Material for Worship on the Second Sunday of Easter

In today’s reading from St John’s Gospel, writes the Venerable Peter M Potter, we are still at the first Easter Day, but it is now evening and the scene has shifted to the upper room where the disciples have taken refuge.

When it comes to matters of faith and doubt, C. S. Lewis advocated embracing the most plausible hypothesis currently available to us. Importantly, this means we do not have to look for absolute certainty. Religious commitment is essentially about faith, which, in its turn, is a matter of trust in the plausibility of its claims.

Hymn: Now the Green Blade Riseth, CP153. As you follow the words, listen to the tune played by David .

Now the green blade riseth, 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 that springeth green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love who had been slain,
Thinking that He never would awake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain,
Jesus who for three days in the grave had lain;
Quick from the dead the risen One is seen:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

A prayer of confession
In baptism we died with Christ,
so that as Christ was raised from the dead, we might walk in newness of life.
Let us receive new life in him as we confess our sins in penitence and faith.
Like Mary at the empty tomb,
we fail to grasp the wonder of your presence.
Lord have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Like the disciples behind locked doors
we are afraid to be seen as your followers.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Like Thomas in the upper room
we are slow to believe.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect

Almighty God, in your great goodness, grant that we, as pilgrims through the Easter mysteries, may hold them fast in our lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

Readings
Acts 4.32-35 (read by Margaret)

John 20.19-31 (read by Les)

Reflection

There’s not much I can do about it now, I suppose. Not after all these years. But, you know, it really isn’t right. I mean, every time my name is mentioned – Thomas. Oh yes, people say – Doubting Thomas.
Why me? The other disciples didn’t get it at first, did they? When the women came back from the tomb in the garden, they didn’t believe what they’d told them. But nobody says Doubting Peter or Doubting Andrew, do they? Why not? It doesn’t seem fair. The name has stuck. Even in India – you know I travelled to India in those early days, preaching the Gospel? The name travelled with me and they even called their Church after me: The Mar Thoma Church.

Doubting Thomas… I mean, what would you have done? You saw him die on the cross, didn’t you? But then, in the upper room … I knew it was him. He said to me, “Put your finger here … reach out and put your hand in my side”. But I didn’t need to. I knew it was not a hallucination or a ghost. It really was him. Alive.
And there was something else. Oh, it was him all right. The one we had walked the length and breadth of the country with, gone fishing with, shared bread and wine with. But there was something else now. When Mary saw him in the garden, she called him “My teacher”. But no, in the upper room there, he was more than that. “My Lord and my God!” That’s what I called him and that’s who he is.
And no, I don’t mean I had turned this man who was our rabbi, our teacher, into a god – the way the Romans do with their dead emperors. He really is God. Now I come to think of it, when he walked and talked with us before he was – you know – crucified; well, it was like God walked and talked with us. Not that we realised it then of course. But that’s how it was. The one with us was the same as the Lord God who walked and talked with the first humans in the Garden of Eden.
So, I don’t know what came over me there, in the upper room. It was like some power had got hold of me and I blurted out the name of God. You know, the name we’re not supposed to say. I had seen God – like Moses; you could have touched him – like Jacob, who wrestled with him. Because that’s who Jesus is. Walking and talking with us in the cool of the evening – ah yes, the Garden of Eden. That’s what he is doing. Recreating and restoring it. Getting it back to how it was between us before it all went wrong. No wonder Mary mistook him for the gardener.
He was doing all this so we could be at one with him – an atonement, if we’re being precise about it. Think of the locks on the door of the upper room that evening. Didn’t stop him, did they? What about the wounds in his hands and feet? “I’ve still got them. You can touch them if you like?” That’s what he said to me. But those wounds didn’t stop him either, did they? Still at one with us.
You know – all this time; for centuries since we lost that easy-going close feeling of being at one with God, we’ve been trying to keep him at arm’s length – been afraid of him as if he were a bad-tempered parent; or we thought we were too big to hold his hand anymore; or we thought we knew better then him. What a shame, what a waste.
How often have you said to yourself – if only we could get it back; if only it could be like it was. When we really could be at one with God – not have that nagging feeling inside us that something’s wrong between us, something’s keeping us apart. But we can. We did. That’s what suddenly hit me there in the upper room. Jesus had been with us on the roads, in the fields. We had eaten and talked together; all natural and completely at one, even if we didn’t always get it. And there he was – my Lord and my God. It was me who said it first – for all to hear. They got the message.
And you call me doubting!

Prayers of Intercession
We pray for a world where many put their trust in force, weapons, oppression….. Open the way to freedom so that the peace of Christ may prevail among nations and in the hearts of all.
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
Grant to us, our families, friends and neighbours the grace of the Resurrection. Break through the closed doors of our fear and doubt. … Give us confidence to face the challenges of daily living.
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
Grant to the Church the wisdom to know and power to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection. … May her ministers be strong in the Holy Spirit to bring pardon and healing in the name of Jesus.
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
Have mercy on all who suffer persecution for their faith, who must meet in secret and cannot worship openly. … Give them strength in their need and the knowledge that they are not alone.
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
Remembering that our risen Lord still bore the scars of his suffering, we pray for anyone for whom life is difficult just now. … Be close to them, grant them courage and healing.
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
We pray for the departed, especially those who have died recently and our loved ones whom we see no longer. … May they know our risen Lord in the fullness of his glory and may we share with them in his promised blessing.
Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.
We make our prayers together with those of the saints triumphant in heaven, through your Son Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Closing hymn: Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord, CP136. As you follow the words, listen to the tune played by David.

Alleluia, Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord,
Alleluia, alleluia, give praise to His name.
Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
He is the King of creation. Refrain.
Spread the good news o’er all the earth.
Jesus has died and has risen. Refrain.
We have been crucified with Christ.
Now we shall live forever. Refrain.
God has proclaimed the just reward:
Life for all men, alleluia! Refrain.
Come, let us praise the living God,
Joyfully sing to our Saviour.
Alleluia, Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord,
Alleluia, alleluia, give praise to His name.

Material for Worship on Easter Day

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Happy Easter to you and your family!

As you light your candle today, what about saying out loud the joyful words of the Gloria:

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.
Amen.

You may also wish to read the words or sing along as David plays the tune to a version of the Easter Proclamation.

Sing, choirs of heaven! Let saints and angels sing!
Around God’s throne exult in harmony!
Now Jesus Christ is risen from the grave!
Salute your King in glorious symphony!

Sing, choirs of earth! Behold, your light has come!
The glory of the Lord shines radiantly!
Lift up your hearts, for Christ has conquered death!
The night is past; the day of life is here!

Sing, Church of God! Exult with joy outpoured!
The gospel trumpets tell of victory won!
Your Savior lives: he’s with you evermore!
Let all God’s people shout the long Amen!

Nerys writes: There’s nothing more frustrating than spending many hours on a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that there is a piece missing – or is there? Can you imagine coming to the end of a good novel, a whodunnit perhaps, to find that the final page is lost? This is what many scholars think has happened to Mark’s Gospel. They believe that its end is missing, that the last leaf was torn off a very, very early copy and that alternative endings, based on the other Gospel accounts, were added by later editors. As you listen to Martin reading Mark 16.1-8, think how being left with this ending makes you feel.

I wonder whether this image from the Jesus Mafa series conveys for you the mood of the scene as depicted by Mark? Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome are bathed in the light that radiates from the angel but their surroundings are dark and bleak. We can understand their amazement. The had come to the tomb looking for a dead body but had found a living angel instead. They hold on to their now useless spice jars, their eyes wide as they listen to the heart-stopping news: ‘He has been raised; he is not here.’

What’s not as easy to grasp in Mark’s account is their fear. At a time when all hope had gone, these followers of Jesus are given a promise of new hope. Returning to Galilee means leaving Jerusalem with its terrible memories behind. It means a new beginning in the place where they were first called to discipleship. And surely, the words, ‘He is going ahead of you: you will see him’, would have been a cause for joyful celebration rather than terror. Why would these courageous, determined women who had stayed at the foot of the cross and ventured to the tomb, be rendered fearful and speechless by the angel’s words?

Could it be because in the midst of their grief and despair, they had been brought face to face with the shocking, disturbing reality that all Jesus had claimed was true? God was not dead but very much alive and was now at work in a new way in their lives bringing them to new birth, challenging them to overcome their fear and doubts, calling them to undertake the difficult task of spreading this revolutionary message of hope by returning to a hostile Jerusalem. It is no wonder they were overcome by fear and reduced to silence.

The abrupt ending of the Gospel encourages us to imagine how we would have responded if we were in their shoes. Let’s take a moment to do so now.

