Easter V

Ivan Generalić, Dancing in the Vineyards, 1968. Gallery of Naive Art, Hlebine, Croatia

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Thanks this week to Carmen, Cor, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Jesus Calls Us Here to Meet Him” (Iona Community)

OPENING PRAYER:

You are the vine, Lord, and we are the branches.
Though apart, we are connected–one to another–
by your presence:
living vine
cup of blessing
shepherd of the sheep.
Draw our hearts together, Lord
so that even in these troubled times
we will share the love you give.
Speak to us, today:
Through word and song
prayer and praise.
We trust we are never far apart
when we abide in your love. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Like the murmur of the dove’s song”

Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigour of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

To the members of Christ’s body,
to the branches of the Vine,
to the church in faith assembled,
to our midst as gift and sign:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

With the healing of division,
with the ceaseless voice of prayer,
with the power to love and witness,
with the peace beyond compare:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Hear us, God as we pray:
We confess we have too much of some things
and too little of others.
We could use less worry, less news,
less judgement, less self-justification.
We could use more calm, more quiet,
more compassion, more understanding.
Help us find a balance,
help us find the middle path.
help as we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.
Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (Dorsey)

FIRST READING: Psalm 22

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

SECOND READING: John 15.1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We have this ministry”

We have this ministry, and we are not discouraged,
It is by God’s own power that we may live and serve
Openly we share God’s word, speaking truth as we believe
Praying that the shadowed world may healing light receive.
We have this ministry, O God receive our living.

O Christ the tree of life, our end and our beginning
We grow to fullest flower when rooted in your love.
Brothers, sisters, clergy, lay, called to service by your grace
Different cultures, different gifts, the young and old a place.
We have this ministry, O God receive our giving.

The yoke of Christ is ours, the whole world is our parish
We daily take the cross, the burden and the joy.
Bearing hurts of those we serve, wounded, bruised and bowed with pain
Holy Spirit, bread and wine, we die and rise again.
We have this ministry, O God receive our loving.

Decorative Inlay, 12th or 13th century, Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

REFLECTION

Any anxiety you feel about cleanliness likely comes from television.

Do you worry that your whites are not whiter than white? Your colours are not brighter than bright? Are your paper towels absorbent enough? Does your broom reach those hard-to-reach places? Do you need to dip your entire house in CLR? Does it even work?

Obviously, the Bible has a lot to say about being clean. But before I give you my one-minute overview, I want to dispel a popular myth. Nowhere in scripture does it say “cleanliness is next to godliness.” These words come from one of John Wesley’s sermons, given late in his life, and likely related to some sort of controversy around neatness and dress. In effect, he tells his followers that God condemns neither the sloppy nor the well-dressed, but in general, cleanliness is next to godliness. In other words, if you’ve been wearing track-pants for the last 400 days that’s okay, as long as they are clean.

So, what does the Bible say about being clean?

In Genesis, it’s animals for sacrifice, clean and unclean.
In Leviticus, it’s food, disease, and even the mould in your house.
In Numbers, it’s about ritual, and being ceremonially clean.
In the history books, it’s about being rewarded and restored.
In the wisdom books, it’s about a clean heart and clean hands.
In the prophets, it’s about cleansing the sin of Israel as a nation.
For Jesus, it’s about making lepers clean, and being clean on the inside (and not just on the outside).
And in Acts, and the letters of Paul, it’s about food, and declaring that nothing God has created can be named unclean.

I share all this because I’m interested in one of one of the most neglected lines in our passage about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” There amid all the talk of fruitfulness, and all the connections, and all the potential pruning, we get this simple declarative statement: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

Following my summary, Jesus is all about being clean on the inside, and not the countless ways people are considered clean on the outside. And I might go even a step further, to suggest that if we stumbled upon Jesus’ dog-eared Bible, there is one page (from Psalm 51) where the corner would decidedly be turned down: “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” the psalmist said, “and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Do I have more evidence? Three other short verses, in fact. One that echoes Psalm 51, one that makes these heart-sayings a little more tangible, and one that belongs on a t-shirt:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5.8)
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12.34)
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6.45)

I told you it belongs in a t-shirt. Wear it to Mar-a-Lago, I dare you. (Okay, enough of that). But I think you see the progression here: Jesus blesses those rare ones among us who are pure in heart. Then he warns us about the treasure store we’re building up in life, and the extent to which it reflects the content of our hearts. And then a little brutal honesty, which Jesus only seems to resort to when the twelve were being particularly thick in the head.

And then he said “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The scripture he shared, the hymns they sang, the Word he gave them—taken together these words made them clean. Attend a master class in cleanliness given by the Master himself, and you will graduate with an honours in having a clean heart. But then what?

In many ways, the “then what” is the sum of Christian living. We can align ourselves with the words, we can be cleansed by the words, we can even recite the words to others, but unless they remain within us, we’ll soon find treasure elsewhere. This is why the psalmist’s prayer is twofold: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The most difficult part—the clean heart—has already been given, and given freely. This leaves us with the desire for steadfast spirit, something that God will also freely give.

The desire for purity is something that never goes away. Moralists on the right and activists on the left, everyone wants a particular kind of purity. Everyone is seeking a purer form of the treasure they store. But God seeks a pure heart, a heart made new through the grace of Jesus Christ, and a heart that desires constant renewal, renewal in love and mercy.

Brian Wren describes the way God found us, summed up with the simple words “forgiven, loved and free.” All the bright colours and better brooms cannot compare to the purity that God gives, the purity within us, and the purity within others, when we truly see. Amen.

Richard Correll, Vineyard March, 1970, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

The Moderator, the Rt. Rev. Richard Bott, wrote this prayer at the beginning of the pandemicwords that still resonate.

In this time of COVID-19, we pray:
When we aren’t sure, God,
help us be calm;
when information comes
from all sides, correct and not,
help us to discern;
when fear makes it hard to breathe,
and anxiety seems to be the order of the day,
slow us down, God;
help us to reach out with our hearts,
when we can’t touch with our hands;
help us to be socially connected,
when we have to be socially distant;
help us to love as perfectly as we can,
knowing that “perfect love casts out all fear.”

For the doctors, we pray,
for the nurses, we pray,
for the technicians and the janitors and the
aides and the caregivers, we pray,
for the researchers and theorists,
the epidemiologists and investigators,
for those who are sick,
and those who are grieving, we pray,
for all who are affected,
all around the world…
we pray
for safety,
for health,
for wholeness.

May we feed the hungry,
give drink to the thirsty,
clothe the naked and house those without homes;
may we walk with those who feel they are alone,
and may we do all that we can to heal
the sick—
in spite of the epidemic,
in spite of the fear.

Help us, O God,
that we might help each other.

In the love of the Creator,
in the name of the Healer,
in the life of the Holy Spirit that is in all and with all,
we pray.

May it be so. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “In loving partnership we come”

In loving partnership we come,
seeking, O God, your will to do.
Our prayers and actions now receive;
we freely offer them to you.

We are the hands and feet of Christ,
serving by grace each other’s need.
We dare to risk and sacrifice
with truthful word and faithful deed.

