: what he had come to do and why he had come to do it. Those words – Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do show that in his heart and in all his being that God is still his Father, That love for all is still at the very core of his message embedded in his words of forgiveness, even in this the most extreme of situations. Love embedded in forgiveness is central. Indeed, love embedded in forgiveness was in all the teachings Jesus had shared with his disciples and followers. It is central to our understanding of what being a Christian is all about. Firstly, there is God’s overwhelming forgiveness of us and secondly, our lives should be characterised by our forgiveness of our neighbour.
The second contrast, I want to draw out from this statement in this passage is between what Jesus is saying and how those around him are behaving. Jesus is asking God to forgive them. What are the other people, the ‘them’ in this situation doing:
Firstly and most obviously there are the soldiers. They are there by order, doing their jobs. They are gambling over his meagre possessions and finally taunting and scoffing at Jesus
The second group of people looking on were the rulers – which we interpret as the chief priests, scribes and so forth. Their primary purpose for being there was to see that the job was done and that Jesus was dealt with once and for all or so they thought…
And yet there was also a third group present – the people watching. No words are given to the people in this account. Are they joining in with the taunting and mocking of Jesus on the cross? Or are they standing there passively, silently looking on? Watching Jesus’ ultimate humiliation and suffering on the cross. As a society, we are not very tolerant of those who stand by and do nothing or those who passively watch injustices or wrong doings. In these circumstances the media has headlines like ‘why did no one help’. In those cases when great suffering and neglect come to light we investigate and censure, we try to find those to blame. Those who have not intervened. Those who have stood by and let it happen.
Having said that though it is also possible to characterise the people standing silently differently. They could be or at least some of them could be entirely sympathetic to Jesus. They could be watching the events unfold feeling powerless to do anything against the ruling powers of the day. They could have started hostile but are moved and transformed by what they see. It is possible that they are looking on and seeing deeper into the situation and seeing that this was Jesus’ final, ‘once for all’ and ground-breaking act of love on the cross.
As we ponder Jesus on the cross that first Good Friday and look on silently ourselves – are there matters in our hearts we should be dealing with? Do we need to seek forgiveness or to forgive others? Or do we need to look deeper at the cross and what Jesus’ love means for us? Let us pray and reflect in the silence.
Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit – Based on Luke 23:39-49
In the name of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit Amen.
We now turn our attention to the last words of Jesus. Jesus crying out in a loud voice – “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit – and then Jesus breathed his last.” These words echo the psalmist in psalm 31 where it says Into your hands, I commit my spirit. The only real difference between the psalm and what Jesus says is that Jesus begins by addressing his words to God as his Father. This indicates his unique intimacy and loving relationship with our Father God.
In the different translations of the Bible we have today, the verb given in Jesus final words in Luke’s gospel differs. Some translations use commit – like the version we read today where as some use commend, others use entrust. Let’s explore what Jesus meant by this phrase by exploring the fullness of the meaning that these different verbs give to us.
So starting with commit. Jesus cries out in a loud voice – Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit. To commit means to give entirely to a specific person, activity, or cause; To make an investment through performing an act. In this case Jesus gave entirely of himself to make a new relationship between God and all people. He gave without resistance, he gave completely. His investment was with his pain and suffering, and ultimately his investment was his life. The act he was performing was to die out of love and compassion for all people. Not to die quickly or peacefully, but to die a long lingering and painful death. Jesus’ commitment speaks to us of our commitment to God. In our hearts as we say today once again – Father, into your hands we commit ourselves, our bodies and our spirits. Are we ready to give entirely, completely to God as Jesus did? To invest in God’s plan for our lives and to live our lives, performing the acts that God wants of us.