I wonder how the blank at the end of Mark’s story was filled in the gatherings of the early church? Would eye-witnesses have been called upon to give their testimony of the risen Christ, like those named by Paul in his letter to new Christians in Corinth? Our second reading today, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11, read by June, reminds us that the foundation the faith of the church is built upon is that message of hope first given to Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome, that God raised the dead Jesus to new life, defeating evil and death once and for all. It was on this message of hope that Peter, Paul and countless others down the centuries founded their ministries. The unexpected way Mark’s book finishes, encourages us to explore the faith that motivated the leaders of the early church, but it also challenges us to think of our own faith. As Easter people, do we take the empty tomb for granted or do we find ourselves, like the women, awestruck at this strange new work of God? You may wish to take a moment to wonder where Christ is now going ahead of you and what part he is calling you to play in his ministry and mission, among your family and friends and in your community.

On this Easter Day, we offer up our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows to God who is alive and at work in our world.

Let us pray,
• for our world and all its people …
• for all in positions of authority and influence …
• for those in need …
• for the who are suffering …
• for the Church which is Christ’s body …
• for ourselves and those we love …
You may wish to finish your time of worship by reading the words or singing along as David plays the tune to the joyful Easter hymn , .’Jesus Christ is risen today’.

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

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

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

Materials for Worship on Good Friday

O Lord, look with mercy on this your family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, given up into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

First reading: Isaiah 52.13-53.3, 11 read by Ruth

Sing along or read the words as David plays the tune of ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts

The Gospel of the Passion: Mark 14.1-15.47 read by Anthony

Peter writes: If I needed to give directions to anyone coming to St Ursula’s Church in Bern, I would tell them that, after they left the Autobahn, they should follow the sign to the city centre and then take the turning marked Entsorgungshof, which means “rubbish dump”. Sure enough there was one about 50 metres from the church and our house. Fortunately it was for glass, broken crockery, old mattresses etc – nothing smelly. On our walks Shareene and I used to pause and look to see what people were discarding. The word entsorgen means “to discard, get rid of” and it comes from sorgen, literally “to worry” or “care”. So, once you have got rid of stuff you don’t want or need, you don’t have to worry about it any more.

Is this what was happening on Good Friday? (Some scholars think that the hill of Calvary was actually next to the city rubbish dump.) On Palm Sunday the crowd had hailed Jesus as the Messiah but soon they decided he wasn’t the sort of Messiah they wanted after all, so their reaction was “Let’s dump him”. And did Pilate, the soldiers on duty that day, and the temple authorities say to each other: “Thank God that’s over. We’ve got rid of that trouble-maker and we don’t need to worry about him any more.” With the stone firmly in place over the mouth of the tomb they had achieved closure: out of sight, out of mind.

Is that what many people think about God today? “We don’t do God: we have no need of him and we’ve dumped him somewhere where we don’t need to bother about him.” Things often end up on the skip because people have replaced them with something else that looks more modern or prettier. Do these things really satisfy their needs, do they answer the fundamental questions of life? Or are they a means of avoiding these issues? A bit like the beauty products that claim to cover up the signs of ageing perhaps. A few years back a slogan appeared on the side of buses: “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying”. If you have got rid of him, then you don’t need to worry about the demands that faith puts on you. There have always been people who didn’t care that all your fellow men and women are created in the image of God, that creation is not there for our own selfish ends, that we are responsible for our words and actions. Examples of the consequences of such attitudes are not far to seek. (Of course there are people of other faiths and none who sincerely believe in human rights and environmental Pissues, and our response should be “they are not far from the kingdom of God”. The centurion at Calvary is but one of the characters in the Gospels who comes into this category.)

There is also something else that needs to be discarded, however; something that affects people of faith and those with none. It is spelled out in two of Jesus’ words from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And “It is finished”. The first, from Psalm 22, has been echoed by many who felt that God had discarded them; that he had not done what they counted on him to do for them. In an Easter sermon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer turns this round, saying that, on the cross, it is a fantasy God who is being forsaken, got rid of. What we are seeing there is the end of the illusion that God is some sort of superhero who will intervene at the last minute or is there to do our bidding. Christ on the cross is proof that simplistic ideas about God’s power have to be discarded and that we need to replace them by the message of Easter.

On the cross we see that “death’s dark powers have done their worst”. In 1940 Bonhoeffer wrote “God puts … love in place of hate, the Holy One in place of the sinner. There is no longer any denial of God, any hate, any sin which God has not taken upon himself, suffered and atoned.” The powers of evil have shot their last bolt, been found wanting and put on the rubbish dump.

Prayers of Intercession
You are invited to spend time in silent prayer after each bidding.

Let us pray for all bishops, priests and deacons, and especially Ian our Bishop Let us pray also for this congregation, whether present in church or worshipping at home.

Let us pray for the rulers of the nations and all who serve the common good.

Let us pray for those preparing to be baptised at Easter.

Let us pray for those in need; for those weighed down with sickness in body, mind or spirit; for the vulnerable and the lonely.

Let us pray for those who do not acknowledge the Lord our God that, following what is right, in sincerity of heart, they may find the way to God’s own self.

Let us pray for all our brothers and sisters who believe in Christ, that God would grant peace and unity to all Christian people.

Let us pray to Almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth, for the whole of creation.

Amen

To finish your time of worship you may wish to sing along or read the words as David plays the tune of ‘My song is love unknown’.

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?
He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know.
But, oh, my friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend!
Sometimes they strew His way
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify!”
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries!
Yet they at these
Themselves displease
And ‘gainst Him rise.
They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suff’ring goes
That He His foes
From thence might free.
6 In life no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was His home
But mine the tomb
Wherein He lay.
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine!
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend!

Samuel Crossman

Materials for Worship on Maundy Thursday

Moira writes: Today begins the three holiest days of the Church’s year, the Paschal Triduum. They are holy because in his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus makes humanity ‘whole’ again. He breaks down the barriers of suffering, sin and death. All the things that break us apart, those things that would separate us from God, from each other and even ourselves, these are all ‘put back together’ by his death on the cross and his rising from the dead. Holy Week this year is very different from previous years, but we have been able to participate in Palm Sunday celebrations from home, we have this reflection today and the reflection for Good Friday tomorrow. And even from home, we will be able to share in the joy of Easter Day, rejoicing in the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Our readings today are 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, read by Gudrun and the Gospel according to John, 13.1-17, read by Davie.

Today we reflect on this passage from scripture which shows Jesus reaching out to his disciples in the very human act of washing feet.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. (John 13:3-4)

Jesus knew that his time had come to leave the world and return to his Father. He knew the kind of death he would endure. He knew that his disciples would struggle for a bit without him. He knew he had done all that he could to prepare them for his death and resurrection, but he still felt the need to minister to them one last time as they met together to share in a meal of bread and wine. Jesus also knew that one of his disciples would betray him to the authorities, and yet he continued to wash the feet of all of them. This was a final teaching moment for Jesus. When he put his outer robe back on, Jesus returned to the table and asked this question? Do you know what I have done to you?” The example of care that Jesus showed to his disciples was to be replicated by them, and they were reminded that ‘servants are not greater than their master, not are messengers greater than the one who sent them’.

Peter’s reaction to that act of love and care is summed up beautifully in this short passage from “Love is Never Done” by Carol Dixon, sent to me by Ruth.

It was Mary who started it – who sowed the seed of the idea in my mind to wash the feet of my friends. Her absolute humility, and adoration, as she poured out the perfumed ointment, anointing me for my burial. She didn’t care that others were scandalised, as Peter was when I first knelt to wash his feet, yet in the end he embraced the act with joy. I’ll never know what Judas felt; perhaps he was revolted as I stooped before him, offering my wholehearted love. Something had changed in him the night he saw Mary prostrate herself at my feet; the crisis had been coming for a while. It wasn’t just the money, it was her utter devotion; maybe he suspected he could never match that, and second best was not enough for him. So he distanced himself from me, from the cause, from the kingdom, recoiling from the intimacy that I wanted to share with all as I knelt with bowl and towel. If you had been there, ask yourself, what would you have done?

Last year and this year we have been in periods of lockdown and I suppose it has felt like living in Lent for much of that time. It has been hard at times to stay positive and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, with the vaccine programme rolling out, we can have hope that this pandemic will recede, and we can return to showing God’s love in a more tangible way. God showed his love for his disciples, his friends, in the tangible act of humbly kneeling before them and washing their feet. In our passage from the Gospel of John, we are not told exactly when Jesus performed this act of love, but I would assume that it would be before they had eaten supper, before the act of betrayal by Judas. How do you think Judas must have felt as Jesus washed his feet, knowing that he was about to betray his teacher, his friend? Picture the scene, as they sat at the table. One was ashamed and one was indignant, and yet all shared in the bread and the wine. Peter was afraid that even if Jesus washed his feet he would still not be clean, but Jesus reassured him that it was only Peter’s feet that needed to be cleaned.