Loving community we seek;
your hope and strength within us move.
The poor and rich, the strong and weak
are brought together in your love.

In loving partnership, O God,
help us your future to proclaim.
Justice and peace be our desire,
we humbly pray in Jesus’ name.

BLESSING

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless
until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Amen.
—1 Thessalonians 5:23

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Win Vine Vineyards, LIFE Photo Collection

Easter IV

Good Shepherd close, Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophgus
Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus, c. 275 C.E., white veined marble, found under the floor of Santa Maria Antiqua, at the foot of the Palatine Hill, Rome. Photo by Steven Zucker is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Taye and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Let Us Build A House (All Are Welcome)” (Haugen)

OPENING PRAYER:

We have come to worship God.
We have come seeking comfort,
inspiration, community, and insight.
We have come to open ourselves
to the power of God’s presence in our midst.
We have come to offer up the seasons
and the turnings in our lives,
and to ask God’s help in our learning and in our growing.
We have come at the bidding of the Good Shepherd,
To be found, and to follow him,
and to be made whole. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “The King of love”

The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
and he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
my ransomed soul he leadeth,
and where the verdant pastures grow
with food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed;
but yet in love he sought me,
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home rejoicing brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
with thee, dear Lord, beside me;
thy rod and staff my comfort still,
thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
thy unction grace bestoweth;
and O what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
thy goodness faileth never:
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house forever!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

All we like sheep have gone astray, Lord.
We are meant to follow you,
but we follow in our own way.
Direct us with your grace,
guide us with your goodness,
and lead us back to you.
Speak to us through the Spirit,
and remind us of the sound of your voice.
Give us life, that we might have it abundantly,
filled with love and mercy.
Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.
Amen.

Window from St Denys’ church in Northmoor, West Oxfordshire. “The Good Shepherd” by Lawrence OP is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

SPECIAL MUSIC: “The Lord’s my Shepherd” (Scottish Traditional)

FIRST READING: Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

SECOND READING: John 10.11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

HYMN OF PRAISE: “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes the sorrows, heals the wounds,
and drives away all fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
and calms the troubled breast;
’tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary, rest.

Dear Name! the rock on which I build,
my shield and hiding-place,
my never-failing treasury, filled
with boundless stores of grace.

Jesus, my Shepherd, Brother, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest, and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.

The effort of my heart is weak,
and cold my warmest thought;
but when I see you whom I seek,
I’ll praise you as I ought.

REFLECTION

You might call it reporting about reporting.

For voracious news watchers, this idea won’t come as a surprise. Spend an hour on any of the major cable networks and you will discover that it’s mostly reporters (or presenters) interviewing reporters about getting the story. And of course, it makes a lot a sense: if you can’t interview the prime minister, why not interview someone covering the prime minister instead?

So that’s the topline version of reporting about reporting. The next version is reporters who watch the news on television, and write articles about what they see. For start-ups and low budget news organizations, this may be the only way they can cover the story—saving the cost of sending someone to the scene. A variation on this is writing a story about someone’s appearance on the news, maybe the ultimate low-budget reporting.

Finally, there are the stories about stories. A story appears somewhere, goes viral, and other news outlets cover the viral story like a story. Most often they will cite the source, but sometimes they will simply do a similar story and pretend it was their reporting all along. Does it matter? If you’re the original author, I suppose it does—unless you’re just happy to have the idea out there.

This week’s viral example is a story that appeared in the New York Times called “Thereʼs a Name for the Blah Youʼre Feeling: Itʼs Called Languishing.” The next day, The Guardian picked it up, People Magazine the day after that, then the National Post a couple days later. Google “Languishing” and you will find even more. The original author was Prof. Adam Grant from Wharton, but it seems the idea belongs to everyone now.

Languishing, of course, is an old word, which means to feel weak or dispirited, to lack vitality, or to suffer neglect. Fast-forward to the mid-90s, and psychologist Corey Keyes applied the term to mental health, suggesting that the opposite of flourishing is languishing. Fast-forward again to this strange era we inhabit, and you see how the concept might resonate. Prof. Grant calls languishing “the neglected middle-child of mental health.” It’s the absence of well-being—not depression, but not sterling mental health either, but something in between.

See if you can find yourself among Dr. Grant’s observations: not feeling a lot of joy, somewhat aimless, feeling a sense of stagnation, maybe emptiness, generally you’re just muddling through your days. In other words, fear and uncertainty (from a year ago) has morphed into something else: less motivation, less concentration, less direction. Languishing.

The first step is to name the problem. Dr. Grant cites another viral article from last year, which appeared in the Harvard Review (and sermonboy.com) that named the prevailing emotion we were feeling as grief. We were grieving the loss of many things, both traditional and unexpected. It was helpful to give it a name and apply some well-known approaches to the problem. So too which languishing, but before we get to that, we need to meet a certain shepherd.

In a minute. First, I want you to recall the outline of a parable. A parable creates a little world, that suddenly sours, and then is resolved in such a way that it shows us the Kingdom. That’s a parable. But the same outline, the same emotional journey, can be found in other places in scripture, even the psalms. So step back and look at the twenty-third psalm through the lens of our little structure.

The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need. I can rest in his pasture, near quiet waters, refreshed in body and soul. He leads me on the correct path, God’s own way. Even in the valley of shadows, there is nothing to fear, for he’s with me, giving direction and comfort. My adversaries can see me at the Lord’s table, chosen and sated. Surely my Lord will be a step behind me every day, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

From pastures green, to death’s dark vale, to an eternal dwelling place—we see the markers of this literary passage. Pleasance, peril, and eternity in God’s own realm—knowing that we will dwell in the house of the Lord our whole life long.

So where are we on our pandemic journey? You could argue that we inhabited a happy pre-pandemic world, which soured, and now we await release, our very own kingdom-come. Alternately, you could say we found ourselves in a COVID world, we managed, then we languished, and now we await that post-pandemic world. However you frame it, we seem to be in some late-middle stage, coping how we can, maybe feeling too tired to panic at each new peril in this dark valley.

So back to Dr. Grant. For the languishing, he suggests establishing “flow.” To become engaged in something, even for a short time, that can give us a sense of purpose. He suggests we start small, something intentional that takes us outside of ourselves. Next, he encourages people to carve out some time, away from news or email, time to focus on those small tasks or nothing at all. Finally, he says we should focus on small wins, anything that might build energy or enthusiasm in the face of languishing.

And as you might expect, all this fits with the context of our psalm. The psalmist begins with gratitude, praising the Shepherd God for stillness, direction, and companionship in times of peril. There is a flow to prayer, and the psalmist encourages us to praise God, to give thanks, and to acknowledge that we need the protection and comfort that only God can give. Prayer allows us to carve out some time for God. And every prayer is a small win, because it takes us outside of ourselves and leads us back to God’s goodness and mercy.

We name what we face, and that becomes a small step toward healing and wholeness. Then we turn to the Good Shepherd, trusting that he walks beside us, calls us forward, and dwells with us forevermore. Amen.

