Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 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: “Minuet In G Major” (Bach)

OPENING PRAYER:

God of Pentecost, hear us as pray:

Unless the eye catch fire, you God, will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire, you God, will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire, you God, will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire, you God, will not be loved.
Unless, the mind catch fire, you God, will not be known.

Holy God of justice, living Spirit of power, Christ our peace,
may we burn, body and soul,
with love for you, each other, and all creation,
as these words are spoken and heard this day.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “As comes the breath of spring”

As comes the breath of spring
with light and mirth and song,
so does your Spirit bring
new days brave, free, and strong.
You come with thrill of life
to chase hence winter’s breath,
to hush to peace the strife
of sin that ends in death.

You come like dawning day
with flaming truth and love,
to chase all glooms away,
to brace our wills to prove
how wise, how good to choose
the truth and its brave fight,
to prize it, win or lose,
and live on your delight.

You come like songs at morn
that fill the earth with joy,
till we, in Christ newborn,
new strength in praise employ.
You come to rouse the heart
from drifting to despair,
through high hopes to impart
life with an ampler air.

You breathe and there is health;
you move and there is power;
you whisper, there is wealth
of love, your richest dower.
Your presence is to us
like summer in the soul;
your joy shines forth and then
life blossoms to its goal.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Almighty God,
you poured your Spirit
upon gathered disciples to create
a new community of faith.
We confess that we hold back
the force of your Spirit among us,
and often fail to listen for your word of grace.
Have mercy on us, O God,
And transform our lives
by the power of your Spirit. 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: “Breathe on me, breath of God” (Hatch)

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.

FIRST READING: Psalm 104

O God, how manifold are your works!
With Wisdom at your side you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. 

There lies the great and mighty Sea,
teeming with living things both great and small.
Upon it sail the ships, and there is Leviathan,
the monster you made to play in it.

All these look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
What you give them they gather up.
When you open your hand,
you fill them with good things.

But when you hide your face they despair.
When you take away their breath, they die,
and return to dust.
But when you send out your spirit, they live again,
and you renew the face of the earth.

May your glory, O God, endure forever.
May you rejoice, O God, in your works.
When you look at the earth it trembles,
when you touch the mountains they smoke.
I will sing to God as long as I live.
I will praise my God while I have being.

SECOND READING: Acts 2.1-8, 12-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

Westonites, Mount Dennisians and Humberleans; residents of Pelmo Park, Rockcliffe-Smyth, Silverthorne and Lambton, The Westway and the Old Mill, Humber Heights and Emery, Richview and the parts of Brookhaven near Amesbury; visitors from the Junction (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Rexdale and Syme—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Spirit of God, unleashed on earth”

Spirit of God, unleashed on earth
with rush of wind and roar of flame!
With tongues of fire saints spread good news;
earth, kindling, blazed its loud acclaim.

You came in power, the church was born;
O Holy Spirit, come again!
From living waters raise new saints,
let new tongues hail the risen Lord.

With burning words of victory won
inspire our hearts grown cold with fear,
revive in us baptismal grace,
and fan our smouldering lives to flame.

Valentine Noh, c. 1470, Prague, Bohemia, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

REFLECTION

I think you can see what I did there. And I’m not sure it’s Mount Dennisians, but it should be.

The traditional reading, with all those exotic place names, tells us that Pentecost is about a gathering of people (from everywhere) that were present for the birth of the church. And while this is certainly true—and we can then speak of the worldwide spread of the nascent church—it might be more helpful to take a step back and try to understand what else the author may be trying to tell us.

Tip O’Neill famously said: “All politics is local.” Luke, who famously wrote both Luke and Acts, may have said: “All religion is local.” What we are tempted to read as “everywhere” is, in fact, more like “your place, and your place, and your place over there.” This is local religion, not in the tribal or parochial sense, but in the intimate sense that it belongs as much on my street as your street.

Some time ago we had the good fortune of visiting the Basilica di San Clemente, just a stones throw from the Colosseum in Rome. From the outside, it resembles many of the other churches you might find in Rome. But this one is a little different. You enter a 12th century church at street level, and then you head downstairs. One level below is a fourth century church, well-preserved, and below that is a first century house church, which began as a typical Roman home. Three layers and two thousand years of Roman history in a single stop.

