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Sixteenth after Pentecost

It was lovely to see everyone at worship this morning, both face-to-face and on Zoom.

Thank you to Marg Todman (Bunny) for leading worship and to Dave Hewitt for singing and Heather Maclean for providing the music.

Click below to view this morning’s service:

Next week’s service will be at 11:00 (in person and Zoom). Taye Maddison will be leading worship.

Seventh after Pentecost

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peasant Wedding, c. 1566. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna

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: “What a Wonderful World” (Thiele/Weiss)

OPENING PRAYER:

We come from scattered lives to this moment,
seeking unity in the Spirit,
seeking the grace of Christ,
seeking the peace of God.

seeking creativity in the Spirit,
seeking the compassion of Christ,
seeking knowledge of God.

seeking fellowship in the Spirit,
seeking companionship in Christ,
seeking union with God.
Speak to us though these words, Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “All the way my Saviour leads me”

All the way my Saviour leads me;
what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt his tender mercy
who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
here by faith in him to dwell,
for I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Saviour leads me,
cheers each winding path I tread,
gives me grace for every trial,
feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
and my soul athirst may be,
gushing from the rock before me,
lo, a spring of joy I see!

All the way my Saviour leads me;
O the fullness of his love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
in my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed, immortal,
wings its flight to realms of day,
this my song through endless ages,
‘Jesus led me all the way!’

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

In joy and in trouble,
help us, gracious God,
to trust your love,
to serve your purpose,
and to praise your name.

In joy and in trouble,
help us, gracious God,
to open our hearts,
to trust in you,
and welcome your mercy.

In joy and in trouble
help us, gracious God,
to forgive others, and ourselves,
knowing that forgiveness
comes from you alone. 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: “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” (Chapman)

FIRST READING: Psalm 24

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.[a]

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.[b][c]

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

SECOND READING: Luke 14.1-14

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child[a] or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

HYMN: “Lord, speak to me”

Lord, speak to me that I may speak
in living echoes of your tone;
as you have sought, so let me seek
your straying children lost and lone.

O lead me, so that I may lead
the wandering and the wavering feet;
O feed me, so that I may feed
your hungering ones with manna sweet.

O teach me, so that I may teach
the precious truths which you impart;
and wing my words, that they may reach
the hidden depths of many a heart.

O fill me with your fullness, Lord,
until my very heart o’erflows
in kindling thought and glowing word,
your love to tell, your praise to show.

File:Diego Rivera, Triumph of the Revolution, 1926. (6968295771).jpg
Diego Rivera, Triumph of the Revolution, 1926. Fresco. Autonomous University of Chapingo, Mexico.

REFLECTION

It seems unnatural to part with a book. A book is like an old friend. A book is like an engaging conversational partner. A book is like a member of the family. Alas, you can’t keep every book you read, or intend to read, or read then stop when some other book demands to be read. This week I thought long and hard about giving away Robert Putnam’s book. Not that Robert Putman, the other Robert Putnam, the one who wrote “Bowling Alone.”

So while I ponder the fate of my well-worn copy of Bowling Alone, maybe I’ll tell you about it as I try to decide. In a nutshell, it’s a book about social trends in the United States, and in particular the state of community or “social capital.” These things are measured and studied in depth, but Putnam has assembled all the studies and surveys into a single volume. Here are a few examples—apropos to our reading—on the topic of eating:

In the last two decades of the last century, the amount of entertaining at home dropped by 45 percent. The decline was so sharp, that if the trend holds, the entire practice of entertaining at home will cease. The evening meal? Down by a third in the same period. So, you wonder, if people are eating at home less, and entertaining at home less, perhaps there’s a shift to restaurants. Not based on statistics. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of “full-service” restaurants in America dropped by 25 percent, the number of bars and luncheonettes by 50 percent. People were not having picnics either: they are off by 60 percent (pp. 98-102).

After reading the first hundred pages or so, it all seems rather grim. The ties that bind people to each other are declining and ending, and I wish I could assure you that it is limited to south of the border, but I cannot. Still, it’s a book worth reading, because once you get past the bad news at the beginning, you get the part that he revealed in the sub-title of the book: “The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

Eating, of course, is at the centre of our experience of being human. We think about food all the time, at least three times a day. If we’re not actually eating a meal, we’re just as likely to be planning a meal, or thinking back to a meal we’ve enjoyed. Some of us have others to feed, while others feed only themselves. Alone or with others, we cannot avoid the need to eat.