Statuary at Marylake Carmelite Monastery, Pulaski County, Arkansas. “The Good Shepherd” by Gayle Nicholson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Shepherd God,
You lead us to the stillness of this moment,
you make it sacred, and we shelter here.
Comfort us, God, as we shelter in your love.
Remind us that we are your children,
and that you lead us in your way.

Comfort us in the midst of fear:
fear of things lost and never to return,
fear of sorrow,
and fear of the unknown.

Encourage us in the midst of peril:
praying for an end to the pandemic,
praying for frontline workers,
praying for all in need.

Guide us through the valley of shadows,
with your staff to protect us,
and your Spirit to lead us home.

Surround us this day with goodness,
Set a place at table,
that you may be our companion and guide,
and we may be companion and guide to others.

Dwell with us, God, this day,
and remind us that we never walk alone.
Strengthen us to care for others,
Following the compassionate example of your child,
Jesus the Christ. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “He leadeth me”

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
He leadeth me! He leadeth me!
By his own hand he leadeth me!
His faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me!

Sometimes ‘mid scenes of deepest gloom,
sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
by waters calm, o’er troubled sea,
still ’tis his hand that leadeth me. R

Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine,
nor ever murmur nor repine,
content, whatever lot I see,
since ’tis my God that leadeth me. R

And when my task on earth is done,
when by thy grace the victory’s won,
even death’s cold wave I will not flee,
since God through Jordan leadeth me. R

BLESSING

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless
until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Amen.
—1 Thessalonians 5:23

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Easter III

Painting by He Qi (photo taken at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis)

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Dave and Heather!

PRELUDE: “The Spring Has Come” (Murray/Gibson)

OPENING PRAYER:

Gracious God,
we pray for your blessing
on the church this day.
May the faithful find salvation,
and the careless be awakened.
May the doubting find courage,
and the anxious be calmed.
May the tempted find help,
and the sorrowful be comforted.
May the weary find rest,
and the strong be renewed.
May the aged find consolation,
and the young be inspired,
in Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “O for a thousand tongues to sing”

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of God’s grace.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life and health and peace.

He speaks, and listening to his voice,
new life the dead receive,
the mournful broken-hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

Hear him, you deaf; you voiceless ones,
your tongues again employ;
you blind, behold your Saviour comes,
and leap, you lame, for joy!

My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad
the honours of your name.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

O God,
in whose mercy we find our peace,
in whose presence we find our place,
in whose grace we find a home:
cleanse our hearts to make us new,
that we may be faithful followers of your way:
the way of love and mercy.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.
Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Living Hope” (Wickham/Johnson)

FIRST READING: Psalm 4

Answer me, when I call, O God, defender of my cause,
for you set me free when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me now
and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, will you defame my honour?
How long will you love what is worthless
and seek lies?

Know this, that God has chosen the faithful;
God hears me when I call.
Stand in awe, and cease from sin;
commune with your own heart upon your bed
and be still.

Offer the sacrifices that are appointed,
and put your trust in God.

There are many who say,
‘O that we might see prosperity!
Lift up the light of your face on us, O God.’

But you have put gladness in my heart
more than those whose grain and wine are plentiful.
Safe and sound, I lie down and sleep,
for you alone, God, make me dwell in safety.

SECOND READING: Luke 24.36-48

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

HYMN: “Now the green blade rises”

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been:
love is come again, like wheat arising green.

In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would never wake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
love is come again, like wheat arising green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
he that for three days in the grave had lain;
raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen;
love is come again, like wheat arising green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
your touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
love is come again, like wheat arising green.

Detail of “Distant Campfire” by James Wheeler is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

REFLECTION

Have you seen a ghost? There are a few reported here in the city, something to ponder when you’re finally out and about once more:

Apparently Queen’s Park has four ghosts, among them a melancholy lady in white and an angry looking soldier. Seems the place has always made people sad or mad.
The original director of the ROM is said to hang out in the museum, wandering around in only a nightshirt. Shocking!
The Elgin Theatre has the Lavender Lady, The Royal Alex has Al Jolson from time to time, and the Winter Garden has a trombone player often heard near the stage.
Robertson Davies has been spotted at Massey College haunting U of T students the same way he tormented anyone who took Canadian Literature high school.
Finally, and closer to home, it is said that the old Prittie Building at West Park was haunted (no surprise) by the constant footsteps of a young nurse.*

I share this not to scare you, but to underline the enduring nature of ghost-spotting. Our passage begins with the most gentle thing an apparition could say, that is, “Peace be with you.” Yet even then, the remaining disciples are startled and frightened, assuming they see a ghost. And then, in a bit of a replay of last week, Jesus says “Why are you troubled and doubtful? Look, touch me and see me; a ghost does not have flesh and bones!”

Luke tells us that they begin to shift their view, moving to joy and amazement, yet are still not fully convinced. Then Jesus hits on a simple strategy: he asks them to share their lunch. They gave him some broiled fish, and he took it, and he ate it in their presence. And then he began to teach them once more. It’s one more episode in a series of appearances, all happening (as Acts tells us) in the forty days after his resurrection.

This might be the time to look at them as a group, these appearances, and look for some sort of pattern or order. All the Gospels find Jesus near (or in) the empty tomb. Matthew and John make it clear that this is Jesus, the other two less so. That’s the first episode. The next is an appearance to just two disciples, on the road to Emmaus, found only in Luke. Then the division: Matthew and Luke share versions of today’s lesson, centred on this idea of taking his message to the nations, but John tries another approach. I encourage you to reread John 21, perhaps the most cinematic chapter in scripture, where Jesus fishes with them, eats with them, then delivers a remarkable call-and-response message that ends with “feed my sheep.”

Overall, the pattern is recognition, realization, and response. Most of these appearances begin with some obstacle to recognition, and then Jesus making them understand that he is far from finished with them. Then there is realization, that movement from doubt to joy, the sense that that is real. Finally, there is a response. Jesus sends them to share the Good News, to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations, and know that he will be with them—to the end of the age.

Recognition, realization, and response. Think of it as the pilgrim’s progress, the steps a follower will take on the road with Christ. We come to see Jesus for who he truly is, either suddenly like St. Paul or gradually like the twelve. You can be surrounded by religion and never see God—this is the heart of Jesus’ message—but the hope is that the day of recognition will come. And what joy when it does!

Then the realization. We step from the shadow of meaninglessness and give ourselves to something higher and better. We finally see ourselves as God sees us—a beloved child, with whom God is pleased. If you have ever had a mentor, or seen a counselor, you know that the gift they can give you is seeing your situation in a different light. 1 Peter 2 says it best: “Once you were no people, now you are God’s people; once you had no mercy, now you have God’s mercy.”

And then the response. We are grateful for love and mercy, so we love and serve others. We are grateful that our sins are forgiven, and we in turn forgive others. We are grateful that in dying Christ destroyed death, so we share our sense of eternity will all we meet. We were once ghosts of ourselves, seldom seen and never fully understood, now we know God as we are fully known.

I’m going to give the last word to Katherine Hankey: poet, missionary, abolitionist and activist. She sums up the grateful response that will carry us through whatever challenges or trouble life gives:

I love to tell the story,
’Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story
of Jesus and His love.

Amen.

Camp Fire
“Camp Fire” by Vasenka Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Eternal God,
who caused all scriptures
to be written for our learning:
grant that we may so hear them,
read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,
that by patience and comfort of your holy Word,
we may embrace and hold fast
the blessed hope of eternal life,
which you have given us in Jesus.

Eternal God,
who leads the lives of the saints
to show us heroic virtue:
grant that we may follow them,
all along the pilgrims’ road,
that we too might become your saints,
living with courage and hope,
while blessing others on the way.

Eternal God,
who hears our prayers
and knows the desire of our hearts:
grant our longing for a world made new,
hope, help, and love endure,
that the weak may have strength,
the sick your healing,
and the bereaved the comfort
that only you can give.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “How firm a foundation, you servants of God”

How firm a foundation, you servants of God,
is laid for your faith in God’s excellent word!
What more can be said than to you has been said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

‘Fear not, I am with you; O be not dismayed!
For I am your God and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen and help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.

‘When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

‘When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply:
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume, and your gold to refine.

‘The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not – I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
I’ll never – no, never – no, never forsake!’

BLESSING

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless
until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Amen.
—1 Thessalonians 5:23

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Easter II

“Emil Nolde – Der Ungläubige Tomas (Doubting Thomas) (1912)” by Cea. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Dave, Heather, and the Morley Sisters!

PRELUDE: “It Is Well With My Soul” (Spafford/Bliss)

OPENING PRAYER

You extend your hands, Lord,
and invite us to behold the wounds
that cast away doubt and fear.
You breathe new life into us:
the same life found in the empty tomb.
Speak to us, this day,
through the Holy Spirit.
Find us, this day,
in your abiding presence.
Fill us, this day,
with your breath—
to bring hope and comfort,
and lasting peace.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: God, we praise you for the morning

God, we praise you for the morning;
hope springs forth with each new day,
new beginning, prayer, and promise,
joy in work and in play.

God, we praise you for creation,
mountains, seas, and prairie land.
Waking souls find joy and healing
in your bountiful hand.

God, we praise you for compassion,
all the loving that you show;
human touching, tears, and laughter,
help your children to grow.

God, we praise you for your Spirit,
Comforter and daily friend,
restless searcher, gentle teacher,
strength and courage you send.

God, we praise you for the Saviour,
come that we may know your ways.
In his loving, dying, rising,
Christ is Lord of our days.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
hallelujah, hallelujah!
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Christ is Lord of our days!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We are tired, Lord.
For the road is long
and our journey seems without end.
You walk beside us,
but we often fail to see you.
Remind us, Lord,
that you live in us and others,
by the Spirit,
and that we can always find you
in the lonely,
in the broken,
and in the dispossessed.
Give us eyes to see you,
and hearts open to your love.
Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God visits us with love and mercy,
forgiving our shortcomings and leading us home.
These are words we can trust. Amen. 

FIRST READING: Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

SECOND READING: John 20.19-28

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as the twin), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

HYMN: Jesus stand among us

Jesus, stand among us
in your risen power;
let this time of worship
be a hallowed hour.

Breathe the Holy Spirit
into every heart;
bid the fears and sorrows
from each soul depart.

Lead our hearts to wisdom
till our doubting cease,
and to all assembled
speak your word of peace.

Doubting Thomas places his hand in the side of the risen Jesus.
One of four ivory casket panels from Rome in the early 5th century. “Doubting Thomas places his hand in the side of the risen Jesus.” by Nick in exsilio is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

REFLECTION

Maybe doubt is a good thing.

I doubt this boat is really unsinkable.
I doubt there are enough lifeboats for all the passengers and crew.
I doubt that 24 knots through iceberg infested waters is a good idea.
I doubt that we will ever trust technology in such an unquestioning way again.

In his landmark book “Listening to Prozac,” Peter Kramer takes on an entire branch of modern medicine that he labels “cosmetic pharmacology.” In a nutshell, he argues that while some were taking Prozac as an anti-depressant, others were using it to achieve a sort of personality makeover, a way for the shy to become more outgoing and the timid to become more confident.

He then goes further, into the world of anthropology, to argue that within tribal cultures there needs to be a balance within the tribe. You need both the timid and the bold. Otherwise, there will be no one to challenge the group when it is being too cautious or caution the group when it is being aggressive. Then Kramer points back to the corporate boardroom, the place where this misuse of Prozac became the most apparent. If everyone around the table is overly confident, either by nature or medication, bad decisions will surely follow.

Think of it as a modern version of the ancient near-eastern practice, at least among one tribe, to get really inebriated on the eve of battle. By the end of the night it was usually ‘we don’t want to go to war with those guys, we love those guys.’ If they didn’t reach that insight, even after a really long night of drinking a fine Babylonian single malt, then maybe war was the best course after all.

Poor Thomas. Stuck forever with the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” Some clever person said that we never hear ‘Denying Peter’ so why Doubting Thomas? Add to that, he already had a perfectly acceptable nickname: “Didymus,” which means “the twin” in Greek. Maybe not as evocative as “Spike” or “Tiger,” but Didymus was a fine nickname, and certainly better than Doubting.

So Thomas is stuck with an iffy name, and seemingly forever. I say why not make the most of it, and that brings us back to Prozac. Doubt, or at least the ability to question, or to be that discordant voice that expresses something outside what the crowd is saying, must be a good thing. If everyone is unquestioning, and expresses no doubts about an event or a course of action, then they are little more than sheep. Or worse, if everyone is harbouring the same doubt but no one is willing to say it, then they are guilty of the worst kind of ‘groupthink.’

Suddenly Thomas is looking like a hero in the story, willing to say what no one else thought to say, or saying the thing that no one else had the nerve to say. Thomas is suddenly the Ralph Nader of the group, questioning the status quo and accepting the risk that he might go down in history as someone truly outspoken, as outspoken as say…Ralph Nader.

Another landmark book, this one Nader’s 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” made a bold statement that said (in effect), “I doubt Detroit really cares automotive safety.” Chapter by chapter he cites examples of everything the automakers were doing to imperil drivers and pedestrians: chrome covered dashboards that reflected light into the eyes, confusing transmission patterns that allowed drivers to make terrible mistakes, and even vehicle profiles that seemed to direct pedestrians under the car. He systematically doubted all the counter-claims of all the car companies, and made history.

Speaking of doubt in corporate claims, there is, of course, the terrible case of the Titanic. It took three days for news to reach New York that the Titanic had struck an iceberg, though the result of the collision was still unknown. In what must be the most foolish press release in corporate history, the Vice-President of the holding company that owned the White Star Line said, “We cannot state too strongly our belief that the ship is unsinkable and passengers perfectly safe.”