With the tongues and wind and flames the message began. From the waters of baptism the church was born, carried off to those hard-to-pronounce places, but also an ordinary house in Rome. A community formed and met in that house. The community expanded, and knocked down a wall or two, making the circle wider. Walls were reshaped into a primitive form we might come recognize as a church—as kitchen table became altar and cup became chalice.

The journey from kitchen table to high altar, twenty centuries and perhaps thirty feet up, is not about the passage of time and the human effect on topography, but about the locality of our faith. It doesn’t happen in some far-off spiritual realm but right here, at 1 King, where the communion table faces east-ish to Jerusalem and makes a direct line from the day to Pentecost to today. It doesn’t happen in some far-off spiritual realm, but in your favourite chair when you close your eyes to pray. It belongs in kitchens and cubicles and neighbourhood churches; our faith belongs wherever breath is felt and language is spoken and love is made known.

But there is more. The message that these woman and men carried home, the message of death and resurrection, the message of a world made-new, was neatly summarized by Peter that day: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The conclusion of the dreamed dreams and the clearest visions, the surest signs and loudest prophecy is the simple truth that God saves.

It points to another prophecy, this one found in Zechariah. The angel of the Lord comes to the prophet and shares this wonderful verse:

Not by might, nor by power,
but by my spirit, says the Lord.

It has a musical quality to it, and this is not an accident. God wants the prophet to make no mistake about the source of human transformation, about the source of change in a hurting world, about the presence of God in the midst of adversity. I commend it to you, the kind of verse that reminds us that we are never alone, and that the presence of the Spirit is ever near.

Not by might, nor by power,
but by my spirit, says the Lord.

The other thing that happened that in the Day of Pentecost involves memory and longing, a sense of promise given and promise fulfilled. Only weeks earlier, Jesus made a simple (yet profound) promise:

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But soon the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Today the Advocate has come. The Advocate has come to your home and mine, to this place, and the many places like it. The Advocate has come to hearts broken and minds confused, and to troubled places and everyplace, where peace is elusive and the pandemic rages.

Yet the Advocate is still speaking. The Advocate is speaking through the least and the last, speaking through unsteady voice and faintest whisper, speaking to anyone who will listen. The Advocate chose the vessel we call the church to seek peace, to care for others, to continually remind them that God is the peacemaker, the caregiver, and the only one that saves.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Let the Spirit find you this day and always, Amen.

Albrecht Dürer, c. 1510, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Spirit of Life—
come as the breath of life, 
pouring energy and power into our dry bones,
rekindling all who are weary,
that they may have life and know God.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Life!

Spirit of Truth—
come as the flame of Christ’s light among us,
illuminating our hearts, our minds, our lives.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Truth!

Spirit of Hope—
come from the four winds, 
O breath, O restless searcher;
breathe upon your people,
that creation may be renewed with hope.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Hope!

Spirit of Love—
come as our Comforter and Consoler,
that all who are broken or wounded may be healed,
that all who grieve may be consoled 
by the power of your love and grace.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Love.

Spirit of Wisdom—
come as the light of understanding,
that diversity in all its forms may be respected
and may be understood as gifts to cherish.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Wisdom!

Spirit of Peace—
come as the winds of truth,
that our hearts may be kindled
by the passion for justice and peace.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Peace!

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: “O Holy Spirit, root of life”

O Holy Spirit, root of life,
creator, cleanser of all things,
anoint our wounds, awaken us
with lustrous movement of your wings.

Eternal Vigour, saving one,
you free us by your living word,
becoming flesh to wear our pain,
and all creation is restored.

O Holy Wisdom, soaring power,
encompass us with wings unfurled,
and carry us, encircling all,
above, below, and through the world.

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.

Unknown artist, c. 1030, Regensburg, Bavaria, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Outreach Sunday

Photos of Mimico Creek were taken by Zach DeConinck in West Deane Park, Etobicoke

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 Zach, Mary Louise, Cathy, Taye, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Romance Impromptu” (Benjamin)

OPENING PRAYER:

God, you touch our lives
with mystery and hope.
We come to this place today,
ready to see your power working through us.
Help us to be open to your Word,
and to answer your call among us.
Help us to mend the earth you made,
and learn to live lightly upon land and sea,
and beside the river that defines our neighbourhood.
Help us remember and celebrate the Humber,
as we remember and celebrate all of the natural world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Shall we gather at the river”

Shall we gather at the river,
where bright angel feet have trod;
with its crystal tide for ever
flowing by the throne of God?
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

