‘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.

‘Where have you laid him?’ – 29th March 2020 – Passion Sunday

We welcome this morning Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes, Vicar of St John's Ranmoor and one of the Mission Area clergy who will preside at the Eucharist and preach. Singing along with the hymns is encouraged! (Text of hymns below.)

The prayers are provided by Anne, one of our Lay Readers at St Marys. (Text of these are below the hymns and are encourage to be used separate from the rest of the service.

Readings and reflection for Sunday 29th March Passion Sunday

I’ve included all the readings for today, including the Psalm. They all have something to say to us.

 

The Collect

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
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.

First Reading Ezekiel 37.1-14

1The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, you know.’ 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.’

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.’

 

Psalm130

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; ♦
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss, ♦
O Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you, ♦
so that you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; ♦
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than the night watch for the morning, ♦
more than the night watch for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the Lord, ♦
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him is plenteous redemption ♦
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

 

Second Reading Romans 8.6-11

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

Gospel Reading John 11.1-45

1A certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

Reflection

This Sunday is Passion Sunday, the day when we start to turn from the wilderness of Lent towards the events of Holy Week. And in today’s Gospel we are given a foretaste, a dress rehearsal in the story of the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were close friends of Jesus. Their home was a place of solace for him, a retreat from the crowds during his public ministry. So when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill it would have been natural for him to want to rush to his bedside. To offer his support. This is what we would want to do for someone we love. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He has to overcome his natural human instincts for a greater purpose. And he delays going to them. At this time of crisis and anxiety, our natural human instinct is to be with those we love. But for the greater good we have to remain in isolation. This situation gives a whole new meaning to our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He tells us that to set the mind on the flesh is death. To see people in the flesh which is our normal human instinct, puts our flesh and the flesh of others in danger. But to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. We are still one in the Spirit. Even though we are physically separated, we are still joined together as members of God’s family. And thank goodness we have the benefits of modern technology like telephones and computers which enable us to keep in touch.

Eventually, Jesus judges that the time is right for him to go to Bethany in Judea. But Judea has become a place of danger for him. His disciples warn him that he is at risk of being stoned. While many of us are able to isolate ourselves, we are very aware of all those who have to go into situations of danger at the moment. Especially those on the front line of our health service. We give thanks for their courage and pray for their safety.

When Jesus arrives at Bethany, he is greeted by Martha. She is full of regret, and perhaps anger, that Jesus had not come sooner. Martha knows that Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life. God will give him whatever he asks. And on this occasion, Jesus promises that her brother will rise again. But Martha thinks he is talking about the resurrection at the end of time. This is standard Jewish teaching. Martha’s rather flat response shows that at the moment this isn’t very comforting. And I know that there will be people like Martha who have lost loved ones recently who are not yet ready to hear those words of hope. But then Jesus then utters those words which are so central to our faith. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Words that are read at the beginning of funerals. Though their reality can seem far off, in the midst of our grief and loss, Jesus is there, alive. And like Martha we have to hang on to those words, waiting for when they become real to us again.

Martha, you will remember, was the busy sister. She went to meet Jesus on the road. Mary was the more reflective of the two. The one who wanted to spend time with Jesus. In this time of crisis we need Marthas and Marys. Those who get on and do and organise. And those who reflect and pray and think. When Mary heard that Jesus was calling for her she went to him and knelt at his feet. Not surprisingly, she too was upset and angry with Jesus.  ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Where were you? Why did you let this happen? In times of crisis like this one it is entirely natural for us to ask God some hard questions. It’s ok for us to get angry with him. He is big enough to cope. By being honest with him about our feelings we can find a deeper relationship with him.

Jesus is not unfeeling. Far from it. He weeps. This is not just evidence that he was really human but that he was the Word made flesh. In him, God shares in our suffering. He is not remote or absent but stands alongside us and he weeps. He weeps for Lazarus his friend. For Mary and Martha in their grief. For griefs past and also for himself as he journeys towards the cross. However strong our faith we all need to grieve. We cannot skip Good Friday and go straight to Easter Sunday.

Jesus asks, ‘Where have you laid him?’ Two weeks later, on Easter Sunday, Mary, supposing him to be the gardener, will say, ‘They have taken my master away and I do not know where they have laid him.’ There are already signs of future resurrection in the present. Like Jesus, Lazarus was buried in a cave tomb, with a stone to seal it. And through the power of God, Lazarus is raised from the dead. It’s a powerful moment that will stay with all those who witnessed it. And when Easter does eventually happen it will help people to come to terms with Jesus’ own resurrection. As we go through the coming weeks, we need to be alive to the small resurrections around us so that when the world finally does come alive again, we will be ready and able to recognise and celebrate it. Amen.

 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious,
the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious,
Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting,
Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains
of goodness and love.

To all life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish
as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish,
but nought changeth Thee.

Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me, and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
The living water: thirsty one,
Stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of life I’ll walk
Till trav’lling days are done.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art
Be thou my best thought, in the day or the night;
Both waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word;
Be thou ever with me and I with thee, Lord.
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son,
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight,
Be thou my whole armour,
be thou my true might,
Be thou my soul’s shelter,
be thou my strong tower,
O raise thou me heavenward,
great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Be thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Be thou and thou only first in my heart,
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright Sun,
O grant me its joys after vict’ry is won
Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

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.

‘Writing a sermon that no one will hear’ – 22nd March 2020 – 4th Sunday of Lent – Mothering Sunday

Based around Ephesians 5.8-14.

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

When I realised that this sermon would be published on the website rather than read from the lectern, I did feel a little like ‘Father Mackenzie’ in the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’:

“Father Mackenzie,
Writing a sermon that no one will hear,
No one came near…”

It’s safe to say that we live in strange and uncertain times, the sort of times where many of us will think of family, and today – quite a few of us will think of our mothers.  I was blessed with a good mum; a loving, caring mother who wasn’t afraid to put her foot down when appropriate.  She also gave me quite a lot of latitude; the general rule of thumb in the school summer holidays was that if I went out anywhere I was to be home before the street lights came on.  This was in those long-gone pre-mobile-phone days….

But what was truly staggering was that on my return, had I been up to anything nefarious, had I been rude to anyone, had I done a bit of trespassing – she knew.  I had no idea how, but she knew.  Mother’s intuition?  Who knows…but the knowledge that she would know what I’d been up to tended to cultivate in me a sense of wanting to keep my mum sweet, and please her.

I was thinking of this when I want to look at the reading from Ephesians:

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

Although the author of the letter to the Ephesians identifies himself as Paul in various places, there has been some suggestion that it may have actually been written by a follower of Paul after the Apostle’s death, based mainly on the similarity of content between Ephesians and Colossians and the lack of the usual personal preamble that Paul applied to his missives.  If Paul was indeed the author, it was almost certainly written at the same time he wrote the letter to the Colossians, whilst he was in prison in around AD 60.

The city of Ephesus housed the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and as such was a centre of pagan culture which Paul made a centre for his evangelism for 3 years, as detailed in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’.  The letter isn’t written from the perspective of correcting a heresy or some bad behaviour, but is more of a reminder to the Church members of the purpose of God, and how the members of the Church can further God’s purpose in the world.

The reading starts with a reminder that before they came to Christ, the people were in darkness.  They’re now children of light, but with the gift comes a few responsibilities.  The church is reminded that:

They are to try and find out what is pleasing to the Lord – they’re told that such things are going to be those that are good, right and true.  As children of light, they’re expected to LIVE like children of light – being truthful, good and righteous in their dealings with all.

They are told to have no part in untruthful works of darkness; they are to expose them.  This is not just a call to speak against them, but is a call to behave in ways that are opposed to such things.

They’re also reminded that they shouldn’t talk about these shameful things – they’ll be exposed anyway.  Dwelling on the darkness can only strengthen it.

As is often the case, there is much here for us, especially at a time when panic and fear is prevalent.

There is little that is righteous about panic-buying and hoarding.

There is nothing that is good about refusing to isolate oneself for the benefit of others.

The truth seems to be hard to find right now as no one really knows what to expect.

And the bad behaviour?  In these days of social media and phones with video cameras, it’s VERY hard to keep selfish and hurtful acts out of the public eye.

As Christians, what are our duties and responsibilities at this time?

We remember that we are children of light, we behave in ways pleasing to the Lord, and we demonstrate, by our words and actions, that we are the light in the world.

That’s it.

Back to my mum.  If I had been a bad lad, there were consequences.  My mother only ever struck me once; I was about 5 years old and I’d been found attempting to dismantle a mains power socket with a kitchen knife.  She was very keen that Mr and Mrs Pritchard’s first and only born should not become a black smudge on the carpet…

As I grew older I realised that what motivated me was not so much to ‘do what my mum told me, because otherwise there will be consequences’ but more along the lines of ‘do what my mum told me, because she has my best interests at heart, I love her, and I want to please her’.  I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to say this.

My relationship with God is very much like this; I know He has my best interests at heart; I know He loves me, wishes to nurture me, gives me His grace, and wishes me to behave in certain ways for my own good.