The Greeks have the best word for people who put too much stock in human achievement: hubris. Hubris is extreme arrogance or pride, the overconfident belief that you can do something like build an unsinkable ship or cover yourself in wax and feathers and fly toward the sun. Confidence allowed the Romans to defeat the Carthaginians, and hubris led them to salt the fields around Carthage, making their defeat permanent. Sailing through icebergs is risky, sailing through at 24 knots is hubris.

So if doubting makes Thomas a hero, the logical question might be ‘a hero of what?’ We all experience doubt from time to time, sometimes appropriately and sometimes not so much. It is seldom worth celebrating though, so Thomas is different. Another comparison: in the same way that someone needed to betray Jesus to move the passion narrative forward, someone had to doubt the resurrection so the question could be out in the open.

You might even say that Mary Magdalene gives us the first hint of the question that will dog Christianity from the beginning: “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” From the earliest days of the church there was a suggestion that his body was stolen, or worse, hidden by the disciples to create the impression that he was raised from the dead. Call it the first real conspiracy theory, since the stone was likely too heavy for one person to move, and therefore the work of a few.

But Mary speaks to the resurrected Jesus, and he then appears to the disciples, but that is just a handful. It falls to Thomas to speak for everyone else, missing from the first and second appearances, and willing to make the bold statement: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

In many ways, Doubting Thomas is a placeholder, standing in for everyone who was not with Mary at the tomb or in that locked room with the disciples. Thomas stands in for us, saying the words we would say and expressing the same doubt that it is perfectly human to express. He says what we would say, he receives the proof that we need, and is even willing to take the slight rebuke that Jesus delivers (really a side comment to us): “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The other thing Thomas does is buy the church some time. For the first generation, the generation who knew Jesus, they were relieved to see that while Jesus died, he really didn’t die, and was able (for a time) to walk among them, give them some final advice, grill them a little fish, and encourage them for the times to come. This was critical as the church was set to be born and the message set to be proclaimed.

May God bless the doubtful, the cautious, the bold, the in-betweens, and everyone who seeks to see the Risen Christ. Amen.

“Christ shows his stigmata to doubting Thomas. Woodcut.” is licensed under CC BY 4.0

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Why Can’t You Believe (Osther)

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of love and mercy,
we gather in this imperfect way,
trusting that you alone join us—one to another.
Hold us this day,
and surround us with your grace.

God of the anxious,
calm our hearts and minds
as we continue on this path
of lockdowns and unknown peril,
new variants and new restrictions.
Help us remain positive,
and believe that better days are coming.

God of the weary,
you alone know our fatigue,
everywhere we turn we feel the weight
of lost hope, and lost opportunity,
and loss of confidence in much
that we take for granted.
Heal our spirits,
with your Spirit,
and lead us back to you.

God of the hurting,
comfort those who mourn,
we pray for Queen Elizabeth,
and other members of our Royal Family in this time of loss.
We pray too for everyone
who has experienced loss during the pandemic,
and the additional challenge of incomplete commemoration.

God of each day,
send us signs of your renewing presence,
reassure us in this time of trouble,
and give us new confidence
in the face of uncertainty,
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks

Hallelujah, hallelujah.
Give thanks to the risen Christ;
hallelujah, hallelujah!

Give praise to God’s name.

Jesus is Lord of all the earth,
firstborn of all creation. R

Spread the good news o’er all the earth:
Jesus has died and is risen. R

We have been crucified with Christ,
now we shall live for ever. R

Come let us praise the living God,
joyfully sing to our Saviour. R

BLESSING

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4.5b-7

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Easter Sunday

Dr. King marching with Dr. Benjamin Spock and Monsignor Charles Owen Rice of Pittsburgh, April 15, 1967.

Welcome happy morning! Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Judith, Taye, Jenny, Cor, Heather, and the Morley Sisters!

PRELUDE: “Morning Has Broken” (Farjeon)

GREETING:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Give thanks to the Risen Christ!

OPENING PRAYER:

The tomb is empty,
come within!
Set aside your fear
and look no more!
The one you seek: he is not here.
He is risen!
He is risen, indeed!
The grave could not hold him,
death could not hold him,
no earthly power could hold him:
He is not here—he is risen!
We stand today with those blessed few,
first witnesses to the resurrection!
We stand with the women at the tomb,
afraid, but filled with joy,
ready to worship our risen Lord.
Help us, Lord, that we might see
how cross and cave have been transformed.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Welcome Happy Morning”

Welcome, happy morning! age to age shall say;
hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today:
come then, True and Faithful, now fulfil your word;
this is your third morning: rise, O buried Lord!

Earth with joyful welcome clothes itself for spring;
greets with life reviving our returning king:
flowers in every pasture, leaves on every bough,
speak of sorrows ended; Jesus triumphs now!

Author and sustainer, source of life and breath;
you for our salvation trod the path of death:
Jesus Christ is living, God for evermore!
Now let all creation hail him and adore.
Welcome, happy morning! age to age shall say;
hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Let us confess our shortcomings,
recalling the words of Christ:
Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”
Yet sometimes we sow discord,
neglecting to make peace with our sisters and brothers.

Jesus said, “As God has sent me, so I send you.”
Yet sometimes we refuse to go, fearing to follow
unknown paths of faith.

Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
But we turn away, rejecting the gifts of the Spirit.
(silent reflection)
Forgive us, blessed God,
in the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.
Amen.

Photo by Robert Adelman, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Be Not Afraid” (Osther)

FIRST READING: Psalm 118

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”
The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.

SECOND READING: John 20.1-18

John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

A NEW CREED

We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

MUSIC: “Thine is the Glory”

REFLECTION

Welcome to the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, that is the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox, which signifies the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere.

When it comes to calculating the date of Easter, the message is don’t try this at home. Your head will hurt, for one, because the description I just shared is only a summary—the actual calculation requires formulas and theologians. And even then, the result will be contentious. Anyone living near the Danforth will tell you that Easter usually comes twice, which is very exciting if you like roast lamb.

So Easter can happen anytime between March 22 and April 25, vexing for anyone who likes to plan ahead. Over the centuries people have argued for a fixed date, even suggesting April 9th (the actual date of the resurrection according to scholars), but Christians are too unruly for anything that obvious. So we opt for the “moveable feast” approach, which takes us to April 4th.

April 4th takes us to another tradition in Christian calendar- making, and that is the idea of “birth into heaven.” From the earliest days of the church, martyrs (and saints) were commemorated on the date of their martyrdom, the day they were translated into glory. And so today we honour Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born into glory on April 4, 1968.

But before I talk about Dr. King, I want to say a word or two about what was really happening on Easter morning, long long ago. This year, and most years, we go with the longer version of that first day, the stone that is rolled away, the running back and forth, the quiet belief of the beloved disciple. We weep with Mary, we quiz the stranger, we hear the tenderness as Jesus calls her by name, and we hear her cry “teacher!” because she has seen the Lord.

Nearby in Mark—the first and most concise telling—we hear something a little different. This time Mary has companions on this journey: Mary the mother of James, and Salome, together bringing spices to anoint his body for burial. At this moment, their biggest concern is who will roll the stone away—as they ponder the destination.

