7th Sunday of Easter 2020 (with audio and video)

7th Sunday of Easter 2020 (with audio and video)

Picture:  The Ascension of Christ, on an added leaf in the Galba Psalter, Reims (France), 1st quarter of the 9th century (additions England, 1st half of the 10th century):

Audio service

Our worship together is in the name of the + Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you:

              and also with you.

Hymn:  All hail the power of Jesus’ name https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgQ9ER-fdWQ

Let us pray

              Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:  cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Confession:

              Christ has gone up on high, leading captivity captive and bringing gifts to us.  As we prepare ourselves to meet him here in the courts of heaven, let us call to mind our many failures and sins.

              Most merciful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us to amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be; that we may do justly, love mercy,
and walk humbly with you, our God. Amen.

              Almighty God, who forgives all who truly repent,
have mercy upon you, +pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

.

              Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his 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.

Let us pray

              O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son, Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Acts 1: 6-14

Then the disciples gathered around Jesus and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

This is the Word of the Lord 

Thanks be to God

1 Peter 4: 12-14; 5: 6-11

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

This is the Word of the Lord 

Thanks be to God

Hymn   Be still, for the presence of the Lord  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5S_-zhHfDA

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 

Glory to you, O Lord.

John 17: 1-11

Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.  “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

 Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon from Richard Austen

Sermon

Today’s Gospel is a plea from Jesus to God himself on our behalf, demonstrating yet again his care for his people.  But today I want to focus more on the Epistle. Peter is talking about the sufferings Christians will undergo for the sake of Jesus and, it has to be said, that a lot of what he says could be interpreted for the sufferings people are going though in a different form at present. “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you”; “Your brothers and sisters throughout the World are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” and, almost echoing the Government, “Keep – or stay – alert”!

While researching this sermon I came across some words from Malcolm Muggeridge, the journalist and broadcaster who died in 1990. Some of us may remember him and recall that he was a man who changed from being a Communist and agnostic to being an enthusiastic advocate for Christ. In an interview towards the end of his life Muggeridge said: “As an old man, looking back on one’s life, it’s one of the things that strikes me most forcibly – that the only thing that’s taught me anything is suffering. Not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about is suffering”.   He was probably right about that.  Do we learn very much about the important things in life from good health, happy days, money in the bank, and good fortune. We enjoy and value those things, but maybe we don’t learn so much from them. It seems that we all have to encounter some form of hardship or misery to learn the lessons God has for us.

This is a theme that runs through 1 Peter. Suffering is inevitable and we have lessons to be learned from it. Peter urges us to respond to suffering in a godly fashion.  There are perhaps four things we can learn from this today: 

Firstly, hard times develop our character

Discipleship is tough.  Suffering is part of the Christian life, even painful suffering.  Believers in some other parts of the world understand this better than we do. I have referred before to Release International, which campaigns for persecuted Christians throughout the World. It was founded fifty years or more ago as the Christian Mission to the Communist World, by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Pastor who spent many years in prison because of his faith.  As the scope of this organisation widened to support Christians in many different countries, from Pakistan to Iran, India to Nigeria and many others, the name was changed. But the theme was the same – supporting those who were suffering for their faith in Jesus.  It would be true to say that living for Christ is the best life you can have, but an integral part of it is suffering in one form or another. However, most of us probably don’t think that way. We are surprised when trials come, how they come, and where they come from. We think we do not deserve them. But when they do happen, we probably emerge from them as stronger, better and more understanding individuals.

Secondly, hard times bring us closer to God.

By suffering for his name’s sake, we participate in Jesus’s own sufferings and become closer to him and are blessed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Many in the World do not love him, in fact some actively hate him, which is why Christians are persecuted and martyred today and have been since the beginnings of our faith. So, when we suffer for him, we find blessing. Our sufferings join us with Jesus in a way that nothing else can.  Peter wants us to understand that nothing moves us closer to Christ than when we go through hard times. It’s not that suffering in and of itself brings us to Christ; it’s what suffering does to us and in us. When we are at rock bottom, that is when we cry out to God for help. Many of us can identify with that well-known story about the footprints in the sand. At first there were two sets of footprints—ours and the Lord’s. Then there was only one set. And when we asked God why he left us alone when we needed him most, he replied, “When you saw only one set of footprints was when I carried you.”   God intends that our hard times should move us from where we are to where Christ is.

Thirdly, suffering should lead to self-examination.

