‘Living Stones’ – 10th May 2020 – 5th Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2.2-10

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
and
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

 

Acts 7.55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

John 14.1-14

Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Lay Reader at St Marys.

One of my prayer aids is a little bowl of pebbles.  I can’t remember where they came from, but their smooth roundedness suggests that it was a beach somewhere.  Sometimes I fill the bowl with water - a small reminder of how they appeared when the sea had just washed over them.  They help to create an atmosphere of calm stillness conducive to prayer.

They are very different from most stones we encounter in every day life.  In my garden are plenty of rough, jagged stones of all shapes and sizes.  Unlike the clean rounded pebbles in my bowl, they are dusty, or covered in moss or bird droppings.  Lift one up and the underside might be teeming with woodlice or other creepy crawlies.

Stones like this can be very useful.  One of the nature columns in the paper this week described a drystone wall that the author passed on his daily walk.  The wall was built around 25 years ago using stones of all shapes and sizes.  Each stone had its own special place somewhere in the wall, contributing to its overall strength, stability and durability.  Walls like this are places of safety – they keep livestock from straying and predators out.  They provide shelter in the rain and wind, or shade in the heat of the sun.

The writer noted the changes that had appeared in the wall over the years.  Gradually dirt built up on the surfaces and in the cracks, rain fell on it, and moss and lichen appeared.  Birds dropped seeds, which took root in the wall. Very soon the wall was teeming with plant life, sustained by moisture in the crevices and minerals in the stone itself.  These in turn became shelter and food for insects, birds and small mammals.  Over the years, the wall has become a wall of life.  Its stones have become living stones.

Living stones.  I wonder if the writer of 1 Peter was thinking of something like this drystone wall when he was writing his letter to one of the early churches?  Perhaps he had taken notice of what happens to a wall over time, its stones gradually becoming full of life.  We don’t know.

We do know that the Jerusalem temple was made from stone and that it had been the focal point for worship for the Hebrew people for centuries.  Jesus had been highly critical of this particular temple and its authorities and had warned that it would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2).  And by the time 1 Peter was written, it had indeed been destroyed by the Romans.

But Jesus also challenged the authorities.  In John 2.19 he says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”.  A couple of verses later John explains that he is referring to the temple of his body.  And I think it might be this that the writer of 1 Peter had in mind.  He quotes Psalm 118:22 – “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus is the cornerstone, and his followers are to become living stones, together building a living temple through which to glorify God.

During the Easter season we have been reading about the early church in the book of Acts.  As the church grew, different people took on different roles in order to form a strong community together.  Stephen was initially appointed to help practically with distributing aid to the needy.  But his prophetic gifts soon became apparent and his words greatly angered the religious authorities.  In today’s reading we heard the account of how he was stoned to death, the first Christian martyr.

Our readings from Acts and 1 Peter both talk of stones.  Stones which build up, and stones which cause stumbling.  Stones of death, and stones of life.  Let’s focus on the stones which build up and the stones of life.

Our gospel reading from John is often read at funerals.  The idea that heaven is a large house with many, many rooms ready to welcome each and everyone of us when we die is a powerful and comforting image.  And one which may be sustaining many different people right now as they mourn the loss of loved ones in this current crisis.  But this image is not confined to the hereafter.  God’s kingdom never was solely about what happens when we die.  It’s about the here and now too.  The Father’s house is here on Earth, right now.  We are all part of it and each one of us has a place in it.

It’s a place built of living stones.  Living stones such as doctors, nurses, care-assistants, and other health workers.  Living stones such as bus and lorry drivers, bin-collectors and shop assistants.  Living stones such as writers and broadcasters.  Living stones such as neighbours looking out for each other.  Living stones on the end of a phone or wobbly internet connection offering support to a friend, relative or stranger in need.  Living stones such as teachers, social workers, internet support workers.  Living stones such as parents and carers.  Living stones such as children and young people.  Living stones such as you or I.

So I encourage you to look more closely at the stones you see.  Look at a garden wall as you pass it on your walk, or sit next to it in your own garden.  Look for all its life – its mosses, lichens, plants. Watch in wonder at the insects crawling around it.  Or you might like to look at a single stone, brick or tile.  Observe its shape, its nooks and crannies, its different colours, its texture.

And ponder – what life can result from a wall built of living stones?  Give thanks that you, as a living stone yourself, have a special place in God’s wall – you are part of the wall, together with others giving it strength and structure.  And that you have your very own dwelling place there too – a place you can call home.

 

 

The Prayers
Written by Joe.

The bidding for our prayers this morning is “Lord, in your mercy”. The response is ‘Hear our prayer’'.

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.
We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary's to create a place of worship here in Walkley.
We pray for the wider Church, and all followers of Christ throughout the world, that we can be salt and light to those around us, and be living examples of Christ-like behaviour in our communities at this difficult time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember all those who lost their lives in the Second World War as the world remembers the end of that conflict in Europe.
We pray that we will eventually learn to settle our disputes justly and peacefully by bringing the Kingdom of Heaven in to being.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all.
At this time of great uncertainty, we pray that decisions are made for the good of all people.
We pray that our political leaders and opinion formers follow the guidance of scientists and experts in finding a way forward for the world.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends.
We pray for all those involved in protecting us against Covid-19; our health and care workers, delivery people, post office staff, communications engineers.
We pray for all those finding themselves being teachers to their children.
May we all do our best to keep our families and communities safe by acting selflessly and with care and consideration for others at this time.
We pray for those fearful of not having jobs to go back to, and those who are in poverty and facing hardship at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for those we know who are worried and troubled especially at this time of great uncertainty.
We pray for those affected by Covid-19, and those who have health or emotional problems that are made worse during the lockdown and cessation of some health and wellbeing services.
We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing.
Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey.
We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn, at this time when mourning and saying our farewells to the dead is made complicated by the lockdown.
We especially pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, and those who felt fear and felt alone in their last moments.
We pray that they were comforted by your presence, Lord, and that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints,
let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.
Merciful Father:
accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

‘What should the church look like?’ – 3rd May 2020 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 2.42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

John 10.1-10

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The Sermon
By David, a Trainee Lay Reader at St Mary's.

What should the church look like?