During Lent, we usually take time to reflect on the things in our lives that we could make improvements to. Perhaps we have been quick to judge, or slow to recognise the needs of others, or maybe we have lost the ability to be patient and slow to anger. But in these troubled times with so much of our freedoms taken away by the pandemic, perhaps this year we should be reflecting on the everyday things we have been able to do and look for the times of happiness and blessing that have come out of our restricted lives. For me, the simple pleasure of being able to be in my garden on bright sunny days has been a blessing. Having more time to spend walking with my husband and our dog out in the fresh air and getting more exercise has also been a blessing, and the joy of living so close to family and being able to see grandchildren has brought me so much happiness. That being said, all of this has made me more aware of how much we need to have family and friends in our lives. Jesus knew that his disciples would need each other even more once he departed from them, and his act of love for them, the washing of their feet, bound them together and taught them how they should spread God’s love to the world.

Today we also remember the ‘last supper’ the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room. As I searched for an image, I came across this Icon, “The Mystical Supper,” painted by the artist Rublev and I was interested to see that he had painted the scene at a round table rather than the iconic images we see of the Last Supper at a long rectangular table. To me, this image feels more intimate and more in keeping with how I imagine shared meals at the time of Jesus would be. Jesus could see the expressions on the faces of his disciples and would have known who was worried, concerned, anxious or nervous as the meal progressed. It is interesting also to see that some of the figures have been painted in light orange robes and others much darker. Certainly on that night, in that upper room, there were shades of darkness and light at play in the ‘mystical supper.’ Once again Jesus reminds us in this communal act of sharing in bread and wine, of his new commandment, ‘that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ (v.34). Over this past year we have been unable to share together in the physical supper of bread and wine, but we have still received God’s Holy Spirit (our spiritual bread and wine) as we worshipped each Sunday at home, whether joining with the Facebook live stream or with the Materials for Worship. This time away from physically being together and receiving the physical elements of communion will make us appreciate even more the joy of sharing God’s love with those around us on Easter Sunday. You may wish to join in with a call to recollection and prayer for forgiveness from Thom M Shuman, which speaks to the strange times we are living in.

Call to Recollection
Now, just as on those nights long ago, we face choices: will we continue to live in fear, or step out in faith?
Will we trust in the One who is with us, or listen to the hollow words around us?
Let us confess our lives, our emptiness, our worries to the One who calls us, feeds us, redeems us, as we pray together, saying,

Prayer for Forgiveness
It has all disappeared, our God, our certainty of how life was to be, our daily activities and jobs and routines. So much has been taken away from us, lunches, family gatherings, worship – and even when we dare try, there is still that niggling worry in our minds. Simple things seem more and more possible, like shopping in a store, looking forward to a sporting event, maybe even going back to work – and yet, we wonder when the other shoe will drop. Yet this feeling, this uncertainty, these fears are exactly what you experienced on that night so long ago, Brother of our hearts. All your certainty dissipated as easily as that crowd that cheered you just a few days before. Your hopes, your dreams, your desires for your friends had been snatched away by those powers and circumstances beyond your control. Even a simple, last meal with your closest friends was full of doubts, questions, recriminations, as you huddled isolated from the world.

So now, fill us with your presence, Spirit of that night and this night and all nights. Fill us with that grace which enables us to look beyond our fears, to live as people of faith. Fill us with that love, which strengthens us to care for the most vulnerable around us, rather than the most powerful. Fill us with that hope, which is never quarantined, never isolated, never separated from us, in these and all the moments to come. Amen.

We finish by reading or singing along to David playing the tune to ‘An Upper Room did our Lord prepare’ by Fred Pratt Green.

An upper room did our Lord prepare
for those he loved until the end:
and his disciples still gather there,
to celebrate their Risen Friend.
A lasting gift Jesus gave his own,
to share his bread, his loving cup.
Whatever burdens may bow us down,
he by his Cross shall lift us up.
And after Supper he washed their feet,
for service, too, is sacrament.
In him our joy shall be made complete
sent out to serve, as he was sent.
No end there is! We depart in peace.
He loves beyond our uttermost:
in every room in our Father’s house
he will be there, as Lord and host.

Material For Worship on Palm Sunday

Nerys writes: Palm Sunday is a strange day of mixed emotions. It is the day when we accompany Jesus to Jerusalem, joyfully proclaiming him king, knowing that this journey would cost him his freedom and his life. It is a time of looking back at our Lenten journey, giving thanks for God’s faithfulness towards us in difficult times, as we set off on a new journey to the foot of the cross and beyond. As you light your candle today you may wish to say this prayer:

Lord, you have brought me through the wilderness
And delivered me to the gates of the Jerusalem.
As I prepare for the mysteries of Holy Week,
Let me share my heart with Christ
As Christ shares his risen life with me.
Amen

Before reading the Gospel of the Palms, take a moment to reflect on the palm cross you have been given. It is not easy to imagine it as a living, shining, green frond growing on a tall, majestic tree. To the people of Israel, the date palm represented peace, plenty and fruitfulness. Palm branches were often depicted on coins and were carved into the walls and doors of King Solomon’s temple. In the ancient world, they were used on festive occasions as tokens of joy and triumph. Kings and conquerors were welcomed with palm branches being strewn before them and waved in the air. Among the Jews of Jesus’ day, palm branches and the cry of ‘hosanna’ were an important part of the Feast of Tabernacles, the culmination of the spring festivals which started with the Passover, but since the Macabbean revolt a hundred and fifty years earlier, they had become symbols of nationalistic pride. They were reminders of the belief that the Messiah was coming to raise up an army which would overthrow Roman oppression and free God’s people. It was these palms that the followers of Jesus used to greet him as he entered Jerusalem for the last time, intent on a very different kind of victory.

As you listen to Alastair read Mark 11.1-11, I invite you to use your imagination to enter into Jesus’ mind.

You may also wish to explore a recreation of the scene in an African setting from the Jesus Mafa series.

I offer also these words of reflection by the American artist and author, Jan Richardson:

It can be challenging enough to walk with intention into a future that is unknown. But to move with purpose toward a destination that is known, and fearsome? That is quite a different path, one that requires grace and courage we cannot conjure on our own.
Such a path offers a curious freedom, too, because it invites us to enter our future not as victims, helpless before our fate, but with intention and discernment, knowing that the path we choose—any path we choose—will hold its occasions of dying and rising. When we can meet those occasions with courage and grace, the perils of the chosen path begin to lose their power over us.

The palm frond in your hand, the symbol of victory, has been shaped into the sign of the cross, an instrument of torture, humiliation and death. The second of today’s readings is the Gospel of the Passion, Mark 14.1-15.47 (or 15.1-39). Hold on to your palm cross as you read it to remind you that this is ultimately a story of victory. After a time of silence to reflect on what it means for you, to feel God’s presence with you and listen for the voice of Love, you may wish to use the following prayer of commitment.

Almighty and everlasting God,
may this palm be for me
a sign of Christ’s victory over sin and death;
and may I who have been baptised in his name,
worship him as king, obey him as Lord,
and follow him in the way of the Cross, which leads to eternal life.
I ask this through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

You are invited to bring your time of worship to an end with prayers of intercession:
• For our world and all its people …
• For all in positions of authority and influence …
• For those in need …
• For those who are suffering …
• For the Church which is Christ’s body …
• For yourself and those you love …
You may also wish to listen or sing along to David playing Henry Hart Milman’s hymn,

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes ‘Hosanna’ cry;
O Saviour meek, pursue thy road
with palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
The winged squadrons of the sky
look down with sad and wondering eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
the Father on his sapphire throne
expects his own anointed Son.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
bow thy meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, thy power, and reign.

Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday in Lent

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”.

Today is known as Passion Sunday, writes Ven Peter Potter. It is a kind of curtain raiser to the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. In modern English, the word passion denotes intense feeling, generally love, whether for another person, a football team or a political cause. It actually derives, however, from the Latin passio, “I suffer”. The word compassion (literally “suffering with”) retains this meaning, for a compassionate person enters into the suffering of another and tries to sooth it.

The German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a poem about how our suffering and God’s are interconnected. Let us follow the words as David plays the tune:

We turn to God when we are sorely pressed;
we pray for help, and ask for peace and bread;
we seek release from illness, guilt and death:
all people do, in faith or unbelief.
We turn to God when he is sorely pressed,
and find him poor, scorned, without roof and bread,
bowed under weight of weakness, sin and death:
faith stands by God in his dark hour of grief.

God turns to us when we are sorely pressed,
and feeds our souls and bodies with his bread;
for one and all Christ gives himself in death:
through his forgiveness sin will find relief.
Words, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. English translation (c) SCM-Canterbury Press

Jeremiah’s prophecy tells us we can come to God in penitence and confess our sins because we have confidence in his compassion for us. Take a moment to consider what you need to bring to God in penitence today and then listen to Jeremiah 31, 31-34, read by Tom.

But why does “passion” encompass both suffering and love? The events of Holy Week show us how Jesus allows himself to be given over (i.e., passively) to pain out of love for sinful humanity. In other words, he suffers in order to gain a new and better order of things. In the same way we are being urged to put up with the restrictions of lockdown for the sake of the public as a whole. This is more than self-interest; it is literally an act of compassion. “We are all in it together” actually has a spiritual as well as a moral dimension. Today’s Gospel reading (John 12, 20-33) is about some Greeks (probably Greek-speaking Jews who had travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival) asking to be introduced to Jesus. Jesus, however, does not directly answer their request but starts talking about wheat dying and growing. We listen to Alison reading the passage.

Why didn’t Jesus just say to Andrew and Philip, “OK, bring them here”? Did they actually get to see Jesus? We don’t know, but Jesus’ answer is surely saying that not only these Greeks, contemporaries of Jesus and his disciples, saw Jesus but that we can too in our day and in the circumstances of our lives. When we encounter situations like a grain of wheat lying in the ground apparently dead but then growing and bearing fruit, then we see Jesus. Suffering (as was soon to occur when Jesus was “lifted up from the earth” on the cross) does not have to be a dead end but can be a new beginning.

To go back to passion – love hurts, as the saying has it. One of my favourite hymns is Morning glory, starlit sky, which has the lines:

‘and the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.’

It’s a great hymn, with echoes of Paul’s song about love in 1 Corinthians 13. The author W.H. (Bill) Vanstone laboured long and hard in a rather unpromising parish in the north of England. He described his experiences in a book called Love’s endeavour, love’s expense. By expending his love for his parishioners shoots of growth appeared as a result of his endeavours. Here are the words played by David.

Morning glory, starlit sky,
soaring music, scholar’s truth,
flight of swallows, autumn leaves,
memory’s treasure, grace of youth:
Open are the gifts of God,
gifts of love to mind and sense;
hidden is love’s agony,
love’s endeavour, love’s expense.
Love that gives, gives ever more,
gives with zeal, with eager hands,
spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
ventures all its all expends.
Drained is love in making full,
bound in setting others free,
poor in making many rich,
weak in giving power to be.
Therefore, he who shows us God
helpless hangs upon the tree;
and the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
throned in easy state to reign;
here is God, whose arms of love
aching, spent, the world sustain.

Love hurts because, the more we love someone, the more we find it hard to bear when they are in trouble and we are willing to bear pain and make sacrifices for their sake. The lessons of Passiontide and Holy Week can be our guide and comfort as the weeks of lockdown still stretch ahead before us.

PRAYERS
The Collect for Lent 5
Merciful God,
look upon your family as we travel to the foot of the cross:
and, by your great goodness, guide us in body;
that, by your protection,
we may also be preserved in heart and mind;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

Intercessions
Let us pray that Christ shall be glorified in the Church and in the world.
Lord, we pray for the peace of the world, especially in …. and other places of conflict and oppression; for places where crops die and do not bear fruit because of the effects of climate change; for governments and aid agencies in their task to bring relief to the suffering and needy.
Bless all who work to spread the Gospel and offer their lives in its service. … Guide the seekers after truth, that they may see your Son amidst the changes and chances of this life.
Have mercy on all who suffer in body, mind or spirit, especially … May they hear your words of comfort, be sustained in their affliction and find new life after loss.
We pray for those who have died to this world, especially … May they grow into the new life of heaven where joy is endless and where what has been offered on earth comes to perfect fruition.

Father, accept the payers we offer in the name of Christ, lifted on the cross for our salvation.
Amen.

Material for Worship on Mothering Sunday

Nerys writes: For a number of years, our Mothering Sunday services at St Mary’s have been all-age gatherings but today is a rare opportunity for a reflection aimed at adults only.

For many, this is normally a happy day, a time to show our love and gratitude to our mothers, to receive cards and gifts from our children and to enjoy precious time with our families. For some, however, this celebration of motherhood brings the pain of longing, loss, grief or guilt. For those of us who were here in Dunblane in March 1996, Mothering Sunday is inextricably linked with memories of the tragedy that struck our community. And now, it will also carry a reminder of the beginning of the first Lockdown and all the suffering and loss caused by the pandemic. Mothering Sunday can be a bitter-sweet day but it is also an opportunity to remember that we have a mothering God whose care for us extends throughout our lives and beyond and who has promised to be especially close to us in difficult times.

So, as you light your candle today, take a moment to bring to mind what Mothering Sunday means to you and to share your joy or pain with God who is listening.

You may wish to finish your time of prayer by listening to a modern hymn based on the writing of the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, sung by Moira.

Mothering God, you gave me birth
in the bright morning of the world.
Creator, source of every breath,
you are my rain, my wind, my sun;
you are my rain, my wind, my sun.

Mothering Christ, you took my form,
offering me your food of light,
grain of life, and grape of love,
your very body for my peace;
your very body for my peace.

Mothering Sprit, nurturing one,
in arms of patience hold me close,
so that in faith I root and grow
until I flower, until I know;
until I flower, until I know.
Words, Jean Janzen; Tune, John Bell

Today’s readings, 1 Samuel 1.20-28 and Luke 2.33-35, acknowledge both the joy and pain of those who are mothers or who care like mothers, and give an insight into the heart of God. They are taken from two stories set in Jerusalem featuring two mothers who had brought their sons to the Temple to be dedicated to God. The first, read here by Colin, is the story of Hannah who had known the desperation and shame of childlessness and the delight of answered prayer. The second, read by Mary, is the story of Mary whose pregnancy was a source of potential disgrace, who was forced to seek refuge in a foreign land soon after the birth but who carried with her the secret joy of the angel’s message and all that she had seen and heard in Bethlehem. Both had come to the Temple to offer their sons back to God, Mary in accordance with Jewish law and Hannah to honour her promise. In order to allow them to fulfil their calling, both mothers would need to step back and stay in the background as their sons’ lives unfolded. Simeon’s prophecy is a reminder of the painful cost of that letting go. As Mary stood at the foot of the cross, pierced to the heart, I wonder if she remembered those glorious and dreadful words?

Mary’s was not the only heart to be pierced that day as Jesus allowed himself to suffer and die for love of the world. Our mother God was suffering too and continues to suffer alongside mothers in war zones, refugee camps and in situations of poverty and injustice. In her writing, Julian of Norwich returned again and again to the necessity of trusting in God’s mothering love and to her confidence that with God, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’. I invite you to join with me to pray for each other, that when we experience the pain of the world’s suffering and the cost of caring, we would know God with us, bringing us all the perseverence and hope we need to continue to give of ourselves for the sake of others.

‘Compassion’ by Sister Mary Southard, a member of the Congregation of St Joseph, La Grange Park, Illinois.

Our prayers today have been written by Hugh. You can listen to him here, or read them yourself.

Holy and loving God, on this Mothering Sunday we give thanks for all who nurture and care for your world and all its people. Help us all to play our own part in that work, according to the different gifts you have given to each one of us, to give of what we have to share in that work.

We give thanks for the signs of new Spring life all around – the snowdrops, bulbs emerging, the longer days. Help us to care for your world, seeking and speaking out always for a fair sharing of its resources. We pray for those in countries already affected by rising seas, those suffering from drought and deprivation.

We pray for those who are finding it difficult in this pandemic – the lonely, the sick, those out of work, those struggling to meet living costs. We give thanks for the scientists, care workers, doctors, nurses, and all who are working to keep us safe and well. Thinking of countries who do not yet have enough vaccines, encourage leaders here and elsewhere to ensure fair sharing of those. We give thanks for the work of World Health Organisation and others seeking to bring medical help to people in all countries.

We pray for those in other countries forced to flee from their homes, thinking especially today of the people of Yemen and Myanmar. We give thanks for those who work to support and care for them and those seeking ways out of the violence.

We remember today the children and the teacher whose lives were cut short here 25 years ago. We pray for their parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, and all those directly affected. We know that you share with us the pain of that time and of our present time where people continue to die at the hands of others. Open our hearts to the fullness of your love, help us to live in true community, at one with all who are suffering or in need, that none may feel themselves excluded or eliminated.

We pray for those in our own community and beyond, and for those known to us personally, who are experiencing any kind of hardship or ill health or mental distress. Lord bless them and comfort them.

We pray for St Mary’s, for all who serve in this church, for all who are part of the church community, and all in the broader community we seek to serve.

Holy and loving God, help us to live and work in a spirit of love and care for all, inspired by this mothering Sunday and the life and message of Jesus, your Son our Lord, in whose name we pray.
Amen

If we were meeting for worship in church today there would have been an opportunity to make a donation to the Mothers’ Union Make a Mother’s Day Appeal.

If you wish to give a gift which will help empower women and girls in developing countries to flourish, please visit
https://www.mothersunion.org/mothering-sunday

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday in Lent

Our reflection this week for the third Sunday in Lent was prepared by Rev Moira Jamieson.

You may wish to sing along to or read the words of this hymn;

Jesus Christ is waiting, waiting in the streets;
No one is his neighbour, all alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger, fit to wait on you

Jesus Christ is raging, raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals and real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing, healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer, touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I have pity too.
Let my care be active, healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing, dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred he, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling, calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey? I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus, let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me; I will follow you.

© WGRG, Iona Community, 1988.