But there, at the tomb, the stone is already rolled away, and within they find a young man who gives them the message they need: “Be not afraid,” he says, “for the one you seek is not here, he is risen!” And these are the very last words of Mark’s Gospel, an ending that has troubled translators since the time it was set down:

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Of course, we know that if there was a ninth verse or a tenth verse to this chapter, Mark would already be contradicting himself, because they did find the courage, and the message was shared, and these women became the founders of an evangelical movement that would transform the world. But Mark did not write that. Somehow we wanted to leave us at verse eight.

I want to share with you part of an article written by Esau McCaulley, and published in Friday’s New York Times. He wrote:

The women did not go to the tomb looking for hope. They were searching for a place to grieve. They wanted to be left alone in despair. The terrifying prospect of Easter is that God called these women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love.

Fast-forward a few centuries and we get the same hope, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and abundance of love nesting in the African-American church that formed Dr. King. In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail he reminds his white colleagues that he’s the son, grandson, and great grandson of preachers—yet he would be the first to tell them that Black women were (and are) at the forefront of the fight for civil rights. In other words, the same women, centuries later, leading with hope in the power of God, unending forgiveness, and an abundance of love.

So the road that led to April 4, 1968 was long, but it led to a nation and a church transformed. Inside and outside the US, the life and death of Dr. King galvanized a generation of pastors and theologians to reconsider the relationship between the church and the oppressed. Where we once offered comfort, or benevolent aid, we were challenged to offer solidarity—through analysis, social action, and an abiding sense that God has a unique regard for the poor and oppressed. In other words, God called the church to return to the same world that crucified Jesus and offer the dangerous gift of hope: hope for the future, and hope for a world made new—abounding in love and mercy.

Before I conclude, I want to look at the last pages of Mark once more, and look back to Friday night, under the cover of darkness, when an unlikely friend of Jesus sought his battered body for burial. Joseph of Arimathea is recorded as the one member of the priestly class brave enough to care about dignifying Jesus in this moment, brave enough to approach the centurians to ask for his body. The gift that Mark gives us, however, is the gift of summary, as he introduces him with these words: “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God.”

I would argue that this is the descriptor that we should all strive for, the introduction we should all seek, ‘meet my friend—waiting for the Kingdom of God.’ Waiting for the promise of a new age, when heaven and earth are one again, when God’s desire for us is our desire, and when God’s ways become our ways. When the power of God, and unending forgiveness, and an abundance of love has set everyone free.

I want to give Dr. King the last word, this from his reflections on Good Friday (“every time I look at the cross I am reminded of the greatness of God and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ”) and, of course, his summary of today:

Jesus had given himself to certain eternal truths and eternal principles that nobody could crucify and escape. So all of the nails in the world could never pierce this truth. All of the crosses of the world could never block this love. All of the graves in the world could never bury this goodness.

Amen.

Photo by Henry Groskinsky, Lorraine Motel, evening of April 4, 1968, LIFE Photo Collection

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Risen and saving Lord,
Mary’s mistaken gardener,
call out our names in compassion that we might recognize you.
O Jesus, be present in the midst of your disciples.
Risen and saving Lord,
appearing unknown to disciples on the road to Emmaus,
set our hearts on fire with love for you.
O Jesus, be present in the midst of your disciples.
Risen and saving Lord,
granting assurance of healing and forgiveness
to distraught followers,
bring us together in peace and harmony.
O Jesus, be present in the midst of your disciples.
Risen and saving Lord,
caring for your disciples in a meal on the shore of the sea,
make yourself known to us in all acts of hospitality and sharing.
O Jesus, be present in the midst of your disciples.
Risen and saving Lord,
lifting hands of blessing on all humankind,
grant that our prayers and praises may be gathered into yours on behalf of the whole world.
O Jesus, be present in the midst of your disciples. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”

Jesus Christ is risen today, hallelujah!
our triumphant holy day, hallelujah!
who did once, upon the cross, hallelujah!
suffer to redeem our loss. Hallelujah!

Hymns of praise then let us sing hallelujah!
unto Christ, our heavenly King, hallelujah!
who endured the cross and grave, hallelujah!
sinners to redeem and save. Hallelujah!

But the pains which he endured, hallelujah!
our salvation have procured; hallelujah!
now above the sky he’s King, hallelujah!
where the angels ever sing. Hallelujah!

Sing we to our God above, hallelujah!
praise eternal as God’s love; hallelujah!
praise our God, ye heavenly host, hallelujah!
praise the Son and Holy Ghost. Hallelujah!

BLESSING

From this Easter festival,
we go forth to live resurrection:
In the name of the God who makes us,
in the name of the Christ who makes us free,
in the name of the Spirit who makes us one.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Photo by Yousuf Karsh, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Holy Saturday

Photo by Cathy Leask

HOLY WEEK SERVICES

Early Christian writing reveals that Holy Week has been marked since at least the 4th century. One such writer, a Christian noblewoman named Etheria, wrote from the Holy Land back to the women in her community describing daily worship in the week leading up to Easter. It is in this tradition that we share services this week. Thanks to Heather and Cor for recording Gymnopédie No.1. It seems a perfect match for the mood of Holy Saturday.

SCRIPTURE SENTENCES:

For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down,
that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant.
—Job 14.7-9

PRAYER:

We wait, Lord,
for one more sign—
one more glimpse of your Kingdom.
Parables spoken, bread broken,
and water made into the finest wine.
Yet we wait.
Lives mended, the dead raised,
even the waves bowed before your glory.
Yet we wait.
Wait with us, Lord,
and remind us that new life springs
in the most unlikely places.
Amen.

READING:

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the people. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. —John 19.40-42

REFLECTION:

Just a few short days ago I suggested that this is the longest Lent ever. If Lent is a time of withdrawal from others, with solitude, and forced simplicity, and the ongoing need for self-discipline—then we’ve been practicing Lent for a very long time.

Now another suggestion. Perhaps we’re in the middle of a very long Holy Saturday. Consider it: Holy Saturday is that liminal place, that not-quite-here-and-not quite-there place that is defined by time in the tomb. In the three part movement that defines our religion (“Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again”) we are somewhere between part one and part two. In the same way, our life under COVID seems like being stick between death and new life, between great peril and the assurance that everything will be okay. It’s a very long Holy Saturday.

Meanwhile, there is a lesson from Holy Saturday that we can bring to our time. I expect the disciples spend that first Holy Saturday wishing to turn back the clock. Maybe they thought Jesus would resuscitate himself, and leave the tomb in the way Lazarus left the tomb. But it was not to be. Life would not return to the way it was. Likewise, this Holy Saturday of COVID will end, and it won’t simply go back to the way it was. Yet the lesson of resurrection is that new life can appear, in ways we never expect, even from a time such as this.

