Saturday, April 4, 2020

A short service for Palm Sunday

A Short Service for Palm Sunday

Call to Worship

Lord Jesus Christ, come to us as we come to you.
Lord Jesus Christ, stand among us as we gather in your presence.
Lord Jesus Christ, quieten our anxious hearts and minds.
Lord Jesus Christ, grant us your peace.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. 
Hosanna in the Highest

Merciful God, as we enter Holy week, turn our hearts again to Jerusalem, and to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stir up within us the gift of faith that we may not only praise him with our lips, but may follow him in the way of the cross. Amen (by John Paarlberg, retired minister of Word and sacrament, Reformed Church in America)
Prayer of Confession* 

On this day, so many years ago,
the people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as if he were a triumphant king.
Forgive us
for the times when we forget how important you are in our lives.

On that day
the people paved his road with palm branches and coats and cheered him through the city.
Forgive us
for the times when we lack enthusiasm in our worship and witness.

On that day
Jesus came in meekness and humility, bringing Hope and the assurance of God's reign, reminding people that God is in control.
Forgive us
for the times when our fears and anxieties block you out of our lives and make us feel that we are on our own.

*(First 2 biddings by Marjorie Dobson, The Worship Cloud)

Bible Reading:    Matthew 21:1-11

 1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
 2 saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.
 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately. "
 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
 5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;
 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?"
 11 The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

A Reflection

Today is Palm Sunday, although it doesn’t really feel like it. Normally, we would have been in church, waving palm crosses, singing well-loved hymns such as “All glory, laud and honour” or “Ride on, ride on, in majesty” – but these are not normal times. These are worrisome and challenging times. The daily number of confirmed cases is gradually increasing along with the death toll. As start to hear of people we know contracting the virus, or sadly, losing loved to the virus, we know it is no longer affecting nameless, faceless people, as tragic as that is. It is all the more real. How do we find comfort and hope in the events of that first Palm Sunday in the midst of this pandemic? To answer that, we need to turn to the event itself.

All four gospels describe Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). We know that he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and were glad to see him. They shouted praises and, waved branches of palm trees (Jn 12:13). There was a spirit of celebration and festivity. There was an air of expectancy and anticipation. Could this be the long-awaited Deliverer, God’s long promised Messiah?

Around the same time as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, historians and biblical scholars tell us that Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, rode into Jerusalem on a war horse, accompanied by fully armed soldiers, their spears, swords and shields glinting in the sunshine. Pilate’s procession was everything that Jesus’ procession was not; it had the pomp and splendour befitting of the power and might of Rome. It evoked fear and dread in the hearts of the on-lookers. It was a force to be reckoned with.

Pilate’s visit to Jerusalem was a routine visit. He came during the Passover not because he respected the religion of the Jews but because he had to maintain law and order. During important festivals in the Jewish religious calendar, nationalist feelings were strong. Hatred towards the Roman oppressors was very real. Pilate’s presence in Jerusalem that day sent out a message: if there was trouble, it would be stamped out quickly and brutally.

In contrast, Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem was very different. Yes, it could be said that Jesus came to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the festival of the Passover as was his custom. However, on this particular occasion, his visit was far from routine. The gospel accounts tell us that he had a plan - he had organised his transport in advance, which is why he said to his disciples when they went to collect the donkey: “If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.” (Matt 21:3). Clearly, this suggests he had a prior arrangement with the owners to borrow the donkey.

For Jesus, the choice of a donkey was very intentional. He had a prophesy that he wanted to fulfil– he had chosen a particular scripture to enact. Centuries ago, the prophet Zechariah had said: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!....your king comes to you…humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). Jesus knew that riding into Jerusalem on a donkey would stir up that particular scripture in the minds of the people, because Zechariah’s prophesy revived the aspirations and hopes of the people of Jesus’ day, of the promise of a coming King and Deliverer.