Let’s move on now to considering what Jesus words mean if the verb is not commit but commend. Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit. To commend means express approval of or express a good opinion of; To represent as worthy, qualified, or desirable or present as worthy of regard, kindness, or confidence. In all of this, it means to endorse or recommend. In this case Jesus using the verb commend is endorsing that God’s way is best (irrespective of the personal cost to him). His love of the Father is not just worthy of regard or desirable or a source of confidence, but the essence that flows through his body and his reason for being and his reason for dying. Jesus, commending his spirit to God speaks to us at the very core or essence of our beings. In our hearts as we say afresh this day – Father, into your hands we commend ourselves, our bodies and our spirits. Are we ready to wholly and completely endorse that God’s way is best for us? To express that by our confidence and trusting response to God’s working through our lives. Is this evidenced in our actions?
Let’s move on now to considering what Jesus words mean if the verb is not commit or commend but entrust. So his final words from the cross go – Father, into your hands, I entrust my spirit. To entrust means to confer a trust upon or to be put into the care or protection of someone. In this case, Jesus is entrusting his spirit to God. This shows us that Jesus is aware that his actions – his suffering and death on the cross are ultimately placing him back into the care and protection of his loving heavenly father God. There is a sense in which Jesus is not just entrusting his spirit as he dies, but that he is entrusting the spirits of all the human race into God’s care and protection on that first Good Friday. Jesus, entrusting his spirit to God speaks to us again at the very heart of all that we are as we say afresh this day – Father, into your hands we entrust ourselves, our bodies and our spirits. Are we aware of how much we are in God’s hands? How he loves us and cares for us? A love brought for us by Jesus, sacrificing his life and entrusting his spirit to God.
Today of all days we remember all the horrors of the cross and yet also all that it achieved. Above all we thank you for Jesus. Father, into your hands we commit, we commend and we entrust our whole beings, body and spirit. Let us pray and reflect in the silence.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Via this page you can access Church of England online worship for Holy Week – There will be services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day
1 Cor 11:23-26, John 13 1-17, 31-35
In the name of the God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Amen
Tonight is a very special night in the Church year. It is one of dramatic contrasts – we begin joyful, upbeat and expectant as we re-enact once more, our commitment to sharing bread as Jesus did. To remember, as Jesus asked us, the ‘new covenant’ or promise he made with us and the power he left with us through his Holy Spirit. We end by preparing to go into the night to watch with Jesus in the garden with the words of Psalm 88 bidding us go and pointing to the realities of Good Friday ahead.
For most of us, sharing in communion is a staple and intimate part of our relationship with God – and one we deeply cherish. Something we know is all the more special now as we have had long periods without communion or relying on spiritual communion online! This is in our hearts as we gather specially round the table this night like the first disciples. Well almost, I admit we are socially distanced and can’t do it exactly as we might want this evening.
But we can do what we are doing – and I am so thankful for that. Last year, I remember on Maundy Thursday being particularly sad because we were unable to do what we are doing tonight. In my Christian journey Maundy Thursday has always been significant… My first encounter with it left a deep impression on the teenage me. Over the years I have found many different ways of marking and sharing this feast, which speaks of the faith, hope, love and promise of the Christian way.
Let’s immerse ourselves in the story. We gather tonight knowing the undercurrents of what is to come for Jesus, the importance of these moments, but also the tragedy built into this hour. That deceit and treachery are also at the table along with the coming pain and suffering in the morning. Let’s look deeper for the faith, hope, love and the promise of God that I just talked about.
Where is the faith in the last supper?
For starters in the disciples who prepared for the feast who followed Jesus’ instructions of the when, where and the how given in the other gospel accounts. This is faith to follow where we are guided (even if we can’t explain it or rationalise it). There is also, of course, faith in the words and importantly the actions of Jesus. Jesus acting as the least of all – washing the disciples’ feet. Of this act – Jesus said – I have set you an example – that you should do as I have done for you.
Does our faith serve others in our words and our deeds? Does it carry the extra load, does it serve others before it serves itself? There is also faith in Jesus demonstrated by his willingness to pay the ultimate price for all. This is my body, that is for you he said – from our passage from 1 Corinthians. For some this line should be translated – this is my body – that is broken for you. Breaking the bread, symbolises how Jesus body would be broken by the cross. This was faith that literally moved mountains, broke down the barriers and opened our hearts to God’s unfailing love for us.
Moving on from faith to hope – where is the hope?