It’s a question that has preoccupied the church for centuries, so much so that it, sometimes rightly, gets accused of navel gazing. Our reading from Acts gives us a pretty good blueprint for how it should be. We recognise that we will probably fall short but should not use this as an excuse not to aim high. Bishop Pete has made known on numerous occasions that he would rather set a challenging target and fall short than set and easy one and hit it. This is one of those times.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that every Christian should sell all their possessions and give the money away. There are those who are called to this, most notably monks and nuns. You don’t have to go much further in Acts before seeing that even in the early church, this wasn’t expected of everyone. The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 shows that church members still owned property, but we should not pretend to be more generous than we are, nor be deceitful in giving.

Moving beyond the verse on possessions, which tends to get highlighted in this passage, what struck me reading it was the emphasis on togetherness. There is little to no individuality here: “they”, “their”, “them” are used about the Christians. There is a corporateness about their way of being. They do things together, in the temple or their homes.

In our current situation that can really strike a nerve. What does togetherness mean? Particularly when we can’t physically meet?

I am a firm believer that the Eucharist connects us together through time and space and cuts across even the barrier of death, uniting us as it does with the saints in every age. But when most of us cannot even access this in our own homes?

I don’t have particular answers to some of these questions. I do have a newfound respect for our housebound fellow Christians, for we are all housebound at the moment. I and others can learn from those of us who are ordinarily housebound, and reflect, once our current crisis has lessened, what together we can absorb from this experience to be more inclusive.

We can also take this time, when the church is very definitely not how many of us would want it to be, to reflect on how we do want it to be. There are lessons to be learned which will help in the future. One take home point for me is that sometimes meeting by video conferencing is better than driving across the city. This is a small and rather practical revelation. There will be others, from all of us. God will have used this time to gently prod us to reflection; we are after all lacking some of our usual distractions.

When we do begin to come out of our cocoons, those of us who have had the luxury of sheltering at home, we need to hold before us this passage from Acts. We will need to return to devoting ourselves to “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and I’m sure we will. But I doubt the world will be quite the same as when we left it. There will be need of “glad and generous hearts”.

When we ask the question, what should the church look like, this is as good an answer as any.

The Prayers

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth, your saving health among all nations.
At this time, we pray especially for all those badly affected by the global pandemic and the resultant lockdowns.
We pray for those plunged into poverty, who are struggling to get enough to eat or to keep a roof over their heads.
We pray for all those who are suffering from Covid-19 themselves and especially for those who need or have needed hospital treatment for their illness. We pray for the families and friends of Covid-19 victims, who are unable to help or even see those in hospitals, in care homes, or living elsewhere.
We pray for those experiencing extreme isolation, either because they are ill or because they are shielding.
We pray for all families separated from their loved ones by lockdown.
Please help all of us to help each other in this time of crisis and through the recession which will follow.
Please help us also to take note of how much kinder we have been to our environment during this crisis that we may learn from this experience ways to decrease our contributions to climate change, both as individuals and as a nation.
Please help all governments around the world to find the best way through the crises of pandemic and climate change for all their people and all their neighbours throughout the world.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life.
We pray for your church both here in Sheffield and around the world. Please help us to continue to be your family at a time when we cannot meet as congregations.
Please help us here in the congregation of St Mary’s Walkley to learn how best to include everyone in our local church family in our efforts, including those without internet access.

We pray especially for our mission area, the churches of St. Mary’s Walkley, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. John’s Ranmoor, as we forge closer links following the retirement of Melanie FitzGerald. Please help us to get to know one another better and to learn how best to be your people over a wider geographical area than we are used to.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles. We remember to you in our hearts those we know who need the comfort of your presence at this time.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints.
We remember with love your servant Betty McGrory, who we have known so well here at St. Mary’s. Please welcome her to your kingdom in heaven and comfort her friends and family, this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Amen.

Merciful Father,
All accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

‘Meeting Jesus on the road’ – 26th April 2020 Evening – 3rd Sunday of Easter

The Readings

Acts 2.14a, 36-41

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

 

Luke 24.13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Meeting Jesus on the road – a meditation on Luke 24:13-35
By Catherine, a Lay Reader at St Mary's.

They met Jesus on the road
walking together, just the two.
Walking with heavy hearts
their minds confused,
shocked, bereaved, exhausted.

And Jesus walked beside -
their friend -
but did they know?

They met Jesus as they tried
to make sense
or understand
how hope of the coming Messiah
hope of joyful deliverance
became hope cruelly dashed
and the agony of grief.
Then of how grief
became confusion
Rumours of an angel
saying he was alive.

And Jesus walked beside,
listening
but did they know?

They met with Jesus as he brought to life
the scriptures
pointing to this very thing
being necessary,
foreseen.
They listened intently,
their hearts burned inside.

And Jesus walked beside,
patiently explaining
but did they know?

They met with Jesus as they offered
gladly
food and drink
safety for the night
and rest.
Hospitality offered willingly
the little they could do

And Jesus stayed beside them
but did they know?

They met with Jesus as he gave God
thanks
for the welcome of strangers
now friends,
and for the simple
nourishment
of bread

And when Jesus broke the bread
Yes, now they knew!

***

Have we met Jesus on the road -
walking together or alone?
Walking with heavy hearts,
our minds confused,
shocked, anxious, exhausted.

Has Jesus walked beside -
our friend -
and did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we passed
a painting
pinned not to kitchen fridge or wall
but on a window
looking outwards?
Or as we passed
a joke or game
chalked
on street or pavement?
Children offering gladly
the little they can do?

Has Jesus walked beside,
chuckling too,
And did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we passed
a gatepost plea
for buttons for a project
making scrubs
for frontline carers.
And seen the plastic folder
already gathering
donations
great and small?

Has Jesus walked beside,
thankful too,
And did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we passed
a shop
now sadly closed
yet still proclaiming
with thanks and joy
news of recovery,
and a new birth?

Has Jesus walked beside us
rejoicing too,
And did we know?

Have we met Jesus as we reached
our homes yet once again
Has Jesus come inside
with us
and shared,
And do we know?

Catherine Burchell 26/4/20

(With thanks to all the residents of Walkley who brighten up my government-sanctioned daily exercise)

The Prayers

We pray for Christ's world, for those places where human violence and greed have marred the beauty of creation. We offer to him with thanks all those who set aside ego and self-promotion to work for peace and reconciliation.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for the Church. We give thanks when its presence brings hope, support and community. We pray for those times when it has fallen short. We pray especially for our Archbishop, our Bishop Pete and Bishop Designate Sophie. We give thanks for our partners in ministry and St Mark’s Broomhill and St John’s Ranmoor, and for Walkley Ebenezer Methodist.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for all those who suffer at this time, particularly those effected by the coronavirus. As the lockdown continues, we pray for those who struggle with isolation, mental health and domestic violence. We give thanks for those who care for others in many different ways.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for those who have died. We remember those we have known and loved. We pray for those who have died as a result of the pandemic. We pray for those from our own community. Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

‘The Road to Emmaus’ – 25th April 2020 Morning- 3rd Sunday of Easter

The Readings

Acts 2.14a, 36-41

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

 

Luke 24.13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Sermon
By Anne, Lay Reader at St Mary's.

One day last year when I was on the train to Manchester, I suddenly became aware, as we turned out of the Hope Valley towards Edale, that, for a brief moment, there is a clear view of Peveril Castle at Castleton further up the valley. Though I have made that journey many times, it was the first time I had noticed it, as, on this particular day a shaft of light was just picking out the tower of the castle, making it stand out against the hillside. I had always known that Peveril Castle was there behind Castleton, on the ridge between the main valley and Cave Dale, but until the light picked it out that day I had not realised what a good view there is of it, fleetingly, from the train. Normally it merges into the background of the higher hills and the rocky outcrops and is difficult to make out but now I have seen it clearly and I know where to look, even on a dull day I know that it is there and can discern its outline.

A moment of illumination can transform how we see things, it can transform our whole perspective on life and bring our faith alive in a new way, even sending us in a new direction.

For the companions on the road to Emmaus on that first Easter Day events were hard to comprehend. They had seen their world come crashing down with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, and they had been met with the startling and hard to comprehend reality of the empty tomb that morning. They had heard the witness from the women that angels had told them Jesus was alive but they had not experienced this for themselves.

Now as they walked they were discussing all that had happened, trying to make sense of it.  Perhaps surprisingly when they are joined by a stranger on the road they are willing to tell him the full story, confiding details that could have got them into trouble.  They tell the stranger that they believed Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” and then that their own Jewish priests and leaders had handed him over to be condemned and crucified. They admit they had hoped Jesus was the “one to redeem Israel” (the Messiah). They go on to tell the stranger about the women going after 3 days and finding the tomb empty and hearing from angels that Jesus is alive and about their own visit to the tomb to see that it was empty.

They have made themselves vulnerable to this stranger. He could have been someone who had bayed for Jesus' blood on Good Friday.  They know nothing of their companion and they certainly do not recognise him as Jesus, and yet they have laid open their whole story.

And now the stranger begins to open up the Bible to them, highlighting what is really said in the prophets about the Messiah, especially in regard to his suffering before entering glory.

Cleopas and his companion feel moved and uplifted by the stranger's words, their hearts “burning within them” but they still do not recognise Jesus until they persuade him to come into the house to stay as it is late, and he blesses and breaks bread and their eyes are opened as he shares it with them.

Then, despite the late hour, as Jesus disappears, they race back to Jerusalem to share their amazing news and are met by more good news of Jesus appearing to Simon.

Cleopas and his companion knew the facts of Jesus life, death and resurrection but it was only as Jesus (in the guise of a stranger) shed light on the Bible's words and broke bread with them that they recognised the reality of God's word and action and experienced the reality of resurrection joy.

God's light had fallen on their harsh reality and revealed the glory within it and opened up a whole new future.

Like Cleopas and his companion many people in these days feel they are walking a hard road trying to make sense of recent events where hopes and dreams, plans and expectations have been upturned and dashed. Livelihoods have been damaged, old certainties have been shattered. It's a time of worry,  a time of grieving, a time of heartbreak, a time of confusion, a time when the future looks bleak.

But as we walk that road, as we mull over the story of recent weeks and days, the insights of strangers and a fresh perspective on words of Scripture as we read our Bibles can open our eyes to the revelations of Christ risen and living among us, sharing in our community.

We cannot meet as worshipping communities in our church buildings but we are finding other ways to stay in touch and to share together. Perhaps we talk to each other more now than we have before about how we are feeling and share more of what is hard and what it good.

We must not get bogged down in the undoubtedly difficult parts of these times or in feelings of being abandoned by God because a God is at work in these times as in all times. There is intense creativity going on. People, friends and strangers, are finding new ways to use their skills, their resources, to serve each other and to create what is needed for these times.

Although we might not want to admit it, there may be pressures that we are glad to be relieved of like the daily slog to work on crowded public transport or in slow moving traffic, or some pressures of consumerism.  We may be finding a positive side to a simpler way of living.

We can see nature re-emerging around us as human activity is lessened. Animals are more bold, bird song seems louder and sweeter. And we have more time to listen and to look.

May we carry our new insights into our future and hold the positives as we move forward.

The first disciples in the days after Easter had their eyes opened to the joy and reality of the resurrection. For Cleopas and his companion it was a stranger who opened their eyes. It was only at the last moment they recognised that stranger to be Jesus. As all the disciples came to understand the new reality of Christ risen, they found it was the start of a whole new direction in their lives. The coming months and years as they began to share the good news were not all plain sailing and there were many challenges and difficulties to come, but their resurrection faith was firm.

In these days I pray that our eyes may be opened to the joy and reality of our resurrection faith for these circumstances and that we may follow where Jesus guides. May the light of Christ illumine our path and lead us every onward on his way.

I conclude with the words of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter:

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

The Prayers

Risen Christ come amongst us at the break of this day and be with us.