Ere we reach the shining river,
lay we every burden down;
grace our spirits will deliver,
and provide a robe and crown.  
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
soon our pilgrimage will cease,
soon our happy hearts will quiver
with the melody of peace. 
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of all creation,
you love us into being,
yet we often flee our rightful place in your creation.
We confess that we exploit the gifts you place around us,
and dominate the richness of the natural order.
Forgive us.
We confess our part in the devastation of our planet home,
the sea, the sky, and every land.
Forgive and restore us, O God.
Nurturing God, remind us of other ways to live
and of a place called home,
where creation reflects your goodness
and each thing lives in balance with all others.
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: “Down in the River to Pray” (African-American Spritual)

FIRST READING: Psalm 1

Blessed is the one
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

SECOND READING: Job 12.7-13

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;[b]
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.
Does not the ear test words
as the palate tastes food?
Wisdom is with the aged,
and understanding in length of days.
“With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “As the deer pants for the water”

As the deer pants for the water
So my soul longs after You.
You alone are my hearts desire
and I long to worship You.

Chorus
You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my. hearts desire
And I long to worship You.

I want You more than gold and silver
Only You can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy giver
And on You I can rely

You’re my friend and You are my brother
Even though You are the King
I love You more than any other
So much more than any thing

REFLECTION

Many thanks to Mary Louise Ashbourne for sharing the story of our heritage river.

Today, rather than speak of the 200 year heritage of Central United Church which has already been dealt with by the Archives Committee, I am going to talk of the Humber River which is part of the environmental heritage of our community and the story of how it came to be designated a Canadian Heritage River.

My personal involvement began In 1984. I was  a member of the City of York Local  Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) and a press release from the Federal Government was received for our information. A new heritage category “Designation as a Canadian Heritage River” had been created. 

We jumped on the news – what an opportunity – our Humber River is a Heritage River if there ever was one. We will nominate the Humber River.

The Clerk of the City of York was requested to notify the communities in the Humber Watershed (13), Regional Municipalities (5) and all heritage organizations (many), the Provincial Government  and of course the Metropolitan Toronto Region Conservation Authority (now TRCA) of our intention to nominate and asking their support. 

Letters came back. The Historical Societies were solidly in favour. The Municipal Governments wanted further information. The Province was non-committal. 

To our surprise, the Conservation Authority turned the idea down flat.

Undeterred the City of York LACAC planned a Conference in the City of York with special invitations to all “interested parties”. Speakers were invited from the Six Nations,  La Societe d’histoire de Toronto,  and United Empire Loyalists. The following year Etobicoke Historical Society held a follow-up conference in support of  designation. 

In the meantime all the watershed communities were asked to appoint a representative to a liaison committee, to keep everyone in the watershed informed and to co-ordinate support for each other. Environmental groups such as The Toronto Field naturalists (Helen Juhola) and ARCH (Luciano Martin, an environmental engineer) attended as members. The MTRCA was asked to send a representative to our meetings which they did, as did the Provincial Ministry of the Environment. Eventually MTRCA would even provide a meeting room for our monthly meetings.

Humber Hertage, as it came to be known, was one of the best groups I have ever been associated with. We planned walks and gave talks, the possibility of twinning with the Humber in England was explored. Pamphlets were prepared and printed. We received a grant from “Friends of the Environment” and were able to produce a large pamphlet for the schools as a teaching tool. Individual communities were encouraged and supported in sponsoring Humber River events. And in 1993 Metro Toronto, MTRCA and Humber Heritage sponsored Humber Heritage Day as an official Toronto 200 Activity along the Humber.

What we overlooked, and what made the Conservation Authority so cautious, were the criteria for the Federal Heritage River designation.

There were three main requirements.

First: Cultural Heritage – the interaction of human life with the river. This was more than covered. The Carrying Place Trail ran the length of the watershed.  And the MTRCA had been actively protecting the archaeological heritage of the watershed with more than 250 sites recorded and protected.  The Humber Heritage members had done their historical research.

Second: Recreational value. This was a bit more problematic. The park lands in the flood plains along the river and the bicycle paths and the conservation areas such as Boyd Park and Albion Hills were wonderful. But apart from a short stretch of the Lower Humber up to Bloor Street, the river itself was never good for canoeing, swimming was forbidden as dangerous and if you caught the rare fish, you were warned not to eat it.

The third criteria, and most difficult, was water quality.

The Humber Watershed is generally shaped like a huge funnel stretching from the Niagara Escarpment in the west along Highway 9 to Richmond Hill in the east. It is composed of myriad small creeks draining into larger streams and eventually into the three main branches of the river. The main branch begins near Orangeville and flows south. The East Branch joins it near Woodbridge.  The West Branch joins the now enlarged main branch just above Highway 401 and from there  the river flows on through the high banks of Weston.  Black Creek is the last tributary to join the main river in the Lambton Golf Club area.

Roughly the top half of the watershed is agricultural or rural. Farmers pastured their cows near the streams for convenience and the fields were fertilized and sprayed with pesticides which leach into the streams and find their way to the river. 

Along Weston Road and Highway 400 industry has been established and some are careless in disposing of waste. After testing, Emery Creek where it joined the Humber was found to be the worst source of pollutants. These were traced back to specific industries. 

The Thistletown Hospital was viewed with suspicion as another source of careless disposal of waste. 

And the further south you got, the more urbanized the landscape became. Subdivisions were being built with small back yards, large roofs and paved driveways. This prevented absorption of rainwater and resulted in flooding of the sewers, and included the grit and debris gathered by the runoff along the way. In the winter salt keeps the roads clear but the melt runs down into the drains on its way to the river and the trucks taking snow, dump it in the ravines beside  the river. 

And we cannot exclude the golf courses and their well tended green space.

Add to that, the average resident who says my little bit won’t hurt and you have a Heritage River with big problems.

Our “Heritage River” was polluted. Very polluted.

All our publicity about how important the river was was nothing compared to the remediation which would be required for designation if the Conservation Authority, which was the party responsible, took on the job.

The public had to be onside as partners if there was any hope of designation.

And a Watershed Management Plan had to be developed. 

I am sure a lot of thinking had gone into the decision when October 14, 1994 the Conservation Authority announced the formation of the Humber Watershed Task Force. The Task Force was to be a broad group of stakeholders from the watershed representing all communities. It was intended to assess pollution problems across the width and length of the watershed.

Members of the public were invited to apply and after applicants were interviewed, 13 residents of the watershed were appointed. Elected officials from 12 local and 3 regional municipalities were appointed. Nothing would be done without municipal buy-in. Representatives from 5 Agencies and 11 interest groups (Humber Heritage, Toronto Field Naturalists, Action to Restore a Clean Humber ARCH, Black Creek Project) were appointed  The Task Force was chaired by the Chair of MTRCA. The first meeting was February 1995.

Goals were set for the Task Force: Identification of issues, opportunities for regeneration and proposals or recommendations on how to achieve a healthy watershed. 

You cannot solve a problem if you do not understand the size and source of the problem.

We toured the watershed to have some understanding of the issues and their complexity. A series of public consultation meetings were held to identify key issues and nominations for Community Action Sites held. Eventually 3 sites were chosen to test possibilities of community involvement and commitment in remediation projects. 

5 subcommittees were struck and each member of the Task Force chose one.  The sub-committees met monthly, each third month being a meeting of the full task force to keep everyone informed. The committees met monthly for 21 months and their reports resulted in a book “Legacy: A strategy for a Healthy Humber” which was formally endorsed by the Task Force November 12, 1996.

Having established the goals, the Humber Watershed Task Force was disbanded and  October 1997 the Humber Watershed Alliance was established, Now a new goal was included – the implementation of the Management Plan with enough successes to make possible the nomination and designation of the Humber as a Canadian Heritage River. 

By 1997 we were not alone. A number of Conservation Authorities in Ontario had decided to nominate their rivers for designation and in fact the Grand River achieved designation before the Humber River . 

And another matter had to be rectified. Initially the Canadian Heritage Rivers were the wild unpolluted rivers of the north, beloved of canoe enthusiasts for their rough water challenge and clear waters. The Canadian Heritage Rivers Board now had to recognize the need for a separate category for Urban Heritage Rivers with more suitable criteria which recognized urban problems.

Now firmly committed, with the strong leadership of the Conservation Authority, the Alliance built the case for nomination and designation of the Humber River. The designation ceremony took place in Etienne Brule park near the Old Mill on September 26, 1999. A plaque was unveiled with the suitable inscription in Cree, French and English.

So what were the lessons learned? How does a Heritage River become a Canadian Heritage River? The public have to be involved, including the passionate small “Interest Groups” who bring purpose and dedication to the cause. The politicians have to be in agreement, especially when there are many communities involved. And the body which is ultimately responsible, in this case the MTRCA, (which became the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority – TRCA – in November, 2018), must be fully supported. 