MUSIC: “Gymnopédie No.1” (Satie)

PRAYER:

O Tree of Calvary,
send your roots deep down into my heart.
Gather together the soil of my heart,
the sands of my fickleness,
the mud of my desires.
Bind them all together,
O Tree of Calvary,
interlace them with your strong roots,
entwine them with the network of your love.
In the shadow places, beneath the soil,
the mystery of eternity forms,
and we form,
made new through the death of Jesus the Christ.
Hold us in this time,
and hold those who need you.
Amen.

BLESSING:

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4.5b-7

Good Friday

HOLY WEEK SERVICES

Early Christian writing reveals that Holy Week has been marked since at least the 4th century. One such writer, a Christian noblewoman named Etheria, wrote from the Holy Land back to the women in her community describing daily worship in the week leading up to Easter. It is in this tradition that we share services this week. Thanks this morning to Cor, Taye, and Bunny.

PRELUDE: “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”

SCRIPTURE SENTENCES:

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. —Isaiah 53.3-5

PRAYER:

Good Friday God:
look graciously, we pray, on us your people
for whom your Beloved, Jesus,
was willing to be betrayed,
to be laid open to the powers of this world,
to suffer death on a cross.
Grant us your presence on this day of his passion,
that we might be with him, through death to resurrection.
We pray in the name of our crucified Saviour. Amen.

READING:

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. —Mark 15.1-5

HYMN: “What Wondrous Love is This”

REFLECTION

Like Pilate, Pliny the Younger was a Roman governor. And though he served some seventy years after Pilate, little had changed in the intervening years. Governors were conservative by nature, intensely loyal to Emperor they served, and chiefly concerned with keeping the peace.

Our interest in Pliny is twofold: he was an active letter-writer, and many of his letters survive, and he was active in the earliest persecution of Christians. Now, you might think this would make him a villain, like Nero or Diocletian, but the opposite is true. Pliny was a moderate in the application of the law, and through his letters we learn about the early church.

He is perhaps most famous for his description of our spiritual forebears, again, a moderate description considering his role. Writing to his Emperor he notes:

They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds [and] not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of a meal–but ordinary and innocent food.

In this he reads like an anthropologist, and while he was no friend of the fledgling church, a hint of respect shines through. Some would make the same argument looking back at Pilate, a hint of respect in the midst of tumultuous events.

Now, expanding empire and a culture dedicated to order meant rules, and in the judicial realm there developed a system known as cognito. In modern terms we might call it a bench trial, trial by judge alone, and it fit the idea of the all-powerful military governor perfectly. And Pliny gives us a description:

In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have [been] denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed.

The key idea here was the three questions: defendant dragged to court, someone brought a charge, and the magistrate asks the defendant three times to defend themselves. We hear an echo of this in Peter’s denial, the cock crow convicting him in perpetuity, but for today it is Jesus on the stand, with Pilate in the judgement seat:

First question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus: “You say so.” (a non-answer)
Second question: Have you answer to these charges?
Jesus: No answer.
Third Question: Do you see how many charges are brought against you?
Jesus: No answer.

Oh yes, in the cognito system, refusing to defend yourself guaranteed a conviction. But there is something else: Pliny saw something in the early church that Pilate saw too.

For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel no doubt that stubborn refusal to comply with authority and inflexible obstinacy deserved punishment.

In other words, believers were a stubborn lot who seemed to answer to some higher authority and therefore deserved to die. So maybe this is the theme for the day: rational men meet obstinate believers and someone must die.

PRAYER

Gracious God of grief and of suffering,
this Friday seems ‘good’ for all the wrong reasons.
Be with us in these hours as we gather
in the shadow of the cross of Christ
and hear again the story of death and the sounds of burial.
This is not where we would choose to be, O God,
brought face to face with this symbol of death and instrument of torture.
Forgive us, where we have sought to avoid such times:
where we have ignored the cross or denied our own pain,
or turned our backs on the sufferings of others.
Strengthen us to be here today,
that we may know that you are here with us.
You know the ways of the world, O God:
you have been there; you are here;
you have loved and cried
and lived and died
to be with us, to comfort us,
to forgive us and to free us.
For this we give thanks.
This we call ‘good.’
Amen.

HYMN: Were You There

BLESSING:

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4.5b-7

Maundy Thursday

Maundy is an Old English word derived from the Latin mandatum meaning “commandment.” Jesus commanded his friends to love one another, no matter the circumstances, whether together or apart. Today (or tonight) we commemorate one gathering and two rituals. The first, foot-washing, we will mark by taking time during the service to wash our hands. Next, we remember the Last Supper, and we encourage you to break bread and lift a beverage—juice or wine—as you join this meal. Those joining by Zoom (at 7 pm) will share in the same service as this one. Thanks to Cor, Dave, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “I Love to Tell the Story”

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Saving God,
power of loving service in the world,
we thank you for Jesus,
who on the night he was betrayed,
gave himself to his friends
in humble service, and in bread and wine.

Mysterious God,
tonight we worship in your time,
we do not reenact the Last Supper:
we join the meal, we find our place,
and we gather at Christ’s own table,
by his side, now and ever.

OPENING PRAYER AND SUNG RESPONSE:

Holy God,
we come to worship in the gathering shadows
of Jesus’ suffering and death.
We gather with a cloud of witnesses,
to experience love in action:
service and sacrifice,
commemoration and grace.
Stand with us as we remember,
and encourage us, as mark this day.
Amen.

Christ, let us come with you
to the upper room where the feast is laid,
to the bread and wine where our peace is made:
Christ, let us come with you!

FIRST READING: John 13.1-5, 12-17

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

REFLECTION

A sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace. And one, according to St. Augustine, that was given to the church by Jesus Christ. Jesus commended baptism, dying and rising with him, and marked as his forever. Jesus presided at table—the first table—and said “do this in remembrance of me.” Every time you bread bread, and every time you lift you cup, I remain with you. We have two sacraments, two outward signs of an inward grace.

And then there is the other. Instituted by Jesus Christ, commended to the church, reenacted year by year on this night, yet foot-washing is not a sacrament. At least not officially. And what might be the reasons for this? For one, it’s an annual ritual, given to one night of our life together. Two, it’s a bit fraught. The one who washes feet has assumed the role of Jesus, something that most of us are reluctant to do. Finally, it’s messy—literally in some cases—and bit uncomfortable.

Yet the sacramental aspect of this ritual is clear: every time we serve others, every time we care for others in Christ’s name, every time we humble ourselves before others—we are making visible God’s invisible grace. Any time you help someone, particularly if it’s messy or uncomfortable, you are sharing a sacrament, and God’s unconditional love. Amen.

MUSIC: “In the Garden”

HANDWASHING
SUNG RESPONSE:

Teach us your serving love:
to become as friends, to become as one
that the world believe what your life has done:
teach us your serving love.

THE LAST SUPPER/GREAT THANKSGIVING

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is indeed right that we should praise you,
gracious God, for you created all things.
You formed us in your own image:
male and female you created us.
When we turned away from you in sin,
you did not cease to care for us,
but opened a path of salvation for all people.
You made a covenant with Israel,
and through your servants Abraham and Sarah
gave the promise of a blessing to all nations.
Through Moses you led your people
from bondage into freedom;
through the prophets you renewed
your promise of salvation.
Therefore, with them, and with all your saints
who have served you in every age,
we give you thanks and raise our voices
to proclaim the glory of your name.