We pray for Christ's world, for those places where human violence and greed have marred the beauty of creation. We offer to him with thanks all those who set aside ego and self-promotion to work for peace and reconciliation.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for the Church. We give thanks when its presence brings hope, support and community. We pray for those times when it has fallen short. We pray especially for our Archbishop, our Bishop Pete and Bishop Designate Sophie. We give thanks for our partners in ministry and St Mark’s Broomhill and St John’s Ranmoor, and for Walkley Ebenezer Methodist.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for all those who suffer at this time, particularly those effected by the coronavirus. As the lockdown continues, we pray for those who struggle with isolation, mental health and domestic violence. We give thanks for those who care for others in many different ways.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for those who have died. We remember those we have known and loved. We pray for those who have died as a result of the pandemic. We pray for those from our own community. Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

‘How can we celebrate Easter?’ – 12th April 2020 – Easter Day Evening

Matthew 28.1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

The Sermon

How can we celebrate Easter?
How can we sing Alleluia...
When we cannot physically meet up with family and friends?
When we cannot gather together in our churches to worship God?

How can we celebrate Easter?
When many people are preoccupied with the health of loved ones,
whom they cannot be near in their time of crisis?
When friends and family members die alone,
are buried or cremated without mourners,
or stored in temporary morgues?
when even our Prime Minister has been seriously ill in intensive care?

How can we celebrate Easter?
When jobs are lost, businesses collapsing, the economy floundering?
How can we celebrate Easter?
How can we sing Alleluia?
In these times of crisis it’s perhaps worth thinking back to that first Easter...

The first Easter was not euphoric or enthusiastically celebrated.

No one dressed in their best clothes to visit the temple.

There was no chocolate, no egg hunting, no fancy bonnets.

Jesus’ closest friends had fled and deserted him.  One of them had betrayed him, then, filled with remorse, taken his own life.  Another had denied even knowing him.  In three of the gospel accounts, not one of them had been with Jesus when he died.  He was buried hurriedly, without ceremony, in the nearest available grave.  Some women had looked on, watching, but from a safe distance.

Jesus’ eleven remaining friends holed themselves away in a locked upstairs room.

The women who had watched from a distance came belatedly to the tomb to do what they could for Jesus’ body with spices and ointments.  They came early, before other people were about, distancing themselves from others.

When they saw the empty tomb, and the stranger(s) in white who said Jesus had risen, they were filled with fear.  In Mark’s gospel they flee and tell no one.  In Matthew’s gospel they run to tell the disciples.  In Luke’s gospel they tell the disciples, but most of the disciples are sceptical.  Only Peter goes to see for himself, then goes home, amazed.  Two confused followers journey back to Emmaus from Jerusalem, joined by a stranger they don’t recognise who engages them in conversation about recent events.  It’s late into the evening when they finally see him for who he is – and race back to tell the other disciples.  Only after that does the risen Jesus appear to all eleven.

In John’s gospel there is similar confusion, disbelief then gradual realisation – of Mary Magdalene, of Peter and the beloved disciple, of the other disciples, except Thomas, then finally of Thomas too.

What emerges about the first Easter is that it was a time of great upheaval, a time when in grief the correct customs couldn’t be properly observed, a time of confusion, of disbelief, of rumours.  But eventually a time of gradual realisation...and yes, joy.  It didn’t all happen at the start of that first Easter morning.  No, that’s when it began to happen...but the understanding and celebrations happened, bit by bit, over a much longer period of time.  Not until several weeks later, at Pentecost, did the disciples emerge from the security of their self-imposed lock-down and begin to spread the word enthusiastically among anyone who would listen that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

How did the disciples celebrate that first Easter?  With hesitation, uncertainty, disbelief and doubt.  With confusion and amazement.  With fear and great joy.

The events of the first Holy Week and Easter completely shook up Jesus’ little community of followers.  Things would never be the same again.  When they were ready to emerge from the security of the upper room, they were a transformed group who would go on to found one of the world’s largest faiths, confidently spreading the good news of the risen Jesus, loving and caring for each other and for many other people.

 

Being in lock-down for a prolonged time has shaken our nation, and indeed our world, up to the point where we will emerge very differently.  At the moment it’s too early to see exactly what that will look like.  But this drastic situation has forced us to re-evaluate what’s important to us.  We have been forced to let go of things that shaped our daily life and to learn new routines.  Some writers have likened this to the chrysalis stage of a butterfly – the caterpillar spins its cocoon, hides away for a period of time during which its insides are completely transformed – into something new and beautiful.

So if you’re not feeling very much like celebration this Easter, that’s OK.  It’s OK for Easter to take some time to emerge.  There will be more confusion, rumour, disbelief to come.  And once we do emerge from our lockdown state, the new reality will be different from the reality we left behind in early March.

You may not much feel like singing Alleluia.  At least not yet.  But there are other songs we can sing.  John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community composed a hymn that’s really appropriate for an Easter when no one feels much like celebration.  It’s called “Christ has risen while Earth slumbers” – you can find a link to the words, and a meditation on them by Revd. Fiona Bennett of the Methodist Church here…

https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/15401/christ-has-risen-while-earth-slumbers.pdf

...and you can find the tune played, without the words, by following this link here…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7skRCDTjLI0

So let’s hold on to the Easter promise of new life.  Let’s hold on to the joy of the resurrected Christ.  And let us look forward in hope to the new life that will surely emerge from these strange and uncertain times.  Have a happy Easter!

Catherine, Lay Reader

The Prayers

Let us bring out prayers to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in sure and certain hope that he hears us when we call, whether gathered together or scattered in our homes, and answers our prayer in accordance with his will and everlasting love.
 
On this Easter Day we rejoice in the glorious news of the resurrection of Jesus, lifting our hearts and minds to see what God has done and know that it is marvellous. Bless your church this day, we pray, here and across the world as we celebrate this most wonderful and holy moment in our year in homes, in families, or in isolation. May your Spirit bind us together in the unity of your love and give us peace and joy in our hearts this day.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We prayer for governments and health officials as they make challenging decisions for the health of nations that they may be wise and fair in all they do. We prayer for all working to keep us supplied with essential goods and for those turning their skills and talents to new lines of production or ways of working to serve their communities. We give thanks for their dedication, resourcefulness, patience and care.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We pray for those giving vital medical and nursing care that they may be strengthened and protected in their work. We pray for thsoe who are vulnerable, elderly or with special needs that they may receive the care and support they need. Make us all servants of each other in love, that our communities may be strong and thrive even in these difficult times.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We pray for those for whom this is a time of stress, anxiety and pain; for those worried about money, or whether their business or job will survive and for those struggling to cope with isolation. We pray for families where the stresses of this time feel intolerable and are pushing people to breaking point. Hear the cries of the desperate, we pray, and lead them to your peace.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We pray for parents with children at home. May they find ways to enjoy this family time together and celebrate the enrichment of shared experience. We pray for those parents struggling to entertain and educate their children that they may find new avenues to create fun and learning together, and for young people whose hopes and dreams appear to be in ruins at present. Lift them up, breathe new life into their dreams, encourage them to look beyond the narrow confines of today and reach out towards a reimagined, freshly inspired future.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We remember all those who have died, and especially those who have died in hospital away from loved ones. We pray for those whose hearts are breaking with grief and sorrow.
At this Eastertide, may we all know the power of your everlasting promises. Fill your people with the joy and hope of your eternal love that meets us in mysterious ways in the secret places of our hearts and gently lifts the darkness of our sorrow with the softening glow of your glorious light.  May we then shine as lights in the world around us.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
Lord, you promise that where two or three are gathered together in your name, you will hear their prayers and grant their requests. Hear us as we pray in our homes, our families, in scattered groups or on our own. Lead us into your truth and guide us to your everlasting kingdom.
Amen.

‘We are all in this together’ – 12th April 2020 – Easter Day Morning

Acts 10.34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

John 20.1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The Sermon

Good morning and may I begin by wishing you all a very Happy Easter, a very happy but very different Easter. I’m sorry that once again I can’t see you but to be honest I’m rather relieved that you can’t see me because I now look different and I’m not yet used to the me I see in the mirror. My usual artfully tousled coiffure (at least I hope that’s how it looks) is now flatter and straighter and it doesn’t feel like me. I’m sure I’m not on my own in finding life a bit strange and disorientating due to all the changes, both major and minor, hair styles being the least of them, that have been forced on us since the pandemic caught up with us. Perhaps for the first time in our lives (for most of us) we are gaining first-hand knowledge and experience of what it’s like to have all our certainties and securities and freedoms taken away from us and knowing that we are not in control of very much at all. Many of the people in biblical times would have would have known these feelings all too well; they frequently lived under foreign occupation or in exile and we know that their oppressors were not exactly famous for their kindness or subtlety.

Yes life is very different for us now.

Looking back to the beginning of Lent, which now seems so long ago, things looked fairly normal. Yes we had some challenges to face following the retirement of our vicar and the fact that we knew we weren’t going to get another one of our own, but we were working things out and making plans, we were coping. At that point, as we saw how situations were developing rapidly in China and then Italy we thought that we might have to make changes but I don’t think many of us envisaged just how quickly all our plans and assumptions would be so abruptly cast aside. Giving things up or taking things on for Lent has taken on a whole new meaning!

In the last four weeks we have all come a long way and had to make a great many changes and adjustments to the way we live. Some of us are having to stay at home, whether we want to or not and others are having to work harder and longer than ever and in genuine fear for their safety or even their lives. As we look on, we see how these changes have shown the best in human nature in some and the worst in others. I think on balance we are blessed with seeing far more of the best than the worst but hopefully we will all use these strange and challenging times to reflect on our own values and behaviours and as I said in my previous sermon, make plans to be better people and a better society and in so doing make a better and fairer world for everyone.

In our reading from Acts Peter says “I truly understand that God shows no partiality”. Perhaps it’s dangerous to take such a short section of a quote and apply its point about partiality to our current situation but we are certainly seeing that the virus we are contending with has no partiality. When it gets a grip we are all at risk whether old or young, male or female, rich or poor, powerful or powerless or indeed whether we believe in God or not. At the time of writing this sermon, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is in intensive care just as many others are and by the time you hear or read it I have no idea what his condition will be. Lest there be any doubt, we really are all in this together.

What this pandemic is showing us, at great cost in lives and countless other ways, is just how fragile and superficial the world that we have constructed for ourselves actually is. In so many ways it is amazing and complex and wonderful but we now see how easily it can be broken. All that we have relied on and to a large extent taken for granted cannot now be relied on. We are by no means helpless but we are most definitely not in ultimate control. Perhaps we had made the mistake of fooling ourselves that we were but nature has a way of putting us straight from time to time.

Holding onto our faith can be challenging at the best of times and these are not the best of times. Holding onto our faith especially when we don’t understand what is happening or why and when everything seems to be going wrong and failing can lead us to doubt ourselves and our choices as people of faith. But we have incredible examples of holding onto faith in desperate circumstances throughout the Bible including in our reading from John’s Gospel. Jesus’ Disciples and followers must have felt that everything they had put their love and faith into had come to nothing. The man they loved and believed in had been humiliated and executed in the cruellest way. Why? What was it all for? They didn’t understand but they held together in their grief and distress and wanted to look after Jesus even in death which is why Mary went to his tomb. As we know, their faith was not in vain and ultimately they were given the gift of understanding through his resurrection. Even so, many others still regarded them as deluded or misguided or trouble makers and it takes courage and faith to keep going when that is how others see you.

How will our faith be supported and encouraged? For me it is when I see God working through my fellow people wherever and however that might be. As I said earlier we have seen this current situation bring out the best in many people; those working in hospitals and social care and community practice to care for the sick, those working, often unseen, to maintain our supplies and services which enable our societies to keep functioning, the incredible coming together of disparate groups to build hospitals, develop tests and possible treatments, design and manufacture equipment to support the sick and the incredible pulling together of people from all walks of life doing all they can in their own small ways to support and care for each other through these dark times. So much has been achieved by so many in an incredibly short space of time. It just goes to show what we can do when we lay aside tribalism and self-interest and it is heartening. I really hope and pray that we can hold onto this spirit of loving kindness, compassion and cooperation as we move forward in the months and years to come. Jesus reminds us of the commandments at the heart of our faith, to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Are we finally going to listen and more importantly to do as he asks?

Kath, Lay Reader

Please also see the sugguestion from Church's Together in Britain and Ireland on singing hymns on Easter Day.

Church called to sing hymns on Easter Sunday

The Prayers

Let us bring out prayers to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in sure and certain hope that he hears us when we call, whether gathered together or scattered in our homes, and answers our prayer in accordance with his will and everlasting love.
 