Riding into Jerusalem at a time when Jewish people thronged to the city to celebrate the Passover, filled with hope that God would shake off the yoke of the Romans, the air was both religiously and politically charged. All that was needed was a tiny spark to ignite the emotive tinderbox that was Jerusalem. So when this charismatic, travelling rabbi showed up on a donkey (in fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophesy), without needing to do anything more, he initiated a procession – people spontaneously followed him. His actions made a clear statement – he was a kingly figure, as prophesied by Zechariah and the procession confirmed this. His arrival into Jerusalem for the Passover at the same time as Pilate’s arrival had all the makings of a monumental showdown: the power of the Roman Empire was being challenged by the Kingdom of God Therefore, it should not surprise us when Matthew’s gospels states: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil…” (v. 10).

These three factors (the plan, the prophesy, and the procession) suggest to us that Jesus was in complete control of the situation, even before he came to Jerusalem. He had thought through it carefully and knew exactly what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. He knew which scripture would be most effective, and what message his actions would send. It is important to see that he was not deterred by the tense political atmosphere of the day or by the threat of Pilate’s powerful and menacing presence. Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem bought confidence and hope in a context when dark and volatile forces raged around. Because of this, the jubilant cry that rose from crowd was: “Hosanna to the Son of David!!” (v.9). ‘Hosanna’ means, ‘Save us, Lord!’

We look at what’s happening around us and cry out: “Hosanna’, Save us, Lord!’” These days, it is hard to hope, hard to ward off the fear, hard to hold on to our faith. But this is when we need to hold fast more than ever before to what we believe, to trust in the powerful plan of God, to hold fast to the powerful promises of the scriptures, rest confident in the powerful presence of God.

Just as Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday brought confidence and hope, his presence still brings confidence and hope in the midst of the fearful situation unfolding around us, for he is the one who hears our prayers, understands our fears and assures us that he comes to heal and save us. The message of Palm Sunday conveys to us just that.

Hosanna! Save us, Lord! Amen.

Prayer of Intercession

We pray for all who are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety by the COVID-19 pandemic, that they will be led to peace by God’s loving and liberating Spirit.

We pray for those already suffering the illness, or bereaved by it.

We pray for protection for ourselves and our loved ones, trusting in God’s sovereign will for us in these difficult times.

We pray for the medical and political authorities, for success in the race to develop a vaccine, and for greater wisdom in practical response to such things.

And above all, we pray that we will persevere in faith, and hope in the overruling sovereignty of God, our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

This Holy Week, 
As we begin the journey from Jerusalem to Calvary
As the shouts of 'Hosanna' change to 'Crucify!'
As the celebration changes to suffering, 
As the triumphal entry gives way to a lingering death
May the powerful presence of Jesus, 
who suffered, died and was raised to glory
Be with us now and always.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Short act of worship for Mothering Sunday

On this 4th sunday in Lent, we celebrate Mothering Sunday. Outside of church circles, this has become 'Mother's Day'. And while it is a day to give thanks for and celebrate mothers, on this day when various restrictions and advice on social-distancing and self-isolation prevent us from observing this day in ways that we normally would, we can still celebrate the love of God, manifest in the qualities of caring, supporting and nurturing. 

A Short act of worship for Mothering Sunday (Lent 4)

Opening Prayer

Heavenly Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name, bless us, we pray, as we gather in your presence. 
Bless our time with you. 
Take away distractions from our hearts and minds.
May our thoughts and reflections be acceptable to you. 
We come in confidence to worship you, praise you and adore you.
Blessed are you forever, Eternal God.

A prayer of thanksgiving for mothers*

We praise you, our God, 
for all mothers who have loved and laughed and laboured as they cared for their children.
Blessed be God for ever.

We praise you, our God, 
for all mothers who have wept in sorrow and joy for their children.
Blessed be God for ever.

We praise you, our God, 
for Jesus, born of a woman and nurtured in her love, and for Mary, a reminder of your patient, waiting love.
Blessed be God for ever.

A time for silent confession

God knows our hearts and our minds, our innermost thoughts and desires. Let us thank him for his Spirit who convicts us and for Jesus who forgives us


Thanks be to God. Amen 

Today's gospel passage:    John 19:25-27 (NRSV)

25 ...Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

A Reflection
This year, Mothering Sunday (or Mother's Day, if you want) is very different from anything we have known. On a day when families visit mothers, pamper them, take them out, cook them a special meal, we find ourselves governed by strict guidance on social interaction. On a day when most restaurants will be booked to capacity and buzzing with life, laughter and love, they will be strangely silent and their doors shut. COVID-19 is making its presence felt in every sphere of our lives, yet again disrupting families celebrating the love, compassion and nuture of mothers.  