So what are some of the measures which were expanded or newly instituted by the Conservation Authority. 

Some things they could do by themselves such as establishing a water quality monitoring system with 9 stations across the watershed to measure bacteria levels that  ultimately affect the quality of Toronto’s beaches.

But partnerships became very important too.  For instance they partnered with the municipalities in setting building requirements for developers to use storm water management to reduce bacteria levels in the river. 

And they partnered with Friends of the Greenbelt to give grants to farmers to help improve farming practices for storing and generally handling manure and for barriers for restriction of livestock access to the streams. 

They encouraged and installed storm water ponds and preservation of wetlands to prevent flooding and erosion. The wetlands are literally the filters of our drinking water and home to many small amphibious species such as turtles and frogs who eat mosquito larvae. They are a haven for waterfowl. In several cases Community groups have been successfully enlisted as partners in restoration of watershed wetlands.

They planted trees on conservation lands to provided linkages for the habitat of birds and small animals, and encouraged public and private owners to do the same. They encouraged municipal planning to protect woodlots and bylaws to protect trees. 

The Yellow Fish Road engaged schoolchildren and raised general awareness of the many pollutants which find the way drown our sewer drains.

With regard to the river itself, They work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to prevent the sea lamprey from spawning and have built sea lamprey traps near the mouth of the Humber with great success. 

They have notched the weirs in the river to allow passage of salmon and other fish so they can reach their natural spawning grounds. 

And so much more.

Apart from my conviction that the Humber was a Canadian Heritage River and should be recognized as such, I knew so little and learned so much. This was a life lesson for me. Heritage can never be taken for granted. Even more important, our environment, which in this case included the watershed since the pollution came into the river from the surrounding land uses, must be protected.

Finally, we should look at each other, and each of us personally promise “the buck stops here”.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Great Spirit,
still brooding over the world—
as we hear the cry of the earth,
and see the sorrow of land
used and misused
for its varied resources;
as we hear the cry of the waters,
and see the sorrow of stream and ocean
polluted by the poisons
we release into them;
as we hear the cry of the animals,
and see the sorrow of bird, fish, and beast
needlessly suffering to serve us—
teach us, in your love:
sensitivity towards your creation;
simplicity in the way we live in our environment;
appreciation of the connectedness of all things.

Great author of creation,
we thank you for 200 years by the Humber,
and for a growing sense of our interconnectedness
with the river’s source and destination.
Remind us that our time by the river is short,
and that countless generations tended the river first,
and tend the river still.
Help us seek right relations,
and help us mend the fabric of our community and nation.
Open our eyes to the vitality of traditions,
spirituality, and cultures of Indigenous peoples,
and help us set aside ideas and assumptions
that stand in the way of reconciliation.

Creator of all life,
we pray for each other,
and we pray in silence for those in great need this day.
(silence)
Give them strength and comfort this day, O God,
that they may overcome every challenge,
and live as you intended.
We pray for those who live in the midst of trouble:
troubled nations, troubled communities,
troubled homes and places of work.
Help us speak for the vulnerable,
and give voice to their needs.
We pray in the name of 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: “I’ve got peace like a river”

I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river in-a my soul.
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river in-a my soul.

I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain in-a my soul.
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain in-a my soul.

I’ve got love like an ocean, 
I’ve got love like an ocean,
I’ve got love like an ocean in-a my soul.
I’ve got love like an ocean, 
I’ve got love like an ocean,
I’ve got love like an ocean in-a my soul.

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 VI

Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1966–1998, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

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

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

To celebrate Mother’s Day, people were invited to send along the names of mothers, step-mothers, or maternal figures they wish to honour. Here is our list:

Ethel
Carol
Marilyn
Helen 
Mary Frances
Helen
Florence
Mary
Elsie
Gerry
Myrtle
Su
Ida
Sohair
Lara
Norma
Mernie
Becca
Mary
Ruby
Dorothy
Ann
Beverley
Helen
Dana
Bella Jane
Jo-Ann

PRELUDE: “Dreamcatcher” (Gaudet)

OPENING PRAYER 

Our God, as a gentle rain soaks the earth,
may your peace and love fall upon us,
bringing growth and life.
Soak into our innermost being.
Quiet all that makes us anxious.
Help us to linger in your presence,
open like the soil that welcomes the rain.
Mindful of the growth you give—grow in us.
Mindful of the comfort you share—comfort us.
Mindful of the healing you bring—heal us.
We pray in Jesus’ name this day. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Come, let us sing of a wonderful love”