Taking the long view, eating has always been a primary preoccupation of humans, and most agree that it is the very foundation of society. Years ago I read a very convincing article that suggested that the foundational impulse of agriculture was the production of beer. The discovery of beer was the push needed to get our forebears in the Nile Delta to get it together and cooperate on farming. Now, whether you can accept the “beer theory” of human development or not, it seems clear that at some point food production (and the eating that followed) became a key factor in the formation of human society.

Key enough, that the study of eating unlocks much of what we can know about societies in general. From a couple of anthropologists named Farb and Armelogos, we get this:

In all societies, both simple and complex, eating is the primary way of initiating and maintaining human relationships…Once the anthropologists finds out where, when and with whom the food is eaten, just about everything else can be inferred about the relations among the society’s members (Crossan, p. 68).

Looking back at “Bowling Alone” for a minute, I wonder what future anthropologists will make of the fact that at the same moment family meals and conventional restaurants were in sharp decline, the number of fast food places doubled. Hold that thought.

Jesus, the first and best anthropologist, said this:

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

He was describing what future scholars would call food exchanges, “a series of obligations to give, receive and repay” (p. 69). As anyone who has ever planned a significant meal or event will tell you, there are layers and layers of thinking involved:

Should we invite them? We were invited to their party. Where should we seat them? Can we put the second and third cousins at the back? We can’t serve chicken; everyone serves chicken. Where should we seat the minister? Surely someone on the list must go to church…we’ll put him with them.

You get the picture. Jesus understood the politics of food and meal planning and knew that the primary motive for issuing invitations was quid pro quo. We become obligated. We seek to create obligation with certain people, and avoid it with others. We tend to share our table with people just like us. The United States was 125 years old before an African-American was invited to dine at the White House. 36 years after the end of slavery, Booker T. Washington, leader and former slave, was invited to dine with then-president Theodore Roosevelt. The house itself, built by slaves, was standing for over 100 years before an African-American was invited to dine there.

When we imagine the people with whom we want to share a meal, we naturally begin with family, and then neighbours (usually our economic equals). Jesus takes this further and adds the people better off, and more likely to repay in style. Call him cynical, but as first and best anthropologist, Jesus knew that our selfish impulses usually win out. This might go some way to explain his waning popularity as the Gospel progresses. Jesus knew that comfort and selfish desire win over generosity and selflessness every time.

But he was persistent. And maybe even a little rude. He is invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees (a social promotion for a humble Nazarene) and decides that this is the moment to share a couple of parables that would condemn most of the people at the party. “Thanks for the invite” he said, “but when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

Not only does he suggest we reject the principle of “inviting up,” he goes much further and suggests that we invite the least desirable people in society, the people that his hosts thought were rejected by God. Remember the question “who sinned, this man or his parents that he be born blind?” There is an entire theological worldview in this one simple question. God punishes sin, according to this view, and the secret to understanding any misfortune is simply determining the source of the sin. Jesus couldn’t disagree more.

God’s kingdom, and the table in that kingdom, is long and eclectic, populated by exactly the people Jesus describes. God doesn’t enumerate sinners and bar the door: God opens the table to everyone, casting aside both the idea of desirable and undesirable and severing the link between misfortune and sin. God’s blessing is extended to those who model their table after the divine table, making invitations precisely because the people invited are in no position to repay.

Way back in time, some 13 years ago, some very dedicated elders received a resume from a minister who listed “daycare cook” as the first item under work experience. I expect that gave me the edge, since I soon learned that my hard-earned skill from the daycare would be needed at Central. As an aside, there is no greater character building exercise than cooking for preschoolers. I still have no adequate response to the words “Ewwww, what’s that?”

Of course, Tuesday night dinner is just the beginning of the story of Central and food. Eventually WKNC added more meals, groceries, and takeaway meals, and then our dear friends from WAES appeared on the scene, taking food distribution to the next level. Even Shakespeare in Action has been helping distribute food during the pandemic, illustrating the size and scale of the heavenly banquet happening at 1 King Street. And that’s without looking south to Mount Dennis, where we created an entire community ministry dedicated to food security.

In every way we can, we have been reversing the trends that disconnect people from their food, and underling the ways in which sharing a meal is at the heart of being human. We have made the last first, and in doing so, we helped bring the Kingdom to this community. May this banquet persist, and may we always find ourselves among the people with needs greater than our own. Amen.