On this Easter Day we rejoice in the glorious news of the resurrection of Jesus, lifting our hearts and minds to see what God has done and know that it is marvellous. Bless your church this day, we pray, here and across the world as we celebrate this most wonderful and holy moment in our year in homes, in families, or in isolation. May your Spirit bind us together in the unity of your love and give us peace and joy in our hearts this day.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
 
We prayer for governments and health officials as they make challenging decisions for the health of nations that they may be wise and fair in all they do. We prayer for all working to keep us supplied with essential goods and for those turning their skills and talents to new lines of production or ways of working to serve their communities. We give thanks for their dedication, resourcefulness, patience and care.
Shower us with your love

That our hearts may rejoice.

We pray for those giving vital medical and nursing care that they may be strengthened and protected in their work. We pray for thsoe who are vulnerable, elderly or with special needs that they may receive the care and support they need. Make us all servants of each other in love, that our communities may be strong and thrive even in these difficult times.
Shower us with your love

That our hearts may rejoice.

We pray for those for whom this is a time of stress, anxiety and pain; for those worried about money, or whether their business or job will survive and for those struggling to cope with isolation. We pray for families where the stresses of this time feel intolerable and are pushing people to breaking point. Hear the cries of the desperate, we pray, and lead them to your peace.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We pray for parents with children at home. May they find ways to enjoy this family time together and celebrate the enrichment of shared experience. We pray for those parents struggling to entertain and educate their children that they may find new avenues to create fun and learning together, and for young people whose hopes and dreams appear to be in ruins at present. Lift them up, breathe new life into their dreams, encourage them to look beyond the narrow confines of today and reach out towards a reimagined, freshly inspired future.
Shower us with your love

That our hearts may rejoice.

We remember all those who have died, and especially those who have died in hospital away from loved ones. We pray for those whose hearts are breaking with grief and sorrow.
At this Eastertide, may we all know the power of your everlasting promises. Fill your people with the joy and hope of your eternal love that meets us in mysterious ways in the secret places of our hearts and gently lifts the darkness of our sorrow with the softening glow of your glorious light.  May we then shine as lights in the world around us.
Shower us with your love

That our hearts may rejoice.

Lord, you promise that where two or three are gathered together in your name, you will hear their prayers and grant their requests. Hear us as we pray in our homes, our families, in scattered groups or on our own. Lead us into your truth and guide us to your everlasting kingdom.
Amen.

Good Friday

Since we are unable to gather together at the foot of the cross this Good Friday we offer these reflections to aid in personal devotion today. They are written by Bishop Stephen Cottrell and can be found in the book "Walking the Way of the Cross" from Church House Publishing. They are narrated by Lay Readers and members of the Worship Team at St Marys.

First station - Jesus in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

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Second station - Jesus betrayed by Judas and arrested

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Third station - Jesus condemned by the Sanhedrin

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Fourth station - Peter denies Jesus

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Fifth station - Jesus judged by Pilate

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Sixth station - Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns

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Seventh station - Jesus carries the cross

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Eighth station - Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross

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Ninth station - Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

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Tenth station - Jesus is crucified

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Eleventh station - Jesus promises the kingdom to the penitent thief

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Twelfth station - Jesus on the cross; his mother and his friend

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Thirteenth station - Jesus dies on the cross

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Fourteenth station - Jesus laid in the tomb

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Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

On Maundy Thursday we would normally gather to celebrate the Eucharist of the Last Supper followed by the removal from the Church any sign of colour and celebration so that the place looks stark. We are unable to do this and so we offer the Gospel reading set for Maundy Thursday and a reflection by Anne, one of our Lay Readers. This is followed by the Gospel of the Watch, split in two by a time of silence for prayer and reflection. Since this is set at night it can best be used in the late evening once the activity of the day is over.

 

John 13.1-17, 31-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

The Reflection

Jesus comes together on this night, with his disciples in an Upper Room, to share a last Passover Meal. Before they eat, Jesus takes off his robe, ties a towel around his waist and sets about washing his disciples' feet. This is the menial task of a servant, to wash the street dust from the feet of the guests, but Jesus has no hesitation in doing this lowly yet intimate service for his disciples.

Peter protests but Jesus quiets his objections and completes his task. It is as much pride to resist service as it is pride that can stop people serving others.

Having your feet washed would have been much more common at that time, a regular part of being received as a guest. When I was in Uganda, before every meal when guests were present, the hosts would come round with a bowl, a jug of water, a sliver of soap and a towel and water would be poured over the hands of everyone present, in turn, that they might have clean hands for eating. This was part of the ritual of hospitality.

Foot washing for us is rather more excruciatingly embarrassing as we tend to keep our feet hidden and private.  Anyone who has been asked to participate in a foot washing in church will usually say how uncomfortable they felt at having someone else touch and wash their feet, although it can also be quite healing, if we can get over the embarrassment. Someone gently tending our feet can make us more accepting of our need to receive as well as give and accepting of our imperfections.

In Jesus' time foot washing was normal. What was not normal was the host, or the guest of honour, doing the washing. Jesus took on the role of the most humble servant and left us an example for all time. If we are his followers we can never think we are above the most lowly acts of service to our family, friends, neighbours and even strangers.

Jesus went on to break the bread and share the wine with his disciples, creating the pattern of our Eucharistic celebration to this day. As he broke the bread and poured the wine Jesus told his disciples he was sharing with them his broken body and shed blood and told them to “Do this in Remembrance of me”. “For”, as we hear in Corinthians, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”

Maundy Thursday is the day we remember Christ's inauguration of our Eucharistic celebration.

This year we are in extraordinary times where we can no longer meet and share the bread and wine Sunday by Sunday or on any other day. On the last Sunday when were were able to share together in Communion (on March 15th) we were already restricted to sharing only the bread together.  To avoid touching the communion rail we did not kneel, but stood to receive, almost as if we were already on the verge of departure. Now we are unable to share together in this Sacrament of togetherness, but in our hearts we can still pray the words and know Christ with us. Like people down the ages who have been cut off from sharing with their communities because of upheaval, catastrophe, imprisonment or persecution, we can still welcome Christ into our hearts, lift up our hearts to God and share with out fellow Christians a remembrance of Christ's actions. We can still have faith in Jesus' promises.