The monk and theologian Timothy Radcliffe defined hope in a talk I heard in 2011 – As living in the moment because that is the only thing that really exists. Here we have the ultimate example of living in the moment. Jesus knowing what is to come – has the presence of mind to wash the disciples’ feet and to share bread and wine to lay the foundations we rely on today to give us hope for eternity. Hope for lives beyond this mortal life. This is all at a point of great crisis for him and one where falling to pieces was also a real option – all in face of the suffering, cruelty and desertion Jesus was to endure for us.
In my life experience of crises and endurance (which like all of us has increased in the past year), I have not always managed to live as hopefully as Jesus did in this pivotal moment for him, but I have found strength in taking each moment on its merits – living simply for that day. Not making things too complicated as we are wont to do! Concentrating on what is possible, rather than what isn’t. We cannot manage the future via anxiety. We need to let it go, and let God be God to us and live as hopefully as we can in each moment we have as Jesus so clearly did on this special night.
Moving on from hope to love – where is the love?
The love is obviously evident in virtually every action of Jesus – from washing feet, to breaking bread. Also in his words – Jesus said A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
There was a seventies Christian song – which some of us may remember(!) which had the chorus – They will know we are Christians, by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love. When people look at the Church and look at Christians – Is love what they see? This is difficult with the press the church gets to see how love is at the forefront, with some of the painful divisions and woeful safeguarding scandals to the fore! Brokenness is not just limited to bread this evening but in the church’s representation of God’s love for us. We can’t change that readily other than by prayer, but we can work on how we are the church in our communities. How we are seen and how we respond in love to those around us. Are people warmly welcomed and supported as they are (and as much as we can in the current circumstances)? Are we letting our love of God flourish within us and bubble over into all our lives? This Lent we have particularly concentrated on our acts of love in sharing the best news we have ever had with those around us – however we can and only as we can.
Moving on from love to promise – where is the promise?
The promise is firmly and completely wrapped up in the new covenant Jesus brings in this bread and this wine. His body broken on the cross and his blood shed for us. The new covenant Jesus won for us through his death on the cross, which brought us the promise of God’s love through this life and eternally. The power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in each and everyone of us. That as Jeremiah said and as we thought about on Passion Sunday – The sense that we would all know God (and we would not have to be told about knowing God any more). This is a pretty incredible and awesome shift in how God related to his people and we related to God which was brought through the saving love of Jesus – as we eat this bread and when we can drink this cup. We and countless Christians over 2000 years, are still proclaiming the Lord’s death and the end of death until he comes.
So to conclude in the last supper – we have located faith, hope, love and God’s promise to us in the feet washed, in the bread broken and shared, and the wine outpoured. This is Jesus Christ for us, for yesterday, today and forever. For us in this moment, pandemic or no pandemic, in 2021 with all its suffering, doubts and uncertainties. And yet we still do this in full knowledge of the faith, hope, love and promise God has for us.
We do this in remembrance of him who died for us Jesus Christ. Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-end, Isaiah 50:4-9, Mark 11:1-11
In the name of the living God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Amen
It is a real rarity to just have the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt as the main topic on Palm Sunday – we would normally also hear the whole passion story. We can’t do that in person this year as it would stretch the time we are together well beyond the recommended limits. To engage with that story at our own pace this Holy Week, there is a video of the Passion Gospel available with some prayers and a couple of our favourite passiontide hymns. It also features a number of readers from both Pen Selwood and Wincanton. (The link is in the newsletter for this week). If we can’t engage with the video I strongly urge us to engage with the story by reading Mark’s gospel (chapters 14 and 15) in their entirety during this coming week, and as we do it dwell in the story in prayer and reflection.
But for now let’s unpack the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. The story starts with Jesus and his disciples travelling and then gathering at the Mount of Olives – where he also prayed the night after the last supper before he was arrested by the authorities. As is often the case this starting point on the Mount of Olives is also a link to prophecy – in Zechariah 14:4 is says – On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; of the coming Messiah.