Addison Scurlock, Mr. Harry White’s Party, 1930.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is good,
we praise you for all your mercies:
for your goodness that has created us,
your grace that has sustained us,
your wisdom that has challenged us,
your patience that has borne with us,
and your love that has redeemed us.
Help us to love you and all your children,
and to be thankful for all your gifts,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is just,
we praise you for your guidance:
your law that guides us,
your prophets that speak to us,
your Spirit that animates us,
and your Word that leads us.
Help us to further your kingdom,
and demonstrate your mercy,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes the desire to pray,
we turn to you when our hearts are heavy:
for the lost and those uncertain,
for the sick and those recovering,
for the sad and those tired with grief,
and for everyone who is vulnerable in your sight.
Help us to comfort them,
and demonstrate your compassion,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.
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: “Precious Lord, take my hand”

Precious Lord, take my hand,
lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
through the storm, through the night,
lead me on to the light:
take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear,
precious Lord, linger near,
when my life is almost gone,
hear my cry, hear my call,
hold my hand lest I fall:
take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When the darkness appears,
and the night draws near,
and the day is past and gone,
at the river I stand,
guide my feet, hold my hand:
take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

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.

Fifth after Pentecost

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-12.png
Mark 5.41: Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Photo by nsawyer (Creative Commons 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 Cor and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Shooting Stars in Summer” (Ikeda)

OPENING PRAYER:

Wondrous God:
you touch our lives with healing and mercy;
new life is your gift.
We praise you for the Good News
which is ours through Jesus Christ.
May this time of worship nourish us
with your promise of meaning and purpose.
May this time be a balm for the hurting
and a rest for the weary.
May we be strengthen to carry your message
of new life in Christ to the streets that surround us.
And may we be empowered to carry your grace
into the coming week.
We pray in Jesus’ name, our Source and Saviour.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Come and find the quiet centre”

Come and find the quiet centre
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed:
clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us,
knows our being, face to face,
making space within our thinking,
lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we’re shrinking,
finding scope for faith begun.

In the Spirit let us travel,
open to each other’s pain,
let our loves and fears unravel,
celebrate the space we gain:
there’s a place for deepest dreaming,
there’s a time for heart to care,
in the Spirit’s lively scheming
there is always room to spare!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Gracious God,
You are the author of love
and source of forgiveness.
We are all too human,
quick to judge,
and slow to understand.
Send your Spirit, O God.
Remind us the last word,
spoken on a hill far away,
was “forgive.”
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: “In Suffering Love/There is a Balm in Gilead”

FIRST READING: Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

SECOND READING: Mark 5.21-43

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

HYMN: “Healer of our every ill”

Healer of our every ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.

You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness.
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts. R

In the pain and joy beholding,
how your grace is still unfolding.
Give us all your vision, God of love. R

Give us strength to love each other,
every sister, every brother.
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide. R

You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing.
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart. R

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-11.png
Fresco from Catacombs of Rome, c. 300 CE. Photo in the public domain.

REFLECTION

My wee laddie turned 30 this week, and suddenly I’m out of touch.

Not so much with the usual music, clothing, slang, social media platform, or recreational choices, but children’s books— something I haven’t thought about for many years. I had an inkling, and my inkling relates to the lesson of the day, so I decided to check out bestselling books for preschoolers.

Sure enough, there are many best-selling books about bodies, learning about your body, and self-esteem related to what you find. And they seem to follow a few broad themes, the first being a general kind of body positivity: Bodies Are Cool (Tyler Feder); Me and My Amazing Body (Joan Sweeney); and
I Love Being Me! (Mechal Renee Roe).

And then there is the inevitable and wildly popular book Everyone Poops (Taro Gomi), and what seems like an unintentional sequel, We Poop on the Potty (Jim Harbison). Some things need to be said.

I’m particularly partial to the rhyming titles, such as Oliver West! It’s Time to Get Dressed! (Kelly Louise); Whose Toes Are Those? (Jabari Asim), and (of course) Whose Knees are These? (Jabari Asim). And this then leads us to books for kids who are self-conscious, such as Big Hair, Don’t Care (Crystal Swain-Bates) or a new personal favourite: Your Nose! A Wild Little Love Story (Sandra Boynton).

The link to our passage is bodies, physicality, and the extent to which we can imagine the scene. I’m going to reread a summary version, with a focus on the physical. (Remember this is a story within a story, so we begin and end with the healing of Jairus’ daughter)

Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet.
He pleaded, “Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed.”