At the end of our Maundy Thursday service we usually hear the words of the Gospel story of Jesus going out into the garden of Gethsemane to pray and of his arrest; the beginning of the events of Good Friday. As we hear these words, the church is stripped of adornments, of linens and frontals, of candles and even the golden cross on the high altar. The church is stripped bare to its plainest form as we prepare for the bleakness of Good Friday and the sorrow of Easter Saturday. In the darkness, at the end of the reading, we depart in silence and, not stopping to greet fellow worshippers, we slip away home.

For us now, in these restricted times, we may feel that our life as Christians has been stripped back to its plainest form and the silence and solitude of the departure from Church on Maundy Thursday may feel like the norm rather than the exception. But when foundations are exposed it gives us the chance to check their solidity and we have the opportunity to examine our faith and rediscover the fundamentals of Christ's love that are at its heart.

The poignancy of Maundy Thursday is perhaps most acute this year and the sense of confusion, inadequacy and foreboding that gripped the disciples that night might take hold in our hearts and make us fearful.

But we are still the people of Christ, united in our baptism and in our faith. Christ does not abandon us because we cannot physically come together and share in the Eucharist. This year we have new opportunities to wash one another's feet as we find ways to support the vulnerable and manage the stresses of either being confined for long periods with other family members or being isolated and alone. For key workers and health workers, washing the feet of the nation at this time of crisis is a daily reality and we need to show our gratitude for their dedication and often sacrificial service.

If we are confined with our families, we may need to find fresh ways of being kind to each other, of bearing with each other, of sharing chores and burdens together, of serving each other in order to get us through these times.

If we are alone we can find ways to reach out to others by phone or other technologies or through prayer. We might especially reach out to some we are less fond of or find more challenging. They too are struggling at this time and we can offer a moment to lighten their darkness.

We may not be able to share physically in the bread and wine together, gathered round the altar, but we can still savour in our hearts the words of Christ and know his presence with us. Take a moment when you eat to remember the last supper and Christ's sharing of himself for us all.

We may be tempted to fall into the bleakness of the darkness and feel just the distress of the times, but Christ gave his disciples hope at the Last Supper. He gave them an example of service to others. He gave them a commemoration of himself which was to be an act of Remembrance for all time. “For as often as you break this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he come.” We look forward to the ultimate coming again of Christ, knowing he left us his hope and his promise.

May we all pray to see creative ways of sharing God's love at this time.

These are extraordinary and challenging times, but Jesus' promises live on and we can enrich our lives and our faith as we seek to find new ways to love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

The Watch

Luke 21.31-46

Jesus said ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’

He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

 

A time of silence is kept.

 

Luke 21.47-62

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

‘Christ-like humility’ – 5th April 2020 – Palm Sunday

Compline

The Sermon, by Joe, a Lay Reader from St Marys:

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen.

A couple of days ago I saw a meme on Facebook that said “I didn’t realise I’d be giving up so much for Lent….”

I certainly didn’t!

But having said that, I’ve been able to maintain my relationships with most of the people in my life – albeit not face to face – and it’s certainly given me an opportunity to consider my relationship with God.

This Lent season has been unique in so many ways; watching it unfold in our own lives and on TV has shown us so many facets of humanity. We’ve experienced the greed and fear of people panic buying and fighting in stores.  We’ve seen that some people think their own pleasures and desires are more important than anything else, leading to them defying the lockdown measures to throw Karaoke and barbecue parties.

But we’ve also witnessed the selfless sacrifice of medical and care workers and people of faith who’ve put their own lives on the line by ministering to the sick and dying.  We’ve seen communities pulling together to help each other.

In this Lent season, we’ve witnessed the best and worst behaviour of human beings and human institutions, and I have no doubt that we will see many more examples of both as the weeks unfold.

Perhaps this Lent has been the most valuable to us for many, many years.  A period in which we have been forced to lay aside the trappings of modern life and go back to what is important.  A period of enforced slowing down; of time in which we are forced to be on our own or with family.  It is not an easy time, but Lent is not expected to be easy.  Whether our own Lenten traditions are to give things up, or to take on board new spiritual disciplines, Lent has always been a traditional period of sacrifice leading up to the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This year, we seem to be experiencing a wider Passion; a Passion that is including the whole of humanity.

As Christians, what are we to make of this time?

I’d like to focus on one of tonight’s readings – from the letter to the Philippians.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The words of this reading will be familiar to many of us; some of them are used in the Creed, others form the title of a hymn.  The letter to the Philippians was sent by Paul around AD61 to thank the church at Philippi for a gift they’d sent him when he was put in to house arrest.  Philippi was a Roman colony, and many of the population wee retired Roman soldiers or officials – it had very few Jews living there and for this reason Paul doesn’t reference the Old Testament in his letter.  It’s regarded as one of the most joyous missives that Paul sent – the word joy or some synonym of it is used 16 times in the text.  Paul also popped in a few of his pastoral warnings to the church, reminding them to steer a path between the legalists on one side of the Church and the ‘Libertines’ of the other extreme.

But – and of great relevance to us today – it also contains Paul’s thoughts on Christian living.  In the letter, Paul exhorts the Church:

  • To be humble – to live humbly, and to imitate Christs humility.
  • To press on towards the goal of achieving citizenship of heaven.
  • To not be anxious, but, in the words of Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”
  • To have faith that through God they can achieve anything they need to do – Chapter 4:13 – “I can do everything through Him that gives me strength”

Powerful words indeed for this time of fear and anxiety, where everything that many people are used to anchoring themselves to seems to be ephemeral.

And we also find tonight’s reading – often described as one of the most profound pieces of Christological thought in the New Testament, in which Paul lays out how we should tailor our relationships by looking at Christ himself. Paul lays out the essential nature of Jesus Christ – fully God, but choosing to take on the nature and appearance and becoming a fully human man.  A servant. A man of great humility.

  • Despite being God, He chose not to take advantage of His Godhood.
  • Despite being God, He chose to not become a human leader or King, but a wandering teacher from the very un-trendy end of the Roman Empire.
  • Despite being God, He humbled himself through his ministry and eventually died the most humiliating, shameful and painful death available to the Roman Empire – crucifixion – and turned that into the ultimate victory against death, becoming Lord of creation.