This week as I have been preparing this reflection, I have been thinking about the many injustices going on in our world right now. Injustices which have escalated in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Our government has been trying to do their best to protect everyone by rolling out their programme of vaccination, and I commend them. However, in poorer countries people are dying from the virus because they are already weak from hunger and disease and their governments, because of international debt, cannot afford to buy the vaccine that is needed. In today’s gospel passage, John 2 v 13-22 (read here by Rob ) Jesus sees injustice going on in the Temple and he rails against it. This is not an easy passage to read. We find Jesus, the caring loving Jesus who heals the sick and has compassion on those in need, storming into the Temple in a rage! It’s an image that is disturbing and uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child, fighting or arguing with my brothers and stomping off, slamming doors and then facing the wrath of my mother. And so, I suppose, I should find this passage about the cleansing of the Temple quite reassuring, after all here is Jesus throwing things around in a ‘church’ of all places – the Jesus who was so good the rest of the time. It makes me remember that he was also human as well as divine.

This story is more complex than we think. The whole system of commerce in the temple was well established, and indeed, became a money-making exercise for the temple authorities. Historians tells us that once a year, Jewish males had to pay a temple tax and that tax could be paid only in temple coin, not with Roman or Greek coins, which is why the moneychangers were there. But the moneychangers charged a huge fee for the exchange; often up to half the amount being changed went into their pockets, out of which the temple took its substantial cut. Additionally, any sacrifice offered at Passover had to be that of an animal without blemish. The temple authorities offered perfect animals for sale. Anyone bringing his own animal had to have it inspected by the priests. Not surprisingly, the animal was nearly always rejected, and the person had to buy another from the priests. Therefore it was not simply the presence of the moneychangers and the animals offered for sale that so angered Jesus – after all, they were services meant for the convenience of people who had travelled long distances to get to Jerusalem. It was the misuse of authority in the blatant and gross overcharging of even the poorest people that set Jesus off. It is that blatant misuse of authority which is happening in our world today which must tear at the heart of God, as he sees injustice and deceit playing out here on earth.

From the Jesus Mafa collection

John tells us that that chaos ensued, with Jesus overturning tables and driving animals out with a whip made of cords. People, including the disciples, were stunned and confused, a situation not helped by Jesus when they asked for an explanation. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That didn’t make sense to them. The temple had been under construction for 46 years, how could Jesus raise it up in three days? As with so many things, the disciples only worked it out later, in the light of resurrection hindsight. They came to realise that the temple of which Jesus spoke was his body, not the bricks and mortar of a building. However, there is another lesson to be learned from this reading, and that is the need for righteous anger in face of injustice, extortion and especially the exploitation of vulnerable people should not be tolerated. The plight of refugees, those fleeing from oppressive regimes and war, and the callous people who exploit their vulnerability should make us angry. Anger at such things is not a bad thing, it’s a good and cleansing thing. Such anger is not the opposite of love. Anger at injustice is an appropriate expression of love and a cry for righteousness. Righteous anger is not a loss of control, Jesus is not out of control, in fact he is noticeably clear about the targets of his wrath. Righteous anger is about taking control, it’s a move out of passive acceptance towards change. St. Augustine of Hippo once said. “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Before Lent, some of us met on Zoom to discuss the theme of Worship. What it means to us and how we have had to adapt during lockdown, among other things, and we had a final session with Bishop Ian exploring the future of worship in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Over the years the church has had to adapt and change as the world and society have also changed. Sometimes these for some, have changed and upset established tradition, and seem to have created chaos. But God’s wisdom often works in the midst of chaos, and in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 1:18-25 (read here by Kathryn) Paul extols the grace of God, who saves his people from their foolishness as he tells them, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” In this passage, Paul helps his readers (and us) understand the wisdom of God and how it should show itself in their (our) lives, transforming them (us) in the way that they (we) think and behave. People who have been transformed from unbelief into belief and who grow strong in their faith, have a strong connection to God through the love of Christ on the cross. During Lent, we can take time to ask ourselves how close our relationship to God is and how, being a Christian has shaped us and moulded us as we grow in our faith and our belief. Paul asks us to believe in the wisdom and power of God to work in people’s lives, transforming us, and moulding us to be the people he wants us to be. Let us try to keep faith this Lent and take time to reflect on the strength or otherwise of our closeness to God. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Amen.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, grant us wisdom to see the injustices of this world and to take action where we can. Help us not to be impassive and think that we cannot make a difference to the lives of others. May our prayers reach out to you as we pray for the people of this world. (Please add your own concerns here.)

We pray for all refugees who are fleeing violence in their own countries and who seek the safety of another land. May they be treated fairly and justly. Bless all who try to improve conditions in refugee camps and those who care for the health of those living in squalid conditions. We pray especially for the children.

We pray for those who are facing violence and abuse of any kind in their lives. May they find refuge for themselves and their families. At this time we think of the people of Myanmar and their situation. Bless the work of charities who provide refuge for victims of abuse.

We pray for all who are struggling at this time to feed their families. May they receive the help they need to enable them to keep their families strong and healthy. (Please pray for local initiatives like foodbanks.)

We pray for those who are ill at this time, especially those with Coronavirus and those with life-threatening illnesses. May they know the healing power of Jesus in their lives through those who care for them. We lift before God all those on the prayer tree at St. Mary’s. (Please pray for those you know who are ill at this time or in need of prayer.) Heavenly Father surround them with your love.

God of mercy and compassion we lift all these our concerns to you and ask you to keep us walking in your ways as we continue on our journey of faith this Lenten tide.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Material for Worship on the First Sunday in Lent

Today Rev. Jeanette Allan leads our worship for the first Sunday in Lent.

Today Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent. However, did it arrive so soon? I know Lent is early this year, but! Just to convince ourselves that we really are in Lent let’s read the words whilst David plays ‘Forty days and forty nights.’

Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
forty days and forty nights,
tempted still, yet undefiled.

Sunbeams scorching all the day,
chilly dew-drops nightly shed,
prowling beasts about thy way,
stones your pillow, earth thy bed.

Shall not we thy sorrows share,
and from earthly joys abstain,
fasting with unceasing prayer,
glad with thee to suffer pain.

And if Satan, vexing sore,
flesh or spirit should assail,
thou, his vanquisher before,
grant we may not faint nor fail.

So shall we have peace divine;
holier gladness, ours shall be:
round us too shall angels shine,
such as ministered to thee.

Keep, O keep us, Saviour dear,
ever constant by thy side,
that with thee we may appear
at the eternal Eastertide.

So that’s conclusive, we are in Lent, but what does that mean to us in the lockdown in which we are living, even if there is hope on the horizon? Well, I heard of a community in Eire whose Lenten discipline this year was for everyone to take a dip however short, in the sea every day. I struggled with that one a bit, it’s certainly a discipline, but to what purpose? Just to prove you can do it? If the sea dippers were sponsored, raising money for a good cause, then at least someone benefits. So, what is Lent really about, well, historically it was a time when new Christians prepared for their Baptism at the Easter Vigil; for medieval monks and nuns it was the great fast when their diet was even more limited than usual, in preparation for the great Festival of the Resurrection at Easter; but what is it for us now in 2021 in the middle of a pandemic? We are already restricted in what we can do in our world. Which could be a good thing as that actually makes more room for what we can do in Lent, which could be a variety of things like reassessing our relationship with God and asking to be shown how we can draw closer to our Creator and the Source of our being; asking God’s help to discern how we are failing in our discipleship, and what we can do about it. Psalm 25 puts it very well and could well become a daily prayer during Lent. It makes it clear just how much we owe all we have and are to God’s love and mercy, and how we can live our lives more closely tuned with our Creator.

Let’s listen as Anthony reads us Psalm 25 v. 1-10

Being in Scotland we can’t ignore the Scottish Psalter with its metrical Psalms so, as David plays let’s read the words of the metrical version.

Lord, teach me all your ways,
reveal your paths to me;
and lead me in your saving
truth show me what I should be.

Remember, Lord your love,
your care from ages past;
and in that love remember me,
in kindness hold me fast.

Forget my youthful faults,
forgive my sinful ways;
within the kindness of your love
remember me always.

God who is just and good,
shows all who sin his way;
he leads the humble in right paths,
their teacher day by day.

All pathways of the Lord
are kindly, true and sure
to those who keep his covenant
and in his ways endure.

Both those put things quite clearly, you are free to choose your favourite. Nerys has already given us examples of Lenten literature we might find helpful. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect, nor will we ever be we could all do with a bit of a wash and brush up now and again and Lent can be the ideal time, a time when we can not only have our rough edges smoothed by God’s forgiveness, but also bathe in the wonder of God’s love and mercy and learn how to live more truly as the body of Christ here in our world. What special task does God have for you?

Let’s listen now as Morag reads the Gospel for us. Mark 1: 9-15

Whenever I read this passage I am always struck forcibly by the juxtaposition, of God’s commendation of Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” with what happens next. ‘And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the
wilderness’.