A large crowd followed and pressed around him.
A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.
She came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak.
She thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”
Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.
“Who touched my clothes?” he asked.
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet.

Jesus then went in where the child was.
He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).
He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

A few things to note here: first, there is an obvious connection between healing and touch. The dialogue between “If I could only touch him” and “Who touched me?” tells us all we need to know about the immediacy of touch and the need to be present, both to touch and to be touched. In almost every healing, there is an element of the physical.

And this also tells us all we need to know about this incarnational God we worship. We follow the Way: an intentional decision to walk the way we walk, to enter the pain and suffering of life, and to visit God’s healing on the people he met. I’m going to assume all the people he met. This is the moment we remember John’s coda, the last words of his Gospel: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Imagine the power of God emanating for everyone he met—a gentle touch, a kind word, a gentle challenge—and forgiveness for all that is past. We tend to see these a series of “healing episodes,” passages that we preach (or avoid) as individual units of healing. My sense, based on this passage and others, is that Jesus healed everyone he met: whether they knew it or not, whether they wanted it or not. Meeting Jesus meant transformation, and meeting Jesus means transformation, because the power of God is infinite.

And that brings me to another point, one born of the remarkable line: “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.” Remember this is Mark’s Gospel. Generally it’s John’s Gospel that gives us the self-aware Jesus, the Jesus that knows (and tells people) that he is the way, the truth and the life. Mark’s Jesus is the “tell no one” Jesus, which is the way our reading ends today. Yet he knows that power has left him, and Mark knows too. Jesus doesn’t heal by accident, it’s always his intention to heal.

And then the remarkable end to our passage, when we finally meet Jairus’ daughter after what seems a false start. Even in their grief, the people around the girl think it’s absurd that she is merely sleeping. In a time well acquainted with death, they know she is gone, and they think they know the limit of God’s power. “You are dust,” God said, “and to the dust you shall return.” Yet even this bit of divine legislation does not bind the Son of the Most High, who understands the mysteries of death and can raise the dead. This, and the raising of Lazarus, remain the most confounding of Jesus’ miracles, but we are invited to open ourselves to this mystery nonetheless.

The past few weeks, and the discovery of countless graves around residential schools, reminds us of the power of the physical. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report dedicated a chapter to missing children and unmarked burials, but the physical discovery of graves, and the innocents within, has moved us more than many expected. And so we heed the moderator’s words, who in a letter to clergy this week offered these reflections:

This is a time for The United Church of Canada to listen rather than prescribe. The pain in Indigenous communities and churches is immense. I ask you to continue to hold Indigenous members of the United Church and their families and communities in prayer and ask members of your community of faith to do the same.

Again, back to the physical. We use our ears rather than our tongues, and listen to the pain that is shared, the anguish and the anger. I expect it will be a long summer of listening, and reflecting on the past. And prayer is an excellent place to start, knowing that we will be called upon to act, and will need God’s help when that moment comes.

God’s desire to heal is infinite, and God’s desire to walk with those in pain is never-ending. God entered our world precisely to heal everyone who God met through Jesus. This tells us all we need to know about the heavenly healing mandate. As God’s agents, or ambassadors, we share the same mandate, and strive (first of all) to do no harm, and then share the same gentle touch, and kind word, and wish for healing that we know. May God give us the strength we need, now and always, Amen.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 14584470488_7397d97647_c.jpg
Sarcophagus with various scenes, 325-350 CE, Vatican Museum. The episodes tend to run together, with the raising of Lazarus, a woman touching Jesus’ garment, arrest of Peter, and Peter denying Christ.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have given us life and freedom
to be your people in the world.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have called us into the church,
and into this community of faith,
pilgrims together on the journey into new creation.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have touched our hearts with hope,
so that we long to see the day of your salvation.

Blessed are you, gracious God:
you challenge us to grow in understanding
about our history and the implications of the past.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you help us face hard truths,
and see the ways we collectively failed individuals
and individually failed others.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
For sending us latter-day prophets,
to speak the truth in love, even if we find it hard to hear.

Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have give us meaningful work
and the ability to work together for the common good.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you heal the sick, comfort the troubled,
and encourage those without hope.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you challenge us to work together
for a world transformed in your image.

