Materials for Worship at Home on the Third Sunday of Lent

Nerys writes: Imagine a banqueting table laden with dozens of platters of beautifully presented food. I wonder what your favourite dish might be? There it is! What about a pudding you love? It is there also! And to wash down your meal, the best drink is right there before you. Imagine sitting down at this table. Don’t be nervous! Maybe you are wondering how much this feast is going to cost you. How will you manage the bill? You notice something that looks like a menu but when you open it, instead of a list of prices, you find an invitation: ‘Come, eat, drink and enjoy, at no cost. I delight to give you the best. Don’t concern yourself with how to pay for it. What is important is that you come to me.’

This is the invitation brought by Isaiah to the people of Israel in exile in our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah 55.1-9 — an invitation to share in God’s generous feast at no cost. Isaiah calls on everyone who thirsts to come near to God, to listen carefully to God’s life-giving words. Although we don’t deserve it and can’t pay for it, God has mercy upon us, abundantly pardoning us, lavishing us with forgiveness. God gives us a second chance like the gardener who digs around the barren fig tree, in our Gospel passage, Luke 13.1-9, surrounding it with the best manure to encourage it to grow and bear fruit.

Many of us have experienced difficulties in our lives, especially in the last few years. We may ask ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ We may struggle with experiences of suffering and loss. We may be fearful or anxious or looking for someone or something to blame. We may be finding it hard to make sense of God’s love. But Jesus in today’s Gospel says that bad things and accidents just happen. We’ve done nothing to deserve them but we’ve done nothing to deserve the blessings we enjoy either – the free lunches God provides for us. What’s important is the way we react to the good and the bad things that come to us in life, referred to in Buddhist teaching as the second arrow.

I’ve been blessed in my ministry to work with people from many different denominations and traditions, and through them I’ve learnt to appreciate and enjoy a wide range of sacred music. Some of these songs have stayed with me over the years growing in significance for me as life experiences, good and bad, have taught me more about God’s ways. One of these songs is called ‘Blessed be your Name’.  It was written by the English worship leaders Matt and Beth Redman during a visit to churches in the United States as they were coming to terms with 9/11. Since then it has been used by churches and individuals around the world as a response to all kinds of tragedies. Its message is simple but challenging: it calls on us to trust God and to respond to him with praise whatever the season. Whether we are in the land that is plentiful or in the desert place, when the sun is shining down us or we’re on the road marked with suffering, we choose to bless the name of God.

Every blessing you pour out
I’ll turn back to praise.
when the darkness closes in, Lord,
still I will say,
‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be Your name’.

The mystery of human suffering continues to defy explanation. The only conclusion Isaiah in today’s reading can offer is the rather enigmatic words of God: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways’. Like Luke’s Jesus, Isaiah urges his people to return to the Lord and make the most of the new life that God is offering them. Let us do the same.

You may wish to explore Sieger Koder’s painting ‘Bread for the world’ before reading prayers from an Iona Community liturgy for our time which will be used at Night Church this Sunday.

Loving God,
because you have the whole world in your hands, cradle gently those who are rocked by fear, shocked to a depth they have never known and frightened to face tomorrow.

On the people of Ukraine: their children, their old people, their vulnerable adults, their babies soon to be born, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Ukraine: their defenders, their advocates, those who care for the wounded, who sit with the despairing, who witness and report on the savagery and destruction, who bury the dead. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Ukraine: their leaders that they may continue to inspire,
in word and by example, and continue to receive help and solidarity from across the world. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Russia, that they might learn the truth kept from their hearing; on the churches in Russia that they might find the vocabulary and courage to speak truth to power; on the soldiers of Russia who do not believe in the carnage they cause. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the Russian president, and those who affirm his policies, we ask the judgement of heaven, a radical conversion and an end to their lies, scheming and murder. Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

And for our own nation, we ask for commitment to match conviction so that the pain of the Ukrainian nation be shared by us, their weary people sheltered by us, their peace assured by us. Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.


© 2022 WGRG, Iona Community