Let’s look back at tonight’s reading:

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

  1. God loves me – he has bought me out of darkness in to the light.
  2. He has my best interests at heart – the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true, and I should follow this pathway.
  3. I want to please God – I should try and find out what is pleasing to the Lord, and do it.

On this Mothering Sunday, in these strange times, let’s look to how we can apply this to those who WE mother and nurture – be we male or female, have children or not.

We Christians, we children of light,  can provide the loving care and attention of a good Mother to those around us, like the Lord does for us.

Amen.

‘Seeing as God sees’ – 22nd March 2020 – 4th Sunday of Lent – Mothering Sunday

As of Sunday 22 March 2020, we aim to publish the readings, sermons and prayers of intercession on this website in advance of the normal service times. While we cannot meet in person, this allows us to join together in prayer, wherever we are. Audio recordings of the sermons and intercessions will normally be available from 9am on the relevant Sunday.

This week we celebrate Mothering Sunday.
Our Sunday morning preacher is Kath.
Our intercessions are provided by Catherine.
The readings are from 1 Samuel 16 and the Gospel of John.

1 Samuel 16. 1 – 13

John 9. 1 – end

Sermon by Kath, Lay Reader

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray…

We pray for the whole world
united in facing the same adversity
A danger none of us can see.

We pray for governments and leaders
For scientists researching treatments and vaccines
for healthcare services and workers
that they might have the insight to see clearly
readily share what is already known
and together determine the best possible courses of action
to enable the welfare of all.

We pray for those areas of the world already struggling
Places devastated by flood, fire or war
Refugee camps
Places of poverty and only basic healthcare.

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for the worldwide people of God
Unexpectedly and suddenly challenged to be Lights of Christ
in new and creative ways.
We give thanks for the technology which allow us
to stay connected
to support one another
to reach out to the wider community.
We pray for broadcasters on television, radio and online
as they seek to offer virtual opportunities
for prayer and worship together.
We pray for all who work in IT
who help to make this possible.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for our community in Walkley
and for our city of Sheffield.
On this Mothering Sunday we remember all who care for children,
for parents suddenly asked to be home educators
in addition to their day jobs,
for those caring for the children of the carers.
We pray for our local businesses,
especially any who are now finding it difficult or impossible to trade.
We give thanks for local initiatives seeking to support
those self-isolating or generally isolated.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for all who are ill,
for those suffering from Covid-19,
for those worried about catching the virus
for those whose treatment for pre-existing illness is now being delayed.
We pray for all who are feeling lonely or anxious.
We pray for all who work in the health service, and for their families.

In quiet, we bring to mind anyone known to us
who is in particular need today….

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

 

We pray for those who have died
and those who mourn.
We think of those unable to hold or attend the funeral of a loved one.
In quiet, we remember anyone known to us who has died or in mourning...

Lord Jesus
who gave sight to the man born blind
enabling him to see you clearly
and to share this insight with others,
be with us in the coming weeks
help us too
to see and to shine your light
so that all might see
your kingdom here on earth.

Merciful Father
accept these prayers,
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
Amen.[1]

[1]Final words © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

‘Be Prepared and Be Thankful’ – 24th March, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Based around 1 Corinthians 10.1-13 and Luke 13.1-9.

Are your affairs in order? Have you made your will? Is your spiritual house in order? These are questions many people in every age have put to the back of their mind saying, “There’s plenty of time”; “I’m only young”; “Life is for living”; “I’ve got all on providing for my family in the here and now”; “One day I’ll get round to those things.”

Jesus has, in the chapter of Luke that precedes our reading today, been telling people that having your spiritual house in order is not a thing to delay. No-one ever knows when their life will end. No-one ever knows when the “End Times” will be. Everyone needs to be ready, alert, prepared. We need to be honouring God in the here and now, not putting things off for some more appropriate time in the future (that might never arise).

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is asked about the killing of some Galileans by the Romans. The questioners are seeming to hope that Jesus will say that these Galileans were particularly sinful and therefore somehow deserving of death. But Jesus refutes this and comes back with an example of people in Jerusalem accidentally killed in the collapse of a tower. Sudden death happens – we need to be prepared!

We know that in our own day sudden death happens – accidents while travelling; catastrophic weather events; acts of violence; sudden illness… Sudden death happens. As events in Christchurch, New Zealand have shown us, even the quietest, friendliest places are not immune to sudden violence. The cyclone that recently hit Mozambique and surrounding area is highly unusual but it happened, and with devastating impact.  Even in our own times when we like to feel in control of events, we need to be prepared as unexpected things can befall us at any time. That is not to say we need to be paranoid about danger around every corner – but we should not put off spiritual matters and being prepared for our own death.