Holy, Holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Holy God, source of life and goodness,
all creation rightly gives you praise.
In the fullness of time,
you sent your child Jesus Christ,
to share our human nature,
to live and die as one of us,
to reconcile us to you,
the Mother and Father of us all.
He healed the sick
and ate and drank with outcasts and sinners;
he opened the eyes of the blind
and proclaimed the Good News of your kingdom
to the poor and to those in need.
In all things he fulfilled your gracious will.

On the night he was betrayed
our Lord Jesus Christ took bread;
and after giving thanks to you,
broke it, and gave it to his disciples.
And said, “Take, eat:
this is my body which is given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.”
After supper he took the cup of wine;
and after giving thanks,
gave it to them, and said,
“Drink this, all of you:
this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this for the remembrance of me.”

Gracious God,
by the death of your beloved one
you have destroyed the power of death,
and by raising him to life
you have given us life for evermore.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Recalling his death,
proclaiming his resurrection,
and looking for his coming again in glory,
we offer you, O God, this bread and this cup.
Send your Holy Spirit upon us
and upon these gifts,
that all who eat and drink at this table
may be one body, one holy people,
a living sacrifice in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory is yours, God most holy,
now and forever.

THE LORD’S PRAYER:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in
heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us
our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against
us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from
evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the
glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

SHARING THE BREAD AND WINE

Partake or share the elements.

SUNG RESPONSE:

Christ of the open hands,
you have brought us close to be loved and fed,
you have touched our life, now you walk ahead:
Christ, let us come with you!

SECOND READING: Psalm 116

I love you, God, because you heard my voice
when I made supplication,
because you turned your ear to me,
when I called upon your name.
The cords of death entangled me,
and the pangs of the Grave laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called upon the name of God:
‘O God, I pray, save my life.’
How can I repay you, God,
for all the good things you have done for me?
I will take up the cup of salvation,
and call upon the name of God.
I will pay my vows
in the presence of all God’s people. Amen.

BLESSING

Even as we turn away, Lord,
you cannot turn away.
Even in the face of denial and betrayal,
you never turn away.
Even in death, death on the cross,
you will never turn away.
To you be the glory, Lord,
now and ever, Amen.

Holy Wednesday

“Light in Early Spring” by www.holgersbilderwelt.de is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

HOLY WEEK SERVICES

Early Christian writing reveals that Holy Week has been marked since at least the 4th century. One such writer, a Christian noblewoman named Etheria, wrote from the Holy Land back to the women in her community describing daily worship in the week leading up to Easter. It is in this tradition that we share services this week.

SCRIPTURE SENTENCES:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. —Hebrews 12.1-2

PRAYER:

God, you touch our lives
with mystery and hope.
We move through this week,
ready to see your power working through us.
Help us to be open to your Word,
and to answer your call among us.
Help us to run the race that is set before,
and remind us we never run alone.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

READING:

The Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
—Isaiah 50.7-9a

REFLECTION:

Most often we look to the psalmist for expressive poetry and a catalogue of human emotion. Today we find it in Isaiah 50: flint-faced, never disgraced, vindicated by the God who is ever near. We are drawn in to the description of this God, and the polarities that illustrate this divine helpfulness. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.

Meanwhile, the closest version of this homily to faithfulness found in the psalms is perhaps 118: “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” In a bit of a role reversal, the psalmist sounds very practical, almost down-to-earth in this assessment of God’s faithfulness. What can mere mortals do to me when God is by my side? Nothing!

We need some of this attitude when confronted by trouble in this life. Yes, there is peril all around us; yes, the days ahead look bleak; yes, the uncertainty of these times is wearing us down; but the One who vindicates me is near. Let us stand up together! Let us stand up and run that race, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Amen.

HYMN: Take up your cross (verse 2)

Take up your cross; let not its weight
fill your weak spirit with alarm;
Christ’s strength shall bear your spirit up,
and brace your heart, and nerve your arm.

PRAYER:

Fit us, O God, for this new day.
Through your Spirit, grant us courage,
so that today’s uncertainties may not overwhelm us.
Through your Christ, fill us with love,
so that distance may not divide us.
Through your creative energy, make us new,
so that the past may not burden us.
Through you compassionate Child,
tend to everyone in need, and tend to us.
Through the Prince of Peace, send your peace,
for the sake of a weary world, and our peace too.
Amen.

BLESSING:

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4.5b-7

Holy Tuesday

Photo by Nana B Agyei (Creative Commons BY 2.0)

HOLY WEEK SERVICES

Early Christian writing reveals that Holy Week has been marked since at least the 4th century. One such writer, a Christian noblewoman named Etheria, wrote from the Holy Land back to the women in her community describing daily worship in the week leading up to Easter. It is in this tradition that we share services this week.

SCRIPTURE SENTENCES:

In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress. —Psalm 71.1-3

PRAYER:

Ever-present God,
this day enfolds us and surrounds us:
be in our speaking and in our thinking;
be in our life and on our lips;
be in our hearts and in our souls,
be in our deeds and in our doing,
be in our thoughts and our meditation,
be in our hope and in our longing,
today and forever.
Amen.

READING:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” —1 Corinthians 1.26-31

REFLECTION

Think upon the things that are not. It’s hard to do! St. Paul is in high rhetorical form as he creates his homily to God’s wisdom, always more profound than the wisdom of the world. Yet, in the midst of these comparisons and surprising shifts, he goes one further step: God chose the things that are not to nullify the things that are.

The things that are not to nullify the things that are. This puts me in mind of another verse from Paul, this one from 2 Corinthians 4: “Don’t fix your eyes on what can be seen, by what cannot be seen. What you see is temporary, what you cannot see is eternal.” Maybe he was talking about idols, since the ancient world was full of them. Maybe he was talking about material things, the things you can’t take with you. Maybe he was talking about overt signs of empire, something that never seem to leave us.

So we can’t be certain about what can be seen, or the things that “are.” But things that are not, the things that cannot be seen, they are legion: faith, hope, and love, an example that Paul loved best. Or how about courage, or patience, or conviction? Maybe you can’t see them, in the person who quietly makes their way through life, but they are there. Or the quiet helpers, the ones who serve out of view. Maybe this service is among the things that are not, the things that cannot be seen—but they are certainly eternal!

HYMN: My Faith Looks Up to Thee

May thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart
My zeal inspire!
As thou hast died for me
O may my love to thee
Pure, warm, and changeless be
A living fire!

PRAYER

Gracious God, we pray for your blessing
as we find our place in Holy Week.
Here may the faithful find salvation,
and the careless be awakened.
Here may the doubting find courage,
and the anxious be calmed.
Here may the tempted find help,
and the sorrowful be comforted.
Here may the weary find rest,
and the strong be renewed.
Here may the aged find consolation,
and the young be inspired,
in Jesus, the Christ.
Amen.

BLESSING:

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4.5b-7