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: “I danced in the morning”

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
and I came from heaven and I danced on the earth;
at Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the dance, said he,
and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe and the pharisee,
but they would not dance and they would not follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
they came with me and the dance went on. R

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame;
the holy people said it was a shame;
they whipped and they stripped and they hung me high,
and left me there on a cross to die. R

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
they buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
but I am the dance and I still go on. R

They cut me down and I leap up high;
I am the life that will never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the dance, said he. 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.

Fourth after Pentecost

Candido Portinari. The Quieted Storm, 1955. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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: “Prelude Nocturne” (Sheftel)

OPENING PRAYER:

We worship you, O God.
You who stilled the storm,
calm our hearts.
You who fed the five thousand,
give us bread each day.
You who made wine from water,
pour yourself out for each of us.
You who healed the broken,
heal those who do not know they are broken.
You who ate and drank with sinners,
eat and drink with us each day.
You who were righteously indignant,
spare not your anger, but send us mercy too.
You who raised the dead,
remind us you ended death itself.
You who preside when we worship,
hear us as we pray, Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult”

Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild restless sea,
day by day his clear voice sounding,
saying, ‘Christian, follow me.’

Long ago apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, ‘Christian, love me more.’

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
‘Christian, love me more than these.’

Jesus calls us: by your mercies,
Saviour, may we hear your call,
give our hearts to your obedience,
serve and love you best of all.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION (Sir Francis Drake)

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love. 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: “Perhaps Love” (Denver)

FIRST READING: Psalm 9

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation.

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
all the nations that forget God.
But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortal.

SECOND READING: Mark 4.35-41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Jesus, Saviour, pilot me”

Jesus, Saviour, pilot me
over life’s tempestuous sea;
unknown waves before me roll,
hiding rock and treacherous shoal;
chart and compass come from thee,
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child,
thou canst hush the ocean wild;
boisterous waves obey thy will
when thou biddest them ‘Be still.’
Wondrous sovereign of the sea,
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore,
and the fearful breakers roar
‘twixt me and the peaceful land,
still supported by thy hand,
may I hear thee say to me,
‘Fear not, I will pilot thee.’

Cornelius Varley, detail of Laying Storm Anchors, undated, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven

REFLECTION

Ten knots of steady breeze, no waves, slightly overcast (less likely to burn), a willing crew, skipper in a good mood, and worthy adversaries on the racecourse. Is that too much to ask?

Sadly, we rarely get the race we want. We sail on what is affectionately known as “Slumber Bay,” notorious for evenings without wind. And when you do get the wind you want, it can disappear in the face of something called the summer inversion, somehow related to a city filled with hot air.

And then there is the wave action, amplified by travelling across the lake, and prone to strange behavior as it approaches the shore. It tends to reflect off the lee shore, meaning your trip in and out of the basin can induce something the French like to call the “mal de mare.”

At least Humber Bay doesn’t have sharks. I recently learned that I will soon live 25 minutes from the shark bite capital of the world, a rather sobering thought. Add pythons and alligators, and I suppose you’ll find me indoors. Also, Humber Bay has no whales, which I truly appreciate after reading last week’s updated Jonah story.

A lobster diver was working off the coast of Cape Cod when he felt a large bump. Everything went dark, and he assumed he was losing consciousness after a shark bite. Not so! He was, in fact, in the mouth of a humpback whale. What followed was likely the longest and most terrifying 30 seconds of his life, until the whale thought better of the snack, surfaced, and spit him out. Clearly, we need to reconsider how we view some Bible stories.

And this got me thinking. Every year we hear about a certain storm on the Sea of Galilee, usually in summer, and we look at it as a stand-alone miracle story. We talk about faith and trust, and Jesus’ unusual relationship with the natural world—as a stand-alone miracle story. But what about other stories—storm stories—found in the pages of scripture? What can we learn when we take these stories together? I’m thinking of two others, beginning with a certain prophet fleeing to Tarshish (not Cape Cod) and then our old friend St. Paul, who also had an adventure on the sea.

The thing about Jonah is we tend to get so caught up in the digestive part of the story we neglect what came before. And since I’m a huge fan of how the story of Jonah is told, I’m going to share the good bits in the middle:

4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Notice the sudden nature of the storm, just like the Sea of Galilee, and the fact that our protagonist finds the whole thing rather soothing. But the sailors see the peril here, just like the disciples, and begin to make a plan. First they wake up Jonah and suggest his God lend a hand. Then they cast lots to discover who is responsible—not in a malicious way—but to understand the nature of the threat. When they discover it’s Jonah, they pepper him with questions, and soon understand the problem.

We tend to forget that it’s Jonah who suggests he be thrown overboard, something the sailors refuse to do. First, it would be rude, and second it’s bad luck to throw someone overboard, and finally, racers can be disqualified if they do it. Odd that they need a specific rule for that.

So hold that story in your mind while we look at a third “storm at sea” passage, this one from Paul’s journey to Rome found in Acts 27. Paul has been arrested, and claimed his right—as a Roman citizen—to appeal the charge before Caesar. Naturally, he would go by sea, except that winter had begun. Yet Paul was determined to get to Rome.

Again, I’m going to share a short passage, mostly because it proves to me that the author (Luke) was both a physician and a sailor:

13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard.

His reference to a specific point of sail (“head into the wind”) and the leeward passage near Cauda tells me all I need to know about Luke the sailor.

So the journey continues with Paul having second thoughts—not about going to Rome—but about putting the crew at risk for the sake of this passage. I encourage you to read all of Acts 27—a true adventure story. It ends with an intentional shipwreck, at Paul’s suggestion, to ensure all their lives be saved.

So three storms for three very different reasons. The first is an effort to stop Jonah, the second is an effort to stop the unbelief of the twelve, and the third is just a storm—a Nor’easter, to be precise. In the first, God makes the storm, in the second God (in Jesus) unmakes the storm, and in the third, the storm is just a storm. Or is it?

Maybe the storm is a test of character, for Paul, and for the crew of this vessel. Again, it’s a longer story, but the sailors show strength of character but not casting Paul adrift, by trusting his assurances about God’s protection, and by trusting his suggestion for a controlled shipwreck. They passed the test.

Likewise, the story of Jesus and the twelve is a test of character, but not the one that’s obvious. If the test is having faith in the face of the storm, we see the outcome. But if the test is showing awe in the face deliverance, then they mostly pass. “Who is this,” they ask, “that even the wind and the waves obey him?” Even asking the question takes them a step closer to accepting that this is God’s doing—God’s endless desire to save.

And finally back to poor Jonah, the reluctant prophet, and the ultimate inside man. He also seems to fail the test of character, running in the exact opposite direction from this appointed destination, but he still goes to Nineveh. Humbled, smelly, even forsaken by the hungry monster, but he still goes to Nineveh. He might be the ultimate victim of the mal de mare (for the whale), but he still goes to Nineveh.

And this is all God asks of us. If your life is a shipwreck, try to save others on the way. If the storms of life have you in a panic, accept that Jesus is in the same boat. And if you’re swallowed up by all that life sends you, and feeling trapped inside, trust that you too will land in a better place, with God to guide you.

Amen.

Eugène Delacroix, Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1841. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE:

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is good,
we praise you for all your mercies:
for your goodness that has created us,
your grace that has sustained us,
your wisdom that has challenged us,
your patience that has borne with us,
and your love that has redeemed us.
Help us to love you and all your children,
and to be thankful for all your gifts,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is just,
we praise you for your guidance:
your law that guides us,
your prophets that speak to us,
your Spirit that animates us,
and your Word that leads us.
Help us to further your kingdom,
and demonstrate your mercy,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes the desire to pray,
we turn to you when our hearts are heavy:
for the lost and those uncertain,
for the sick and those recovering,
for the sad and those tired with grief,
and for everyone who is vulnerable in your sight.
Help us to comfort them,
and demonstrate your compassion,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.
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: “I feel the winds of God today”

I feel the winds of God today;
today my sail I lift,
though heavy oft with drenching spray
and torn with many a rift;
if hope but light the water’s crest,
and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at his behest,
and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries
my vain regretful tears,
until with braver thoughts shall rise
the purer, brighter years;
if cast on shores of selfish ease
or pleasure I should be,
O let me feel your freshening breeze,
and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget your love
and how that love was shown,
lift high the blood-red flag above;
it bears your name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way,
you will not let me drift.
I feel the winds of God today;
today my sail I lift.

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

The safety of this harbour Lord,
we bravely take our leave.
Tho’ wind and waves will be our way,
we’ll never cease believe
that you alone will guide our craft,
ensure our course is true.
By star and sight continue on,
Our only pilot you.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-7.png
Ludolf Bakhuizen, detail of Boats in a Storm, 1696, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

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