Jesus goes on to tell a parable, about a fig tree that does not bear fruit. The owner of the tree wants to cut it down but the gardener pleads for an additional year to give it extra care and attention.  If it still bears no fruit, it can be cut down. Jesus tell the parable to give a message of hope as well as one of warning. God continues in forbearance and mercy, waiting for his people to turn to him and bear fruits of righteousness, but his patience will not last forever.  We do not know the time when the end time will come. We do not know the time of our death – so we need to be prepared.

Jesus urges us to put our spiritual lives in order as we never know when we might die.

Paul urges people in the church to put their spiritual lives in order – to avoid temptation and complacency.

We have to think that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was sure that they would understand his references to the Exodus story from the Old Testament as told in Exodus and Numbers. Paul refers to the cloud that led the Israelites when they first fled from Egypt and continued to determine when they would travel and when they would stay in camp as it lifted or rested on the tabernacle. The whole people experienced crossing the Red Sea on dry land when God parted the waters for them. Later, in the wilderness, manna and quails were provided by God to feed the people and Moses brought forth water from the rock when he hit it with his staff, on God’s orders.

Despite all these amazing manifestations of God’s love and care, the people were often quarrelsome and rebellious. Paul’s quotation “the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry” comes from Exodus.  Moses was up the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God but he had been there some time and the people grew restive and impatient, wondering what was happening. They made a golden calf to worship and ate and drank in celebration of their idolatry. Grumbling and complaining is an almost constant background to the Exodus story and God gets angry with the people.  There are plagues and an infestation of snakes. When some of the people start worshipping the Baal god of the Moabite people and indulging in sexual immorality God is particularly angry and sends a terrible plague and decrees that this generation will not enter the Promised Land but must wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Paul is using the Old Testament story as a parallel with the Christian experience. He compares the guidance of the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea with baptism and the food and water in the desert with Christian spiritual food and drink at the Eucharist. Paul’s point is that all the people benefited from the miraculous acts of God’s grace. All the people were guided, saved, fed and watered but still they were rebellious; still they grumbled and were ungrateful; still they indulged in idolatry and immorality. All the people benefited from God’s blessings and grace, but many still went astray.

Paul emphasises that we cannot be complacent in our faith.  We cannot think that because we have been baptised and become part of the body of Christ and share in communion we can cut ourselves some slack and yield to temptation.  We know God is gracious and merciful and loving but we must never abuse that grace and love by thinking God will turn a blind eye to us if we wander off the Christian path and give in to temptation and welcome us back when we want. In baptism we say we have died to sin and risen with Christ. Being  in the church is about living a life worthy of Christ.

Paul knows the Corinthians, and we, as humans will experience temptations that come to all people, but through our faith we should endeavour to stand firm and ask God to help us to resist temptation. If we can walk with him, we can find a way through, believing we will not be tempted beyond what we can endure.

Neither of our readings today is easy and the messages in them are not the most obvious to understand, but both Jesus and Paul are urging us to be alert and vigilant in our spiritual life. We need to be prepared spiritually for whatever may come whether our life is long or short.  They call on us to look to our own behaviour to make sure we are living as well as we can, being thankful to God for what He has done for us. We cannot be complacent as part of God’s family and must never abuse God’s grace and mercy and love by putting it to the test. We need to keep our eyes on living righteous lives and being prepared for death whenever it may come.  We live as those who know Christ’s call and cherish his presence and example and give thanks for all he has done for us.

As our post-communion prayer says: Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reader Anne.

‘Temptation’ – 10th March, 1st Sunday of Lent

Temptation of Jesus

Based around Luke 4. 1-13.

I have start by thanking Father Ron for the beginning of this sermon when last week he reminded us that the season of denial, as he put it, also known as Lent was almost upon us. Well as of Wednesday, it’s officially started. I say I have to thank him because I really had no idea where I was going with this sermon; even as I sat down to write it I didn’t have a single note to work with, so I’m grateful that what he said at least gave me a bit of a way in. In my own defence it wasn’t lack of thought or preparation that was the problem; I’ve been going over the readings for weeks thinking and hoping and praying for inspiration. Before I go any further, I’ll just tantalise you with this bit of information. When I first started my preparations, I looked at the reading from Luke and thought, this is great! Some really interesting ideas and questions were flowing and I’d made a page full of notes before I noticed that instead of it being Luke’s Gospel I’d turned to I’d accidentally found the almost identical passage in Matthew. It’s the same story with the same chapter number and almost the same verse numbers but the passage stops at the end of verse eleven, if you continue to verses twelve and thirteen in that gospel it prompts some very different thoughts and questions. I was tempted to go on and preach on these ideas but given that the inclusion of verses twelve and thirteen potentially change the context or focus of the passage rather a lot I thought I’d better not. Sometimes mistakes can have interesting results and perhaps one day I’ll go back to my notes and reconsider them and maybe write that sermon after all, even if it’s just for my own interest. If there’s any merit in it, I might even share it with you. On that cliff hanger I’ll get back to this sermon.