In this context, today's gospel passage is powerful as it is poignant. On one level, it records the words of a a dying son to his mourning mother and distressed disciple, a conversation that overflows with love and compassion; on another level, these words of Jesus to his mother Mary and his beloved disciple are the words of a Suffering Saviour to a Hurting Humanity.

Even in his dying agony, Jesus remained concerned about the wellbeing and future provision of his mother above and beyond his own suffering. When he said to her about his disciple John: "Here is your son", he ensured that despite losing a son, she was gaining a son. She could still be a mother; she would still have a son to love, nuture and care for; she would still be able to express her maternal instinct in loving the one her beloved son asked her to love. He preserved her maternal identity. 

Equally, when he said to his disciple John: "here is your mother", he gave him the solemn responsibility to take Mary as his own mother, so that when Jesus died, she would not be left on her own. In early Jewish society, when a woman had no male member of family (normally her husband, or in the absence of a husband, her son) to protect her and provide for her, her place in society was compromised. Thus, in committing her to the care of his beloved disciple, he again preserves her maternal identity and her place in society by providing her with a son, a family, and a life. 

On this mothering sunday, we encounter Mary and the beloved disciple John stricken with grief, watching Jesus die. As his life slipped away from him, the world for Mary and John became a darker place by the moment. Imagine their sense of loss and despair and hopelessness. The fear of how to face life, of how different things were going to be was very real to them. But they continued to look at the one on the cross because to turn away from the cross was to turn away into a unknown future without Christ. And as they looked, the suffering Christ gazed down on them compassionately and lovingly, and spoke words of comfort and restoration to them. He understood their fear and pain, their grief and distress. From the cross came words of reassurance and hope. The Saviour was in control.

On this mothering sunday / Mother's Day when relating with each other socially is severely restricted by distancing and isolation, when our hands are tied and we cannot celebrate love and nurture and compassion on this particular day more than any other as we normally would, look to the cross and experience the love and care and compassion. Christ our Saviour knows our fear and pain and confusion as the way we live our lives changes daily. Christ our Saviour sees our suffering; he knows we are hurting, isolated, scared at what the future holds.

He speaks words of love and nuture and compassion into our fears and our pain. He unites and strenghtens families in whatever they are going through or experiencing today. 

The promise remains that darkness will give way to light, fear to hope, and the cross to victory and resurrection. 


Prayers of Intercession (taken from  2010(C)

Together we offer to our loving God our prayers and petitions for the needs of the world and ourselves.
This day we pray especially for mothers and for stepmothers, grandmothers, godmothers, and all those women who have loved and laughed, wept and worked to care for others. 
We prayer that God will bless all parents and all carers and strengthen those families living under stress in these uncertain times. 
We acknowlege before you, Lord, that this day is not a celebration, but a time of heartache for many -  may they have the comfort of knowing that your love for them is constant, your understanding is perfect, your compassion is never-ending
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Loving God, we pray for the elderly, the vulnerable and those living with serious illness. We pray for those who love them and struggle as they witness their loved ones’ diminishing health and daily challenges. 
We pray for those who mourn. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, as we remember all those who have died.....  
Almighty God is our eternal mother and father, we entrust to God every mother’s child who has died thinking especially of. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
and we pray that all those departed will rest in peace and rise in glory.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
A Prayer for the Coronavirus Pandemic  [ 21/03/20](by Revd. Paul Davis, Chair of the Lancashire Methodist District)
     Gracious God,
     We pray for your world, your people and your church,
     for governments as they seek the best action
     we ask your blessing on our health professionals as they seek to 
     care for those who are ill,
     for those worried about money and food,
     we pray for families kept apart by distancing or isolation,
     for those who will struggle without meeting for worship 
     together tomorrow,
     for those leading worship that will be live streamed,
     for a sense of calm among the challenges we face.
     Holy Spirit,
     fill us with your power 
     that in these strange circumstances
     we can continue to be a people of faith hope and love.
     Lord Jesus, who gave himself for us,
     in this time of Lent we pray for the discipline to remember your love,
     to show that love and to help our neighbours, families and others,
     in your name we pray.
      Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our           Saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen.