If any of us had just the vestige of a notion that because we are disciples of Jesus life should go well for us, and we should go through life comfortable and happy, get such a notion knocked completely into a cocked hat by what happens to Jesus, both in the wilderness and on the cross. We follow the one who said, “Take up your Cross and follow me”. No way are we to expect no difficulties in our lives. What we are to expect is that whatever does happen to us in our lives we will never have to face it alone. God’s love, comfort, forgiveness, and strength will be there for us every step of the way, for as long as it takes.

So let us pray:

Come Jesus, do not smile and say
you are already with us.
Millions do not know you, and to those of us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point of your presence if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives, shatter our complacency,
Make your word our life’s purpose,
Take away the quietness of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus that other peace is made,
your peace. [Dom Helder, Brazil]

For our incapacity to feel the sufferings of others,
and our tendency to live comfortably with injustice.
God forgive us.

For the self-righteousness which denies guilt,
and the self-interest which strangles compassion.
God forgive us.

For those who live their lives in careless unconcern,
who cry “Peace, peace” when there is no peace,
We ask your mercy.

For our failings in community,
our lack of understanding.
We ask your mercy.

For our lack of forgiveness, openness sensitivity
God forgive us.

For the times we were too eager to be better than others,
when we were too rushed to care,
when we were too tired to bother,
when we don’t really listen,
when we are too quick to act from motives other than love.
God forgive us.
[Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness South Africa]

As we conclude our time of worship together let’s Listen to David play the tune as we read the words of Timothy Dudley Smith’s hymn.

Above the voices of the world around me,
my hopes and dreams, my cares and loves and fears,
the long-awaited call of Christ has found me,
the voice of Jesus echoes in my ears:

I gave my life to break the cords that bind you,
I rose from death to set your spirit free;
turn from your sins and put the past behind you,
take up your cross and come and follow me.’

What can I offer him who calls me to him?
Only the wastes of sin and self and shame;
a mind confused, a heart that never knew him,
a tongue unskilled at naming Jesus’ Name.

Yet at your call, and hungry for your blessing,
drawn by that cross which moves a heart of stone,
now Lord I come, my tale of sin confessing,
and in repentance turn to you alone.

Lord, I believe; help now my unbelieving;
I come in faith because your promise stands.
Your word of pardon and of peace receiving,
all that I am I place within your hands.
Let me become what you shall choose to make me,
freed from the guilt and burden of my sins.
Jesus is mine, who never shall forsake me,
and in his love my new-born life begins.

Reflection for Ash Wednesday

From dust we come
To dust we will return.
We belong to God.

We come in penitence,
We come in confidence,
We belong to God.

At the beginning of Lent
At every moment of our lives
We belong to God.

In ancient times, ashes were used to express grief and sorrow for sins and faults.

Job says to God, ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’

The prophet Jeremiah urged the wayward people of Israel to express their contrition by putting on sackcloth and rolling in the ashes.

Christians continued the practice of using ashes as a sign of repentance and by the end of the 11th century it had become a custom for ashes to be sprinkled on the heads of the faithful on the first day of Lent which became known as Ash Wednesday.

We are not be able to meet together to receive a cross of ash on our foreheads this year, but here is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of that symbolic action, to acknowledge our brokenness, accept God’s forgiveness and commit ourselves to allowing God to work in us this Lent, transforming us from the inside out.

You are invited to prepare yourselves for worship by listening or singing along to Davie playing the tune of ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

Be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God.

I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee.

In thee, O Lord, I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, I put my trust.
(Anonymous)

Listen to our Old Testament readings for today read by Ruth and Nerys: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17 and Psalm 51.1-17

Having reflected on God’s invitation to the people of Israel to return to him expressed by the Prophet Joel, on King David’s expression of repentance and on Mark Lawrence’s painting, inspired by the opening words of the psalm, we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.

Prayer of Confession
Loving God, you made us from the dust and ashes. You know the situations we face, the decisions we make, our motives, our passions, our desires. We long to act justly, with love and kindness, towards those around us but so often we fail.

Lord have mercy upon us.

We acknowledge, and cry out in shame for our part in the wider issues that affect our world. We remember: the world’s poor, kept poor by our wasteful lifestyles; Creation’s beauty, marred by our selfish carelessness; the innocent, caught in the middle of unjust conflicts.

Christ have mercy upon us.

In all these things, we call out to you to act, to forgive and renew. To restore in us the brightness of your love, and the radiance of your glory.

Lord have mercy upon us.

Loving God, we receive your forgiveness. We receive your empowering to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you. Amen.

Listen to Catherine singing a traditional Mexican hymn translated and adapted by John Bell.

When we are living, we are in the Lord,
and when we’re dying, we are in the Lord;
for in our living and in our dying
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Each day allows us to decide for good,
loving and serving as we know we should;
in thankful giving, in hopeful living,
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Sometimes we sorrow, other times embrace,
sometimes we question everything we face;
yet in our yearning is deeper learning:
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Till earth is over may we always know
love never fails us: God has made it so.
hard times will prove us, never remove us;
we belong to God, we belong to God.

Prayer of Turning Around

Loving God,
truly dust we are, and to dust we shall return;
and truly yours we are, and to you we shall return.
Help this to be a time of turning round and beginning again.
Through the forty days of Lent, help us to follow you
and to find you: in the discipline of praying
and in the drudgery of caring –
in whatever we deny ourselves,
and whatever we set ourselves to learn or do.
Help us to discover you in our loneliness and in community,
In our emptiness and our fulfilment,
in our sadness and our laughter.
Help us to find you when we ourselves are lost.
Help us to follow you on the journey to Jerusalem
to the waving palms of the people’s hope,
to their rejection, to the cross and empty tomb.
Help us to perceive new growth amid the ashes of the old.
Help us, carrying your cross, to be signs of your Kingdom. Amen.

(Jan Sutch Pickard in Eggs and Ashes, ed. Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill)

Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to come upon you, upon our church and into our world as Davie plays:

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Melt me, mould me
Fill me, use me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us
Melt us, mould us
Fill us, use us
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.
(Daniel Iverson)

We have come before God in penitence and faith, we’ve acknowledged our brokenness and accepted God’s forgiveness. We’ve committed ourselves to observe the season of Lent and asked God, through the Holy Spirit, to help transform us. Now let’s listen to the advice Jesus gave to his first followers in Matthew 6. 1-6, 16-18. Hugh is reading from the Message.

The desert waits
ready for those who come,
who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading;
or who are driven,
because they will not come any other way.

The desert always waits,
ready to let us know who we are—
the place of self-discovery.

And whilst we fear, and rightly,
the loneliness and emptiness and harshness,
we forget the angels,
whom we cannot see for our blindness,
but who come when God decides
that we need their help;
when we are ready for what they can give us.

(Ruth Burgess in Eggs and Ashes, ed. Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill)

‘Angels bring food to Jesus in the wilderness’ from A Mirror of Holiness of Father Jerome Xavier’, Mughal India, 1602-1604. Click here for more information.

As you prepare yourself for the weeks ahead, listen to or join in with Catherine singing ‘Sent by the Lord am I’ by Jorge Maldonado.

Sent by the Lord am I;
my hands are ready now
to make the earth a place
in which the kingdom comes.

The angels cannot change
a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love,
of justice and of peace.

The task is mine to do,
to set it really free.
O help me to obey;
help me to do your will.

Blessing
From dust we come
to dust we will return
we belong to God.

Grace us with your blessing
today and always.
Keep us close to you, God,
Keep us close to you. Amen

Material for Worship on Transfiguration Sunday

This Sunday, our reflection has been written by Kate Sainsbury, a Lay Reader, the founder of the Appletree Community and a new associate member of the St Mary’s Ministry Team.

“There’s no such thing as magic!”
Or is there?
Walking in a wood once, I suddenly found a sycamore helicopter spinning in the air below my finger, seemingly without support. The spider’s thread that connected us was invisible at first glance. I was with my son, Louis, who is profoundly brain-injured.
“Look, Louis!” I said, lifting my arm to raise the spinner up towards his face, into his field of vision. “It’s magic!”
The delight of this event put great emphasis into my voice, an energy that broke through Louis’ lack of understanding, to lodge a new phrase in his memory.
He looked from the spinning bit of green to my face, his eyes fixed on mine, shining with reflected amazement and love.
“It’s magic!” he repeated.
In Louis’ language, which lacks consonants because of damage to the 7th cranial nerve, what he said sounded like …. i …. a … i ….
He began to smile. His whole body took it up, he rocked backwards and forwards from his waist, he became happy in front of my eyes, all of him, his face, his body, his whole being. Mum was happy: Louis was happy. We existed in this moment, united in our love for each other, triggered by an encounter with something beyond understanding.
The incident, and the word, were lodged forever as a shared memory for us both. Even today, when we go back to the phrase, ‘it’s magic!’ we get a little bit of the feeling we had that day.
I can never know what Louis thinks, can never hear his explanation, from the inside. But the outward evidence is all I need to know that we are talking about the same thing: encounter in love.
It was both magic … and, with the scientific explanation of the spider’s thread that I had brushed against … NOT magic.

Our Gospel reading today, tells us a story of something that is MAGIC. Take a moment to listen to Margaret reading Mark 9.2-9. (The image is from the Vie de Jesus Mafa series.)