When I returned, somewhat disappointedly, to the correct passage or should I say passages for today, they provided me with a number of interesting and worthwhile thoughts but unfortunately no major theme that I felt I could get my teeth into. But over the weeks I’ve been reading them what has gradually asserted itself to me are the tones of voice of the speakers, especially in the passage from Luke. This might sound a bit of an odd idea given that much of the time when we read a passage from the Bible and then move on, it can be difficult to get a feel for the story or a real sense of the characters in it but if you have to really focus on it, as you do when you’re writing a sermon or studying, this can change and you can hear or imagine their voices and what is happening with them.

Just before our passage from Luke begins, Jesus has been baptised by John and this has been a very profound and powerful event. We are told that he is full of the Holy Spirit and that on his return from the Jordan, it leads him in the wilderness. He stays there for forty days and in that time he does not eat. At the end of that time he is said to be famished. Just stop and think about that for a moment. We’ve heard the story so many times it’s easy to not appreciate that forty days is a very, very long time to go without food. To describe him as famished seems to be a colossal understatement. Try to imagine the physical and mental state he must have been in, even with the Holy Spirit to accompany him. Starving, weak, exhausted! He was a human being after all.

Then the devil appears. In contrast to the way he has often been portrayed in art and literature, as a cloven-hoofed, horned, fiery-eyed and terrifying creature who it would be rather easy to spot as not being one of the good guys (the tail is probably a bit of a give-away too), this one seems rather different. As I read, this is where I could picture the scene and hear the tones of voice that make the encounter so powerful. In my mind’s eye, the devil looks like an ordinary man, nothing to make him stand out as different. He’s calmly regarding Jesus in his starving, weak, exhausted state; what better opportunity to tempt him, to see what he’s really made of and if he is who he thinks he is? The voice I hear is quiet, gentle and slightly mocking, perhaps even mildly amused; “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” In reply Jesus is calm and quietly strong. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ” The devil tries again and ups the stakes somewhat. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world; “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” He sounds whimsical, perhaps even seductive but Jesus remains calm and unmoved; “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”

The devil tries a third time. He takes Jesus to Jerusalem and places him on the pinnacle of the temple; a rather terrifying sensation, even if it was in a vision. Again I hear the slightly mocking, amused tone in the devil’s voice. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Once again Jesus is calm and quietly strong in his reply; “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” The Devil has tried to offer temptations to physical hunger, vanity and fear but Jesus’ faith in his Father has enabled him see them for what they were and to resist them.

Whether you believe this story to be literally true or a vision or even the hallucinations of a starving, weak and exhausted man, it still has a powerful message for us here in our world today. We will encounter temptation. Sometimes it will be easy to spot such as the chocolate biscuits or alcohol or meat or whatever else we are trying to resist this Lent. Other times though it may not be so easy to identify, especially when our circumstances are difficult and life is hard and we’re tired and ground down. The temptation to do or have something we want and perhaps even feel we deserve or to neglect something or someone can be so hard to resist even when in our heart of hearts we know it isn’t right. I don’t think God is going to be too upset or worried if we occasionally fall off the wagon and succumb to the odd chocolate biscuit or glass of wine, but surrenders to some seemingly small temptations can set us on the path to very bad places that can hurt others and ourselves if we are not very wary and they can be very hard if not impossible to come back from. I can’t imagine many people set out to become addicted to nicotine or drugs or alcohol or food or gambling or porn or any of the other things that can eventually blight and destroy lives when they get a grip. Most people don’t set out to be cruel partners or neglectful parents or to behave dishonourably and dishonestly. It’s often hard to see where these processes start until it’s too late and we’re trapped in a situation we never imagined let alone intended.

For me the most telling verse in our passage from Luke is the last verse; “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him (Jesus) until an opportune time.”

We need to be on our guard. Evil is unlikely to present itself as such. It’s unlikely to look wrong or bad or terrifying although there are exceptions and some people are attracted by them; the situation with Daesh being a case in point. Evil is more likely to appear easy and seductive and let us think we’re in control. When temptation comes, as it will, we need to see it for what it is, examine our thoughts and feelings in the light of our faith and ask God to guide and help us along the way, to calmly and strongly stand firm, as Jesus did. Amen.

Reader Kath.