Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday of Easter

I am grateful to the Ven. Peter Potter for preparing the reflection and prayers below to enable you to join in worship with me as I celebrate the Eucharist in the church this morning.

When asked how they are managing, several people have replied ‘Same old, same old’ and indeed it’s a phrase I have also used to describe each day’s fairly unchanging routine. Then, like the proverbial London buses, we have three things happening all at once – possible government announcements about easing the lockdown, the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday and the start of Christian Aid Week today.

For obvious reasons Christian Aid Week won’t be following the same pattern as previous years. There will not be a house-to-house collection and we are invited to donate online by visiting Their work will be all the more needed as conditions in poor counties mean that the impact of corona virus will be even more devastating than in this country and the others that feature in the news.

During and after the Second World War people and governments realised that the end of the conflict would not mean that everything could go back to how it was before. In this country welfare reforms led to the creation of the NHS, which has proved its worth many times over in recent weeks. Internationally the UN was founded and in Europe old enemies learnt to keep the peace.

So the lesson as we look forward to the ending of restrictions, would seem to be that we cannot go back to ‘same old, same old’ ways, whether in the workplace, in our neighbourhoods and indeed in the Church.

The picture is from the Musée d’Unterlinden in Colmar, a town that went back and forth between France and Germany between 1870 and 1945. It shows Jesus on the first Easter morning telling Mary Magdelene ‘Do not touch me’ or, more accurately, ‘Do not hold on to me’. Easter marks the beginning of a new creation in which many of the old ways are no longer appropriate and new lessons must be learnt.

What do we have to let go of and what have we learnt in these weeks of lockdown that will help us move from ‘same old, same old’ to embrace the new life of the resurrection?

Notes on today’s readings
Acts 7.55-60 The martyrdom of Stephen is brought about by those who do not want to receive the Good News of Jesus because they prefer the ways of the old dispensation – ‘they covered their ears’. What is it that holds them back?
Stephen prays, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’, an echo of Jesus’s words on the cross. Such radical forgiveness is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed and for which Stephen is being killed.
1 Peter 2.2-10 Various mixed metaphors here but with a common theme of growth and moving on; from infancy to childhood, from separate stones to a building, from individual believers to members of a priestly body and from darkness to light. Peter’s message can give us joy and confidence, for he is telling us that God can use us in his building project. Our rough edges and odd shapes do not matter to him, for he can find a place for each of us. If we allow it (and many don’t, as Peter says), God will fashion these stones, just as children change as they mature – the mixed metaphor again – so that they will fit perfectly into the temple. But, although we may need to move on from ‘same old, same old’, we cannot travel aimlessly but must have a firm orientation point – the corner stone on which the whole edifice depends, Jesus Christ himself.

John 14.1-14 Belief is a key concept in John’s Gospel. Through believing in Jesus we become like him and ‘becoming’ implies growth and change. Jesus says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’. The words ‘go’ and ‘prepare’ signify that we are not meant to stay as we are and carry on in the same old ways. The saying ‘No one comes to the father except through me’ often causes difficulty in an age when all faiths and none are accepted. But I think it does not have to be interpreted in an exclusive way. The Church has always believed that Christ died for the sins of the whole world and we who believe can see the Holy Spirit at work in those who do not believe. Surely Jesus has prepared a place for them too.

Intercessions for times of change and uncertainty
God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be shielding and defending us each step of this stormy world.
For all suffering from the corona virus.
For those whose treatment and tests for other illnesses have been disrupted.
For all who are grieving or anxious.

Be a star, a helm, a compass from our lying down to our rising anew.
For all who have the responsibility of gradually lifting the lockdown.
For all whose livelihoods are at risk.
For all of us in the adaptions we must make to our routines.

You are the gracious red rowan that subdues the ire and anger of men.
For the trouble spots in the world that have been pushed out of the news.
For the UN and all who work for peace.
For the victims of violence.

The guarding of the God of life be upon us to aid and enfold us each day and each night.
For the work of Christian Aid.
For the WHO and other agencies combatting the spread of corona virus in poor countries.
For carers in the community and in care homes.

Love towards God, the grace of God and the will of God
to do on earth as Angels and saints do in heaven.
For all who have been good neighbours in these days.
For all who have kept in touch.
For all who have lightened our burdens.
For these and all your many gifts, we thank you, O Lord.

(Adapted from prayers in Carmina Gadelica)