Material for Worship on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

I am grateful to the Revd. Moira Jamieson 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.   Nerys

In these times of uncertainty and isolation from our families, friends and our church family, it has been a comfort to me, as I am sure it has been for you also, to know that our Rector Nerys has been in the church building on Sundays at the same time as we would all have been gathering for worship and that we have been able to join with her in worship from our own homes.  Our College of Bishop’s have also offered worship online for those of us who have access to the internet, and they have sent messages of hope through the church Facebook page and on the Scottish Episcopal Church website. All of these things help to keep our spirits up and remind us that we are so loved by God, no matter where we are, and they help us to get through each day and to live in hope—hope for a time when we can once again hug our loved ones, hope that when it is safe to come out of isolation we will find ourselves living in a better world, and hope that all we have been through has strengthened and renewed our faith and the faith of people who have perhaps over the years lost sight of God.

As we light our candles and prepare for worship this morning, let us listen to David and Hazel Faunce Smith singing ‘There is a Redeemer’ by Melody Green:

In this Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1. 6-14), the disciples were becoming a little impatient to know just when God’s kingdom would be restored and I expect they were impatient to know when the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit would descend on them. Jesus reminded the disciples that it was not for them to know these things, but they would happen in God’s own time. Many people throughout the world are becoming impatient with being in lockdown in their homes during this Corona Virus epidemic. Like the disciples they are questioning the decisions of our governments and want to know when this will all end, forgetting that we cannot possibly rush things when human lives are at risk, and no one knows when the virus will be able to be controlled.

The disciples were looking to the future instead of living in the here and now. Then before their eyes, Jesus was carried up on a cloud as they looked on, and two figures, robed in white, spoke to the disciples saying, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?   This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’. Thinking about the future is something we just can’t help doing.    We have an inherent need to know what is going to happen to us in certain situations, or perhaps we are simply curious to know what our lives will be like after COVID-19. We know that it is probably better if we try to live in the here and now, difficult though that is, but if we do, maybe we can keep ourselves safe and well.

In the first letter of Peter (1 Peter 4. 12-14; 5. 6-11) we are reminded that we should cast all our cares and anxieties on God, because he cares for us. Very appropriate for this anxious time as we wait for a vaccine to be found for COVID-19.  We are to be disciplined and keep alert, words we have been hearing throughout this trying time. I always find it amazing when the words of scripture reflect the times we are living in and offer us good advice.  In this passage God promises that after we have suffered for a short time, he will restore, support, strengthen and establish us once again.  These are not just words, they are promises, reassuring promises of God’s love for all his people. That reassuring promise from God helps us through all sorts of difficult times in our lives and we can be sure that, no matter what we go through, no matter when we might go astray, God our Father is ready to embrace us with his love.

This reassuring unconditional love of God reminds me of the well-known Rembrandt portrait of the Prodigal Son. It’s an amazing revealing portrait of a father’s love for his wayward son, and each time I see the father’s hand on his son’s shoulder, especially that delicate almost female right hand, it reminds me that God’s love for us is unconditional, and that he will always welcome us with open arms. Of course, this amazing work of art has much more to reveal than this, but for today’s reflection, I think it speaks of love and hope in the here and now. I wonder if you have ever felt that gentle hand of the Father on your shoulder. Some years ago, at a time of great sadness when I was alone in church praying and lighting a candle, I felt a touch on my shoulder and when I turned around there was no one there. I knew there and then that it was a touch from God, a reassuring touch, telling me that I was not alone.

At first glance, the Gospel passage (John 17.1-11) seems out of place. This is the prayer that Jesus prayed before his crucifixion, so why is it placed here in the lectionary? If we merely heard this prayer before Good Friday, we might think it was for that day alone, for that appointed time. But hearing the prayer, on the seventh Sunday after Easter day, we can hear the whole prayer and realize that what starts as Christ’s obedience to change, (in his death and resurrection), brings about our obedience to change, to become ‘one with the Father’. The point of Jesus’s plea today is not his obedience to the past; the point is Jesus’s obedience for our future. This is not merely a prayer that Jesus throws up into the heavens so that his work on the cross might be fulfilled. No, this prayer, heard on this side of Easter, is a prayer for you and me, and for the Church, that we might realize the faith Christ has in us, the faith Christ has in our call to obedience.

When Jesus ascends into heaven, he leaves behind that prayer for his disciples and for all his followers, ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’. In this time of uncertainty, we can be reassured that we are united in God’s love for us, knowing that we are one in Christ and one in the Father. As you reflect on today’s passages from scripture, may God bless you and reassure you of his love and protection.

Let us pray,

Lord God, the only true God, in your care for us, you invite us to cast all our anxiety upon you. Protect us by the power of your name, that we may be one, in and between ourselves, as you are one, and to be your people, with you as our only God.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (from Psalm 46)

Heavenly Father, we pray for all those who are struggling in this time of lockdown. We pray for all who have contracted the Corona Virus, especially those in hospital. Be with them and surround them with your love. Give strength and courage to all who are fearful and hold them in the palm of your hand.

God our help and hope when waters rise, you brought Israel safely through the sea.   Sustain all those who seek to save others, so that they may repair the ruined cities, raise up the former devastations, and be the restorers of streets to live in; through Jesus Christ, our eternal saviour.  (based on Isaiah 58, 61)

Heavenly Father, in these times when the tide of corona Virus is all around us, bless and protect all frontline workers who risk their lives daily to serve others.

Living God, our refuge and strength, even the wind and sea obey your voice.   Put the wind back in its place, and say to the sea: Peace! Be still!  Fill us with great faith, and save us from the surging water, so that we may tell the good news of your saving love; through Jesus Christ, our hope in the storm.  (based on Mark 4)

Heavenly Father, we pray for the people of Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, Myanmar, Kashmir, and all areas where there is conflict and unrest. We pray for all innocent victims of violence and ask that you would protect them and bring them peace.

God of wind and water, stillness and storm, your Spirit sweeps over the surface of the sea.  Give us faith to seek you in times of trouble.  Reach out your hand to us when we are sinking so that we may believe and worship you; through Jesus Christ, Sovereign and Saviour.

(based on Matthew 14:22-33)

Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless our Primus Mark and the College of Bishops as they provide love and support through their words of encouragement and celebrations of the Eucharist each Sunday. Bless all clergy as they seek to support the church family during lockdown and especially Nerys our Rector.

Holy One, you are our comfort and strength in times of sudden disaster, crisis, or chaos.  Surround us now with your grace and peace through storm or earthquake, fire or flood.

Heavenly Father, bless all at St.  Mary’s for whom prayers have been asked. We take a moment to remember those we pray for daily and to lift them up to you. (Moment of silence)

Bless the dying and comfort those who mourn. Be with those who are remembering an anniversary of death at this time and surround them with your love.

Lord God, as we face the uncertainties of this time, by your Spirit, lift up those who have fallen, sustain those who work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer. Amen.