This whole account resonates with holy texts and religious practice of the day – particularly the kind of festival celebrated as part of the feast of tabernacles. That included the use of Psalm 118 – part of which we also said this morning being used, alongside a procession involving the waving of palm branches.
The kind of procession described also brought to mind the rituals surrounding the anointing of a new king. In the early part of the story told in the first book of Kings, the dying King David had asked that his son Solomon be allowed to ride on a colt to Gihon, where he was anointed prior to being made King (after David’s death and after a brief power struggle). Importantly and resonantly on the long ride to Gihon there was a long rejoicing procession behind Solomon (even though this prefigured the death of a King, in this instance David).
The whole way this story is told is also pointing to a prophecy in Zechariah chapter 9. In other gospels this verse is quoted in the gospel account – Verse 9 says Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. In Mark’s gospel, which we know is often exceptionally brief and terse in style – the level of detail in this story is all there to make deeper points about the importance of Jesus and what was happening…
Let’s turn next to what the crowd were shouting – Hosanna means save now and the first clause after the Hosanna – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord is a reference to where psalm 118 goes beyond the verses we said together. The next couple of verses say
25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches,
All of that points to where Jesus has come from and who he is, and the traditions the crowds are leaning into at this point. We know how it is (though frankly it has been a while for most of us!) to be caught up in a crowd. In its own way the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered also probably sealed Jesus fate with the religious authorities.
The next statement from the crowd Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! is trying to link the words of the crowd with their history more implicitly. There are a lot of complicated theories about this, but I think this is about the strands of thought prevalent about the messiah, and the need in the moment to give Jesus status and credibility as successor to David and recognise his kingship. At the time there was a lot of tendency to talk about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David harking back.
The final part of the chant – Hosanna in the highest as Hosanna means save now, Hosanna in the highest more literally means God save him. This is ultimately what God did do but not without the cost to Jesus of the first Good Friday that opened up the heart of God’s love to us all.
In the links back to the beginning of Luke’s account of Jesus life, it was also important that Jesus entered the temple at the end. This relates to the backdrop the one who came in the name of the Lord, was to enter the temple and give thanks for their deliverance but also was the one expected. Expected for their redemption and to saved them from their current peril. Anna spoke of the 40-day old Jesus, as for the redemption of Jerusalem, which he was (but not in the way they expected or wanted)
There is a lot going on in this story, when we dig beneath the surface a bit. In our #LiveLent material we have also been asked to dig beneath the stories of films, TV shows and other aspects of our culture to see how to make links to God’s story in our conversations. We were asked to address four important questions during this past week:-
Who are we?
What is wrong?
What is the solution?
What is the future?
Hannah Steele also addresses these questions in the accompanying book – which I summarise.
Who are we? – We are made in the image of God, capable of loving and being loved, of doing good and looking after our beautiful world.
What is wrong? – We and all humankind are also capable of great wrongdoing and of perpetuating injustice to put our own needs first in the place of God’s love for us
What is the solution? God intervened in the world by sending his only Son. In Christ God takes on human flesh and walks about among us. His life, death and resurrection are the means by which our relationship with God is restored.
What is the future? Jesus speaks of offering us abundant life that starts now and lasts for ever. We live in his kingdom guided by the Holy Spirit to share the good news.
In short, these questions help us to make deeper connections with our culture and ways into conversations. In a different way we have been using some of them to help us understand the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem more deeply in the culture of his day (particularly who are we and what is the future). As this week unfolds and we enter once again into these rich holy mysteries, let’s spend some time thanking God for his love for us and our faith in God.
Hannah Steele in a conversation with a chatty taxi driver summed up her faith thus. There are lots of reasons why I am a Christian, but the most important is that I am irresistibly draw to the person of Jesus. I am drawn by who he was, the things he said and did and the fact that he rose from the dead. That’s why I am a follower of Jesus. How would we sum up our faith and how we would answer the questions – Who are we, what is wrong, what is the solution and what is the future. Think on, reflect on and pray on. Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995, #LiveLent God’s Story, Our Story – Stephen Hance
(Church House Publishing) Living His Story – Hannah Steele (SPCK), Prayer from www.rootsontheweb.