     The Blessing*

     May God, who gave birth to all creation,bless us:
     may God, who became incarnate by an earthly mother, bless us:
     may God, who broods as a mother over her children, bless us.
     May almighty God bless us:
     Father, Son and Holy Spirit now and for ever. Amen. 

From: Services and Prayers for the Church of England (2000) and New Patterns of Worship (2002), © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 / 2002

Friday, March 20, 2020

Experiencing Grace, Love and Fellowship in a Time of Uncertainty

Experiencing Grace, Love and Fellowship in a Time of Uncertainty

This is a new and unchartered time for the whole world. Countries are in lockdown. Schools are closed. Pubs, bars and restaurants are closing. Supermarkets are emptying out. The fear and anxiety is palpable. With each new day comes new updates of the tightening grasp of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on more and more areas of our life. Daily life as we know it has changed - and continues to change rapidly, unrelentingly, ruthlessly. 

Normally (and perhaps, especially) in times of uncertainty, turmoil, fear and unrest, churches offer a haven of peace, a safe space where we find comfort and solace.  However, with the spread of Cornonavirus, the guidelines to combat it has invoved a gradual stripping away of all that is familiar; 'Stay away from crowds and gatherings' is the advice. There is an increasing emphasis on social distancing. Everyday life, and how we relate to one another is no longer the same. And into this rapidly changing situation, churches too have had to close and suspend worship services in an attempt to slow the spread of this virus which seems to thrive and spread wherever people gather together. The fear is real because COVID-19 has pushed the world into a fearful situation - fear of the unknown, fear of isolation, fear of uncertainty, fear caused by sickness and, sadly,  even death.

'Social distancing' and 'self-isolation' have become key words that express our attempts to hold COVID-19 at bay by denying it the opportunity to spread from person to person. From the perspective of worshipping communities within churches, such a response strikes at the very heart of being the Body of Christ. For when we meet together in church, we pray with each other and for each other. We draw strength from the means of Grace, manifest in word and sacrament; we express our Love of God in our love for one another; we are strenghtened by the Fellowship we share in being part of the body of Christ. However, in the current situation, we are at a loss as we move into unchartered waters, where worshipping communities can no longer meet to experience grace, love and fellowship in ways that we have been familiar with. From a faith perspective, social distancing gives rise to a sense of loss, borne from self-isolation: where is the grace of Christ that is normally manifest in our worship? How do we now experience God's love outside of the famiy of faith? What impact does not being able to meet together have on Christian fellowship

But even though we are not meeting as 'church' in the conventional sense of the word, Grace, Love and Fellowship continue to abound during this time when we are separated physically from one another in this period of social distancing and self-isolation. We can still experience closeness with God because the church of God exists above and beyond a church built of brick and mortar and stone; where ever we are, whatever situation we find ourselves in, at this time more than ever, we are all in need of the Grace of Christ - and thanks be to God that this grace is freely showered upon us, and leads and keeps us in these uncertain times. When we feel cut-off and isolated, loveless and alone, the Love of God is ever present, a love that holds us and reassures us that we are never alone, for nothing can separate us from that love. And the basis of our coming together stems from the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who knows no boundaries, no barriers or restrictions; God's Spirit dwells in our hearts and lives, making known to us the Grace of Christ and the Love of God, even if we are socially distant from other believers or are self-isolating.

This truth is reinforced in the well-known words that we have come to call 'the grace': "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:14). May that promise be real to us and fill our hearts with peace and comfort, knowing that no matter how COVID-19 changes the way we live and relate to one another in the days ahead, it cannot take away from us Christ's freely bestowed grace, God's generous and abundant love, and the Spirit's reassurance of fellowship with God and with each other. 

May Christ's grace, God's love and the Spirit's fellowship be with you.