This Transfiguration follows Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus’s teaching that leadership as Messiah means suffering, death and rising again. That had been followed by Jesus’ invitation to the crowd and disciples to take up their own crosses, to go into uncertainty and suffering, trusting God would bring about new life through them.
Our story was an intimate gathering. Peter, James and John, were taken up a mountain by Jesus, where they knew that Moses encountered God. What happened next was as amazing as Moses’ own experience had been.
In front of his friends, Jesus’ was transfigured – he became shining white, they saw him talking with both Moses, the lawgiver, God’s messenger, and Elijah, the great prophet.
It was MAGIC.
The veil of time and place slipped aside, the three disciples found themselves existing in a new dimension, for which Peter had no words. This was holy space, they were drawn in and at the same time, terrified. Peter, the practical one, cast about to pin down the awe of the moment. ‘Shall we build some booths, Lord? temporary temples, like those we make at our festival, to contain this holiness?’
James and John – called elsewhere ‘Sons of thunder’ – say nothing. Perhaps their tempestuous nature makes them more used to living with uncertainty. Then a cloud comes over them, just as a cloud had descended on Moses. Out of the cloud God speaks to them, an echo of God’s address to Jesus at his baptism. ‘’This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
How did they make sense of that?
Perhaps it took years, the events of the last days of Jesus’ life, his death, resurrection and Pentecost, for them to learn that the God who is Father to Jesus, was father to them too, that each of them, was beloved, each was a part of the whole.
How do we make sense of the mystery?

At the heart of this story I find certainty, the power of love, a guarantee that each of us is precious. That matters to me, as Louis’ mother. I find the Transfiguration a story of hope, a vision of a just world coming into being through God’s love. It powers me to pursue a vision of a long-term home for Louis and others with disabilities. At Appletree Community, Louis’ calls us to his table to be fed by the God of love, who asks each of us to participate in living well, equal with each other, loved equally.

The vision, grew out of need. When Louis’ care home shut there was nowhere for him in Scotland. Its particular shape follows from asking ‘WHO is Louis?’ recognising his sociable nature, his wish to live with others, the benefits for staff of being able to support one another. The Court of Protection approved my plan to use Louis’ medical negligence funds to buy a house. Care will be given 24/7 by professional carers from Scottish Autism, funded by the local authority, who economise through overnight care shared amongst three.

The house is a converted steading, with plenty of space for shared living, indoors and out, and self-contained ensuite bedrooms for all. It has the security of a south-facing, enclosed courtyard and gardens. Its wooden floors and high ceilings make a calm atmosphere. It is close to the A9 at Aberuthven, semi-rural, yet accessible. Alongside is a barn for developing future day activities.

Partnership with Scottish Autism, will be crucial. We seek to encourage long-term commitment in staff. It takes a while to learn Louis’ language. When he is understood, communication is a pleasure. In the hospital now, where he is not heard, he resorts to shouting or protest. Developing a centre of excellence for Louis and his house-mates, will contribute to a sea-change that is going on all around in social care in Scotland for the better. As Bishop Ian says of work inspired by the Holy Spirit, ‘Find out what’s going on and join in!’

In December 2019 we held our first Appletree Christmas party, where over forty people joined us, friends, neighbours. We sang carols, prayed, enacted the journey to Bethlehem in search of the star. We met our second resident, Ewan, who came along with his family. He felt so at home, he went off for a sleep. A guest, Laura, who played the part of Mary, has become one of our Patrons.

A year after lockdown, there is much to be thankful for: building adaptations progress; a core Scottish Autism staff team is getting to know Louis and Ewan. Relationships with wider society grow, we are supported through prayer, newspaper coverage, donations, invitations to speak. We participate in arts groups and United Nations young people’s groups. We have academic links with the School of Christianity and Autism at the University of Aberdeen, policy links to Scottish Government. PAMIS (Promoting a More Inclusive Society), a charity for people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities advocates for us.

We are supported and blessed by Bishop Ian, who sees us like a new way of being church, a diaconal movement, with Benedictine roots, where ‘to work is to pray’. We are prayed for by local churches. We move, with wider society, into an unknown future, one step at a time, listening, giving thanks, trusting God, holding to values of justice, equality, joy and love. It’s magic!

On this Valentine’s Day, you are invited to listen to Mary singing ‘Love is the touch of intangible joy’ by Alison M. Robertson.

Love is the touch of intangible joy;
love is the force that no fear can destroy;
love is the goodness we gladly applaud:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Love is the lilt in a lingering voice;
love is the hope that can make us rejoice;
love is the cure for the frightened and flawed:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Love is the light in the tunnel of pain;
love is the will to be whole once again;
love is the trust of a friend on the road:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Love is the Maker, and Spirit, and Son;
love is the kingdom their will has begun;
love is the pathway the saints all have trod:
God is where love is, for love is of God.

Here is an opportunity to pray with the words of St Paul’s famous chapter on Love before we bring to mind all those who need our prayers today.

Loving God,
Help us to be patient; help us to be kind; help us not to be envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Help us not to insist on our own way, not to be irritable or resentful. Help us not to rejoice in wrongdoing, but to rejoice in the truth. Help us to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.

Let us pray for all who are lacking in love,
for those who don’t receive the love they need,
for those who cannot show love to others.

Shine your love upon us, Lord,
so that we might reflect it out into the world.

Help us to live out your life in our actions,
especially towards those we find hard to love.

We bring before you all those in positions of authority and influence …

We pray for those who are sick in body or mind, bereaved or lonely …

We pray for the church all over the world and especially for the Appletree Community.

May love be the force that drives us and the power that binds us,
we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

More of Kate’s story …

Louis enjoying a winter’s walk. Louis is currently detained in a locked hospital unit because there is nowhere else for him in Scotland. He was recently pinned down and injected, because, even after two years, there isn’t sufficient understanding of his language to take a gentle approach. He is traumatised by such incidents. Louis has the understanding of an 18-month old.

Louis’ friend, David, photographer and artist, my godson. For eight years, Louis and David enjoyed communion services together, adapted for additional needs, called ’Comrie Special Friends’. David co-led worship at the last national Lay Reader conference 2014, with Bishop Bob Gilles and was a guest worship-leader at TISEC. We shall start ‘Appletree Special Friends’.

The bedroom wing undergoing total remodelling, with soundproofing and new walls, creating two ensuite bedrooms, one wheelchair accessible, with ensuite carers’ bedroom

A local estate gifted us five huge boulders that will stand in the courtyard, their solid weight a reminder of time, of matter. Their grouping will express how we are all dependent on each other and on forces greater than ourselves. To me they seem to say, ‘Yes we can!”

Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

Today, writes the Ven. Peter M Potter, we begin St Mark’s account of Jesus’ public ministry. He starts by telling us that it is a gospel, that is, good news. So let us begin by listening to David playing the tune of “We have a gospel to proclaim” and you can follow with the words here:

We have a gospel to proclaim
Good news for all throughout the earth;
The gospel of a Saviour’s name:
We sing His glory, tell His worth.

Tell of His birth at Bethlehem,
Not in a royal house or hall
But in a stable dark and dim:
The Word made flesh, a light for all.

Tell of His death at Calvary,
Hated by those He came to save;
In lonely suffering on the cross
For all He loved, His life He gave.

Tell of that glorious Easter morn:
Empty the tomb, for He was free.
He broke the power of death and hell
That we might share His victory.

Tell of His reign at God’s right hand,
By all creation glorified;
He sends His Spirit on His Church
To live for Him, the Lamb who died.

Now we rejoice to name Him King:
Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
This gospel message we proclaim:
We sing His glory, tell His worth.

The readings for today, the fifth Sunday of Epiphany, are Isaiah 40. 21-31, which proclaims God’s power and authority over all creation, and Mark 1.29-39, which portrays Jesus beginning his public ministry with acts of healing. They are read by Jill and Martin.

In spite of what you might imagine from television or the cinema, casting out demons is a very rare occurrence. It is also a highly specialised ministry, not to be undertaken lightly. In fact, only once in my ministry have I felt the need to consult a diocesan advisor. His advice was to try to persuade the person to get checked out by a psychiatrist to exclude all other explanations. Unfortunately, I was not able to do so and, from what I hear, the person’s behaviour is unchanged.
In New Testament times people did not have the benefit of microbiology or psychoanalysis to explain the causes of physical or mental illnesses. They were regarded as the work of demons, that is, minions of Satan. Jesus’ earthly ministry begins with a series of exorcisms performed, not to establish for himself a reputation as another wandering miracle worker (of whom there were quite a few at that time), but to show that his teaching and actions are done with authority because he is the Holy One of God. The fact that he is able to cast out demons shows that God’s good news is more powerful than Satan’s negative, destructive forces.

