Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday in Lent

Nerys writes: On the altar in St Mary’s stands this icon written by Diana, the late wife of Hugh Grant. It is there as a reminder that this year we focus on the writing of St Mark, author of the shortest and possibly the most puzzling and challenging of the four Gospels. Although it was the first Gospel to be written down, it didn’t attract the attention of the great commentators of the early church, and for many hundreds of years it wasn’t used much in public worship. Yet, there are many stories of the extraordinary impact it has had on the lives of all sorts of people. One of these is the famous German theologian Jürgen Moltmann who first read Mark’s Gospel when he was a prisoner of war in Kilmarnock in 1945, soon after he and his fellow-prisoners had been shown photographs of the horrors of Belsen and Buchenwald. In his autobiography he writes: ‘I read Mark’s Gospel as a whole and came to the story of the passion; when I heard Jesus’ death cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I felt growing within me the conviction: this is someone who understand you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and has felt the same forsakenness you are living in now … I summoned up the courage to live again.’

Because it is so short, Mark’s Gospel can be read in one sitting. What about joining me in reading it as a whole this Lent, at this time when so many are feeling forsaken?

The passage for today is at the heart of Mark’s Gospel. I invite you to listen to it with the ear of the heart, allowing God to speak to you through it.

First you may wish to light a candle or have a moment of silence and then say:

Lord God, I open my ears to hear you.
Lord God, I open my eyes to see you.
Lord God, I open my heart to love you.

As you listen to Barbara reading Mark 8.31-38, notice what thoughts or feelings arise within you. If a particular word or a phrase stands out, take some time to reflect on it before listening to the passage again, this time read by Andrew.

As you let the words of Scripture resound in your heart, notice any prayerful response that arises within you. As you bring your Lectio Divina or ‘holy reading’ to an end, rest for a while in God’s presence beyond thoughts and reflections.

It is only the second week of Lent and already we are on the road towards Jerusalem, the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus has asked his followers who they think he is. ‘You are the Messiah’ was Peter’s response. And now Jesus informs them what that means: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. Peter can’t handle this and objects, only to be publicly slammed down. Then Jesus speaks to all who are listening. If we want to follow him, Jesus tells us, then we must be prepared to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Take up your cross – what a huge challenge lies in those words! For Mark’s first audience which was probably a persecuted community, possibly in North Africa, the message was straightforward. And the same is true for Christian communities today in Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, and Nigeria who live with discrimination, harassment and even the risk of death because of their faith. But what about us at St Mary’s? Take a moment to ask yourself, what does it mean for us as a Christian community in Scotland to deny ourselves, take up our cross and faithfully follow Christ? As you do so, you may wish to reflect on the image below of Jesus taking up his cross from the Jesus Mafa Collection or read or sing along as David plays the tune to C.W. Everest’s hymn, ‘Take up thy cross, the Saviour said’.

Take up thy cross, the Saviour said,
if thou wouldst my disciple be;
deny thyself, the world forsake,
and humbly follow after me.

Take up thy cross: let not its weight
fill thy weak spirit with alarm;
his strength shall bear thy spirit up,
and brace thy heart and nerve thine arm.

Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame,
nor let thy foolish pride rebel:
thy Lord for thee the cross endured,
to save thy soul from death and hell.

Take up thy cross then in his strength,
and calmly every danger brave;
’twill guide thee to a better home,
and lead to victory o’er the grave.

Take up thy cross and follow Christ,
nor think till death to lay it down;
for only they who bear the cross
may hope to wear the glorious crown.

To thee, great Lord, the One in Three,
all praise forevermore ascend:
O grant us in our home to see
the heavenly life that knows no end.

‘Jesus takes up his Cross’ from the Jesus Mafa Collection

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness asking himself what it meant to be Jesus the Messiah. In his Gospel, Mark sets out to answer this question and by doing so helps us to answer our own question of what it means to be disciples of Jesus the Messiah. For Peter in today’s passage, Jesus’s answer is unacceptable and unbelievable. He vehemently rejects the idea of a suffering self-giving Messiah, causing Jesus to rebuke him just as he had rebuked the Tempter in the wilderness. It is difficult for us also to accept Jesus for who he is and to follow in his footsteps. Time after time, we will be tempted to take the easier route in order to avoid risking the conflicts which are bound to accompany committed discipleship. It is only by letting go of our preoccupation with ourselves that we can walk with Jesus in the paths of love and service.

Let us pray to our loving God to increase our faith. May we be more ready to trust you and move forward with you wherever you lead us.

Let us pray for the persecuted church, for their oppressors, for nations that foster persecution, and for those who ignore it.

Let us pray for all leaders and their advisers to have the courage to be honest, the will to be just, the greatness to be humble and the openness to learn.

Let us pray for those who suffer and are in need, asking God to show us how we can love and serve them.

The Collect for today
God of patience and humility, in your love you gave your Son to be rejected and raised up on a cross. Gather us under its shadow and open our eyes to its mystery, that we may share even now in the life that is from above; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen