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.

2 thoughts on “Easter III

  1. Wow, Michael! Every week we think, “This is masterful – one of his best sermons” and then you come up with another one just as powerful. You have no idea how many crises you have pulled us through these past months and the hope and assurance you have brought to us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Heather and Dave, you also have a wonderful ministry or music that has helped us all. Your Easter CD is “over the top” in inspiration. God bless you all.❤❤

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