Come, let us sing of a wonderful love,
tender and true, tender and true;
out of the heart of the Father above,
streaming to me and to you:
wonderful love, wonderful love
dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Jesus the Saviour this gospel to tell
joyfully came, joyfully came,
came with the helpless and hopeless to dwell,
sharing their sorrow and shame:
seeking the lost, seeking the lost,
saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

Jesus is seeking the wanderers yet;
why do they roam? why do they roam?
Love only waits to forgive and forget;
home, weary wanderers, home:
wonderful love, wonderful love
dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Come to my heart, O thou wonderful love;
come and abide, come and abide,
lifting my life till it rises above
envy and falsehood and pride:
seeking to be, seeking to be
lowly and humble, a learner of thee.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God, you touch our lives
with mystery and hope.
We come to this place today,
ready to see your power working through us,
ready to experience your love and mercy,
ready to open our hearts in the spirit of confession.
It is reconciliation we seek:
with our sisters and brothers,
with those we overlook,
with those we have wronged in any way—
and even with the earth itself.
Forgive us, God,
and set us free to serve you once more.
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: “Joy Is Like The Rain” (Medical Mission Sisters)

FIRST READING: Psalm 98

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
 let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.

SECOND READING: John 15.9-17

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Robert Indiana, AHAVA (Love), Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Photo by Talmoryair, CC BY-SA 4.0)

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We are one in the Spirit”

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

REFLECTION

My late mentor, the Rev. Doug Paterson, once said that anyone who says they don’t believe in original sin has never met a toddler.

He was kidding, of course, but it does underline the extent to which a toddler will always be at the centre of everything—for good or for ill. Loudest, most destructive, most adorable, and always demanding the most attention. But then they grow out of it—well, some grow out of it.

Think of it as part of the rule of 80-20. The kids may make up 20 percent of the family, but they get 80 percent of the attention. And why stop at the kids? In any human activity, there are basically 20 percent that get 80 percent of the attention. 20 percent of drivers cause 80 percent of accidents. 20 percent of industry creates 80 percent of the pollution. 20 percent of workers tend to do 80 percent of the work. Even preachers fall into this: 80 percent of our sermons tend to come from no more than 20 percent of the Bible.

How did this come to be? Back in olden times, preachers preached passages of particular prominence, along with lots of alliteration. They would gravitate to their favourite passages, and return to them with surprizing regularity. To remedy this, some wise people invented the common lectionary, meaning more of the Bible shared over a three-year cycle. Your favourite passage would then appear only once every three years, by which time you might have something new to say.

Yet still, the three-year cycle of readings represents little more that 20 percent of the overall Bible. Thus, 80 percent of sermons tend to come from no more than 20 percent. Still, the idea was sound. And of course, I would take this a step further to suggest that within a particular passage there is always a verse or two that gets all the attention—akin to the rule of 80-20. Share ten verses, preach on two, and the rule returns.

How does that work? Well, imagine that like toddlers, there are verses that demand your attention. The most famous example, perhaps, is John 3.16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But some have argued that the verse that follows says much the same thing, but with a slightly different focus:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

In verse 17, John clarifies God’s intention—not to condemn but to save—and therefore explodes any suggestion that God is simply waiting for us to fail. It speaks to the believer’s fear, and sends grace instead.

I share all of this because our passage from John 15 has the exact same issue: a single verse among many grabs our attention and tends to be the one we lean toward. (For our online worshippers, go back and reread the passage and guess which one I’m referring to).

I’m referring to verse 13 (“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”) Amid all the loving, the mutuality, the desire to remain in his love, we get a single verse that takes us straight out of the passage and on to the cross. In the most technical sense, this is called intertextuality: one verse suggests another, or another story, or another theme. And since there is no bigger theme that Christ’s passion, you can see how verse 13 tends to draw our attention away.

This verse is about love. And it does fit with the theme of ‘abide in my love.’ In some ways, it’s a request before Calvary to remain in his love come-what-may. Because truly, there is no greater love than laying down your life for others. But this need not lead us away from the real lesson of the passage, found just a verse earlier: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

If you participated in the Maundy Thursday service, you will recall that this verse is at the heart of the service. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, the word that gives us “mandate” in English. In this sense, the command to love one another is our mandate, or our mission—however you want to call it. There, amid all the final instructions that Jesus shares before his passion, only one rises to the level of a mandate: love each other.