On Palm Sunday we are at the turning point in Christ’s Ministry, where the joyous scenes that greet his arrival will soon become cries of ‘Crucify him’, and within a week will see our Lord crucified and resurrected.

On this Palm Sunday, we look at our country – and the world - at a turning point.

We need to be humble; we need to be Christlike in how we engage with the people around us.  CS Lewis once said that “being humble is not a matter of thinking less of yourself; it’s a matter of thinking of yourself, less”

Right now, we need some Christlike humility.  We see it in the shop workers and health workers, warehouse staff and transport workers, the people who keep our way of life chugging along even through this difficult moment in time.

We see it in those people who give their lives in caring for others.

Let us all embrace a Christ-like humility at this time.  Let’s be servants for each other. Let us remember that we are ourselves servants of the living Lord, Jesus Christ, and let us be Christ-like in our response to current events.

Amen.

The Prayers, by Hope:

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the father.

Oh God the creator and preserver of all, on this special Palm Sunday, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth and your saving health among all nations.
Dear Father be with us all at this time of uncertainty and fears for the future. We are hearing how the new coronavirus is circling our world, our country and even our city of Sheffield.
Strengthen us with inner faith in you, grant us that love which leads us to compassion for all those who are suffering, and uplift us with hope for the future.
Especially we pray for those who live in countries where health services are poorer than here and the risks can be higher still. Bless those who are far away, working for Christian Aid and for our Christian mission societies around the world, and those that they serve.
Bless all those in this country and abroad who work in health and care services, as doctors, nurses, cleaners, carers, all those who may be inadequately protected, and at high risk of becoming very ill themselves.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for those who are suffering from Covid-19 in so many different ways; physical, practical, emotional, and spiritual.
Thinking of those who are very ill and struggling for breath.
Thinking of those who have major and immediate problems with loss of income.
Thinking of those who are living and working in care homes around this country.
Thinking of those who are suffering the stresses of being cooped up at home with tensions in the family; or without a garden to go out into; or those who are isolated at home alone.
Uplift the hearts of each of us this night and keep us safe. Help us all to be a part of supporting others. Show us the ways in which we can be helpers at this time.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for your church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians, may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and  righteousness of life.
Today we remember Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, for the last time, on a humble donkey. We remember him, surrounded by crowds laying down their cloaks and palm branches before him, welcoming him with shouts of praise and blessing – the son of David, God’s prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.
Strengthen us all in our worship at this time. We lack our usual outward signs of Palm Sunday, but need more than ever to be reaching out to you in prayer, as you reach out to us.
Bless those leaders at St.Marys, Walkley, and those around our city, and beyond, to the ends of the earth, who are working so hard to serve you, Oh Lord, in sharing your word in new and different ways.
Bless those of other faiths who like us are following new paths to worship, in order to physically stay apart, but be together in spirit, and save lives.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We ask your blessing on all those who are living in real fear of untimely, unexpected death for themselves, close relatives or friends. Thinking especially of those who are unable to say goodbye to dying relatives or to be there at the grave side after they have gone. Let us give thanks for the nurses, carers and religious leaders who are there to give support at these tragic times.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We remember all those who have gone before us in the Peace of Christ.  We give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the Communion of Saints

Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

‘Are there not 12 hours of daylight?’ – 29th March 2020 – Passion Sunday

This week we celebrate Passion Sunday.
Our Sunday evenin preacher is Catherine.
Our intercessions are provided by Anne.
The readings are from Romans 8 and the Gospel of John.

Romans 8. 6 – 11

John 11. 1 – 45

Sermon by Catherine, Lay Reader

The Prayers

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord hear my voice.
Hear us Lord as we pray this day for your world in its suffering and struggle. We pray for all those who are working as fast as possible to respond with new policies and new strategies to keep people safe and to sustain livelihoods and economies, and for those involved in research into faster and more effective tests, vaccines and medicines.  Be with those in government, local authorities, health professionals as they manage this challenging situation, and police and military personnel as they turn their skills to provide care and support.  We pray for leaders who continue to work even when ill themselves.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord hear my voice.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope. Hear us as we pray for those who wait and look for hope as they stay at home, come to terms with social isolation, and work to shield and protect the most vulnerable.  May those who are particularly struggling with loneliness, anxiety and family stress find new seeds of hope in their unfamiliar circumstances. In this period of lockdown may we wait on you and hear your voice speaking words of hope even in the turmoil of our thoughts and emotions.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord hear my voice
My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for morning. Hear us Lord as we pray for those who are looking for light in the darkness, for those who are sick, on the edge of life or anxious for loved ones they cannot be near. Hear us as we pray for those who grieve in isolation, unable to mourn or commemorate their loved ones as they would wish. Sustain them with your loving grace and help them to trust that light will dawn in their darkness and morning will follow night.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice
Hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love.  Hear us as we pray for those who have shown their love and dedication through unstinting and sacrificial service and care, through volunteering, through labouring to keep supplies reaching those who need them, and for all who are demonstrating huge community spirit.    Hear us as we pray for those who are adapting their businesses and skills in innovative ways to provide support to health workers and communities and for supermarkets as they develop their businesses to respond to new realities. Hear us as we pray for churches, clergy and congregations, as they find new ways to witness to your love, share in worship and serve your people and communities. We pray for Canon Sophie as she begins her ministry in the diocese and all others affected by delays in ordination and commissioning that they may be patient at this time and know your creative love.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice
Hope in the Lord for with him is great power to redeem.  Show us the redeeming and transforming power of your Spirit especially as we begin this holy season of Passiontide in unfamiliar circumstances. May we look forward with renewed and real expectation to the new life of Easter as we live through this time of suffering and pain. Reveal to us the reality of your promises of everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice
Hear us as we remember those who have died and especially those who have died separated from family and friends. Support those who mourn and those who minister to the grieving. May Jesus' words of hope that those who believe will see the glory of God strengthen hearts and guide our faith always.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
Lord hear my voice.
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one
with your saints in heaven and on earth;
grant that in our earthly pilgrimage
we may ever be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer,
and know ourselves surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.