In today’s reading we also hear an account of a physical healing. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, who had had a fever. The wording here is the same as a description of an exorcism. What is interesting though is that, after she had been healed, she got up “and served them”. Presumably she fed them a meal, like any good Jewish mother. In other words, she is restored to her rightful place in the family, just as later in the Gospel lepers, the disabled, those possessed (mentally ill?) And various sinners are restored to the community. Jesus’ mission is to break down the barriers created by Satan, whether through illness or sin.

So, what has all this to do with us, as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic which is having a devastating effect on people’s physical and mental health? We have identified the cause as a virus, not a demon, and people are looking to a vaccine not exorcism for the cure. We could answer that our God-given intelligence has given us the ability to find effective cures for all sorts of illness and we rightly thank him for that.

But we can also say that Christians believe there is a distinction between to cure and to heal. The latter is much more wide-ranging. As we have seen, it includes the element of restoration and the breaking down of barriers. One such barrier is the stigma associated with mental illness. I have certainly known a number of people in various congregations who are disturbed or just strange. Obviously in some instances medical help is needed but quite often the informal care and patience they find among church members can create a sense of security and stability for them. At times it is not easy but it can be an opportunity to show that we are willing to go the extra mile.

Healing also includes a sense of peace, or shalom to use the Hebrew word. When there is no physical cure, or even when the condition is terminal, there can still be healing. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, and it comes through prayer and the loving care in words and deeds that dispels fear, isolation and loss.

To minister to others in this way is not a highly specialised calling but it does advance God’s kingdom and break down barriers.

INTERCESSIONS
These intercessions are based on prayers in The Pattern of Our Days, by the Iona Community.

Let us come to God in our need, and bringing with us the needs of the world.
Lord, we come to you with our faith and with our doubts, with our hopes and with our fears, and we come in confidence because you have promised never to turn us away.
We pray for people we do not know but are among the numbers relayed in the news day by day, people whose names only you, their families and friends know, and whose lives you cherish …..
We pray for the people whose lives and names we do know, who are in pain, distress or trouble, those who are happy, those who are sad ….

Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.

We pray for those who do not love themselves,
who are assailed by turmoil within themselves,
who make themselves ill with self-loathing or bitterness,
who feel themselves devalued and unloved.
Restore them and help them to live with themselves.
And we pray for ourselves, for the times when “them” includes “us”.

Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.

For your strength that fills us, your love that heals us,
and for your hand that leads us into tomorrow, we thank you O Lord.

We make these prayers in the power of the Holy Spirit and offer them, together with those of all the saints, to you, Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Video Reflection for Candlemas

‘Living and dying, striving for holiness and justice, accepting forgiveness and affirmation, living with the questions and the mystery, trusting in the glory and light of resurrection – these are the elements of life and loving that dance and burn in the candles of Candlemas. And these are the candles that are offered to us so that, lit by God’s bright fire, we may be light and warmth for God’s world.’ (Ruth Burgess)

This week, Jeanette reflects on the feast that marks the first day of Spring. Many thanks to Morag Hamilton and Rob Smallman for taking part, to Moira Langston and her sister for the music and to David Jamieson for putting the video together.

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday after Epiphany

The Lord called the disciples to be fishers of men.
He calls us to follow him, to trust in, rely on and have confidence in him.
Come, let us cast our nets into his waters and offer ourselves in worship.

Our readings today are 1 Corinthians 7.29-31read by Margaret and Mark 1.14-20 read by Les.

You are invited to listen to David playing the tune Kelvingrove as you follow the words of John Bell’s hymn ‘The Summons’ or to sing along.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown?
Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you, and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare,
should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded man see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean,
and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you, and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell that fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you, and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go,
where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you, and you in me.

Revd Moira Jamieson writes:

Whenever I sing the words of this hymn, it reminds me of my commitment to be a follower of Christ at my confirmation many, many years ago. It also reminds me of the promises I made at my ordination in 2008. The call to discipleship is what our Gospel passage this morning, reminds us of. When Jesus called his first disciples, he wasn’t just inviting them to come and follow him, but to learn from and be taught by him. The story is basically a fishing story. It’s a fishing story about Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. Simon Peter, as you know, was a fisherman by trade. He fished on the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful big lake, thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. A lake which Sandy and I sailed on three years ago after eating some Tilapia fish (or Peter’s fish). The men who fished on the lake weren’t fishing as sport, they were fishing for their livelihoods.

The passages preceding our text today speak of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Now he has emerged and is ready to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He sees the fishermen Simon and Andrew and he calls to them. They immediately drop their nets and follow Jesus, as do James and John who are further down the shoreline. Amazingly none of these four men ask any questions. They don’t enquire about pay, fringe benefits, time off for holidays or even what position they might have in this Kingdom of God – although we know that they eventually got round to that last question! They don’t ask who Jesus is, what he is about, or where he is going. This makes me wonder if they had heard stories of Jesus from others. Had they perhaps witnessed his baptism by John, and had they, maybe, heard him preach some days before he arrived in their fishing village, sensing something ‘different’ about this man?

If we look at John 1.41-42, we find that Andrew did in fact know about Jesus as he was a follower of John the Baptist. When he heard John speak about Jesus. he then went and spoke to his brother Simon and told him, “we have found the Messiah.” Whatever the answers are to these questions, Christians today know what it is to be called by God. You or I wouldn’t be members of St. Mary’s today if we didn’t feel that call from God, through the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus and his teachings. The Holy Spirit stirs up within us the need to be in God’s house, to hear his holy scriptures and to sing praises to him. However, as we have experienced during this Covid pandemic, we don’t need to be in a church building to experience God’s presence with us and to connect with him in worship. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit makes us restless, makes us uncomfortable, and especially at this time of year as we move towards Lent, it makes us look back at our past actions to see if there is anything we need to change. The Holy Spirit can also be reassuring and can bring us peace and calm, soothing our souls in times of trouble. I hope that this has been evident for you during the times of lockdown and all the restrictions we have had to follow.

There is a popular belief that to be a disciple of Jesus is to simply follow him. However, the true meaning of the word ‘disciple’ is in fact someone who learns. The twelve disciples of Jesus who were his close companions were always getting the wrong end of the stick and were often accused of not understanding the things that Jesus was trying to teach them, especially in the parables. They were being called to be fishers of people and not fish, and they probably didn’t know just how hard it would be. Many times they would be shunned and persecuted for spreading the good news of the gospel, many times they would struggle to make their voices heard, and many times they would have to rely on the hospitality of strangers to sustain them. In our gospel passage this morning, Jesus said, ‘Follow me, I will make you fish for people.’ Jesus taught Simon Peter and his followers how to ‘fish for people,’ they had to learn a new skill, a new talent, a new ability. If there is one thing that’s true about a good fisherman, it’s that he has to be taught by other skilled fishermen. If we are to be true followers of Jesus, we too must learn what it means to be a fisher of people. What does that mean for us? What are some of the characteristics of becoming good fishers of people? Well, I believe that we must have the right attitude in order to show people that we are living out the gospel in our lives. We need to show people that we are filled with God’s love and that we want to show that love to them and to others. We should try to be encouraging, without being pushy, and we need to be ready to share our faith whenever an opportunity comes along. If people can see that we have God in our lives, we are well on the way to being good fishers of people. We should also take stock of how we are living our lives and be ready to repent if things aren’t This coming season Lent, don’t worry too much about what you can give up, instead let’s all try to be learning disciples, finding time to read our Bibles and learning more about how we too can be good fishers of people.

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, clothe us with the armour of faith as we trust in you for our every need. Help us to be good stewards of your wonderful creation, always mindful of the impact our lifestyle choices make on the lives of others. As we seek to serve you in our communities, strengthen our faith and give us ears to hear your call to us. Whatever you have given us to do in this world, enable us to do it with firm resolve and joyful obedience, so that our lives and the lives our others are enriched by it.

Lord, we are aware of the suffering that is going on in our world just now. The lives of many are on hold until they receive the Covid vaccine. We pray for those who are struggling with mental health issues, those who are fearful for loved ones in hospital and those whose routine hospital appointments are being cancelled and treatments delayed. Give us strength and courage Lord as we face new challenges each day and help us to put our trust in you. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In a world where there is much inequality, help us to count our blessings as we hear of others who are struggling to feed their families and to be generous with what we can do and what we can give to help others. We thank you for food banks and for local charities who are reaching out to families in need, but we pray that world leaders and those in our own governments would do more to promote equality in all areas of life to help eradicate poverty and homelessness. Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

Lord, bless and protect all who are working in healthcare in hospitals and in the community and all essential workers who are in contact with the public each day. Help us to obey the guidelines we are given so that we might help to protect others. We thank you for our times of good health and bring before you now those who are ill at this time either at home or in hospital, and those who are grieving. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank you for the church and for our faith during the times of restrictions. Bless our Primus Mark, our Bishop Ian and Nerys, Peter and Jeanette. Lord, bless your Church throughout the world and protect those who are persecuted for their faith. May we all seek to spread the Good News of your Kingdom with those we meet. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Finally Lord, we pray for ourselves and our families. May we always trust in you as we travel along on our journey of faith together as your disciples. Bless us this week and keep us safe. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.