In our online “static” service, Heather has played “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” a classic contemporary hymn that really states the obvious. Since our mandate is to love each other, and abide in the love found in Jesus, and since God is love, it seems rather obvious that they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Or is it?

Well, if you’ve been in church for longer than 10 minutes you’ll know that it’s not always the case. Like the twelve, people in church bicker (but not at Central, of course). Like the twelve, people in church seek pride of place (but not at Central, of course). And like the twelve, people in church are given to doubt, and even disbelief (but not at Central, of course). And even pastors have been known to sprinkle a little sugar on their message to make it go down better (but not at Central, of course).

Like any mandate, the command to love each other is aspirational. We work toward a mandate, and sometimes we achieve it, even if only for a time. But it’s still our mandate, and it’s still the reason we exist. We abide in Christ’s love, we love each other, and we show the world the power of love. We can do no other. And whatever happens, and however the world responsed, we begin and end with love—we never condemn, we only seek to save through the love, the same love we have received.

May God help us to remain among the 20 percent that are doing 80 percent of the loving in this town, and fulfil our mandate, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of all,
We close our eyes and see mothers,
both literal and metaphorical,
a network of nurture and love,
encouragement and forgiveness.
examples we can follow.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we know and love:
neighbours and friends, sisters and brothers—
a community of kindred hearts.
Keep them safe from harm,
and encourage them in the face of sadness and fear.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we hardly know:
strangers, visitors, forgotten friends—
the ones who need an outstretched hand.
Give them hope,
and remind them that there are many who care.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see trouble everywhere,
for India, and other places overwhelmed by hardship,
we pray this day.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see what cannot be unseen:
injustice, cruelty, oppression, malice,
the careless disregard for the sacredness of human life.
Stir our hearts,
and help us to be agents of your peace.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the love of God represented in our fellowship.
In me, in you, in each of us.
Help us keep your command, and abide in your love,
In the name of Jesus, 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: “In Christ there is no east or west”

In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In Christ shall true hearts ev’rywhere
their high communion find.
His service is the golden cord
close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, people of the faith,
whate’er your race may be.
All children of the living God
are surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both east and west,
in him meet south and north.
All Christly souls are joined as one
throughout the whole wide earth.

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.

LOVE Postage Stamp

Easter V

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

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

FIRST READING: Psalm 22

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

SECOND READING: John 15.1-8

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

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

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We have this ministry”

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

Any anxiety you feel about cleanliness likely comes from television.

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

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

So, what does the Bible say about being clean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “In loving partnership we come”

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

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Win Vine Vineyards, LIFE Photo Collection

Easter IV

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER:

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

HYMN OF PRAISE: “The King of love”

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

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

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

FIRST READING: Psalm 23

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

SECOND READING: John 10.11-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

You might call it reporting about reporting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “He leadeth me”

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

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Easter III

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

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

FIRST READING: Psalm 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

SECOND READING: Luke 24.36-48

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

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

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

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

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

HYMN: “Now the green blade rises”

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Easter II

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

FIRST READING: Psalm 133

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

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

SECOND READING: John 20.19-28

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

HYMN: Jesus stand among us

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

Maybe doubt is a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks

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

Give praise to God’s name.

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

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Easter Sunday

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

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

PRELUDE: “Morning Has Broken” (Farjeon)

GREETING:

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

OPENING PRAYER:

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

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Welcome Happy Morning”

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

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

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

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

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Be Not Afraid” (Osther)

FIRST READING: Psalm 118

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

SECOND READING: John 20.1-18

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

A NEW CREED

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

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

We trust in God.

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

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

Thanks be to God.

MUSIC: “Thine is the Glory”

REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”

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

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Photo by Yousuf Karsh, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Holy Saturday

Photo by Cathy Leask

HOLY WEEK SERVICES

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

SCRIPTURE SENTENCES:

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

PRAYER:

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

READING:

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

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

REFLECTION:

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

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

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

MUSIC: “Gymnopédie No.1” (Satie)

PRAYER:

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

BLESSING:

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

Good Friday

HOLY WEEK SERVICES

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

PRELUDE: “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”

SCRIPTURE SENTENCES:

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

PRAYER:

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

READING:

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

HYMN: “What Wondrous Love is This”

REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER

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

HYMN: Were You There

BLESSING:

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