We need to look at ourselves seriously. Are we living our lives as Christ would have us do? Are we proud of being a Christian? There are plenty of people out there who will make fun of us for being Christians and are we a little inclined to hide our faith for fear of mockery or rejection or being thought a little weird? Are we trying to avoid the suffering of being a Christian for fear of the reaction of others? Peter’s answer to that is clear: “Do not be ashamed.” Peter had known shame himself on the night before the crucifixion, when he denied Christ three times. He was ashamed of that and he was keen that other Christians should not go through such shame, but instead that they should be proud and confident in the name of Jesus.

Fourthly, suffering can teach us to trust God in new ways.

Suffering can make you stronger. That perhaps is a different experience for different people, but whatever else, it will certainly make you more experienced and perhaps more understanding of the problems of others. And sometimes it can make us realise that we cannot handle everything on our own. Instead of trying to work out how to solve our own problems, we need to trust in God, to cast all our anxiety on him, because he cares for us. What a wonderful instruction and relief.

So to summarise: We are loved by God; Suffering for Christ brings us closer to him; We must never be ashamed of Jesus; God uses suffering to strengthen us; We must commit our lives to God and continue to serve him.  Never be surprised by hard times. Never be ashamed of Jesus and never fail to put your trust in God, who uses suffering to help us grow and make us better Christians. Hallelujah!

In resurrectione tua from Taizé https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7eh2w-pOp8u8nf7afQbNgQ

Prayers – with thanks to Veronica Willoughby

Teach us Good Lord to serve thee as thou deservest:  To give and not to count the cost;  To fight and not to heed the wounds;  To toil and not to seek for rest;  To labour and not to ask for any reward save the joy of knowing that we do thy will.  Amen

Dear Lord, we miss seeing our friends from church and the loss of the routine of church services particularly over Easter had a profound effect on all of us.  We are so grateful to Peter Hart and the Parish Office for arranging services on Zoom so that we can see and hear how our friends are keeping under lockdown.  We pray for good health for everyone wherever they live and in every parish in London, especially this borough of Richmond.  

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

We are all extremely grateful to the NHS for excellent care all our lives and now with all the hard work over the Corona virus they have truly excelled and deserve all the new clinics and hospitals which we hope they will get thanks to the money raised by Sir Tom and many others.  We pray that very soon there will be no more deaths of both patients and staff from the virus.    Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

Dear Lord we pray for all our schools which have had to close at this time and that the boys and girls are enjoying time at home with school work coming in on-line in the morning and playtime in the afternoon.  We pray for all the teachers especially Mary Noyes, Jane Corpetti and Diana Ormond and all others known to us who are longing to come back and start the next lessons.   Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

We pray for all those people who are very ill with other physical and mental issues and need the constant care of doctors and nurses in hospital as well as in the home with families and carers, keep them close in your loving arms O Lord and give them all the strength they need to face the future.  We think especially of: Alan Hay, Julia Holboro, Annie Kunz, Luci Mitchell-Fry, Joan Pritchard, Johanna Procter,  Kevin Willoughby, Max Weston 

Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

We pray for those who alas are no longer with us but live with you in heaven.  Mary Smith, John Axell, Joy Dyer, Revd Peter Holmes, Pattie Johnson, Norma Williams, Rex Thorne May they rest in peace and rise in glory.   We also remember with sadness and joy Nigel Blake, as the anniversary of his death falls this Wednesday. Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer

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

The Peace

God has made us one in Christ. He has set his seal upon us and, as a pledge of what is to come, has given us the Spirit to dwell in our hearts.  Alleluia. 

The peace of the Lord be always with you: and also with you.

              Be present, be present, Lord Jesus Christ, Our risen high priest;

Make yourself known in the breaking of bread

Hymn:  Alleluia, sing to Jesus  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmz-W733sz4

              The Lord be with you

              and also with you.

              Lift up your hearts.

              We lift them to the Lord.

              Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

              It is right to give thanks and praise.

              It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, always and everywhere to give you thanks, almighty and eternal Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  For he is our great high priest who has entered once for all in to the heavenly sanctuary, evermore to pour upon your Church the grace and comfort of your Holy Spirit.  He is the one who has gone before us, who calls us to be united in prayer as were his disciples in the upper room while they awaited his promised gift, the life-giving Spirit of Pentecost.  Therefore all creation yearns with eager longing as angels and archangels sing the endless hymn of praise. 

              Holy, holy, holy Lord,
              God of power and might,
              heaven and earth are full of your glory.
              Hosanna in the highest.
             
+Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
              Hosanna in the highest.

              As our Saviour taught us, so we pray

              Our Father, who art in heaven,

              hallowed be thy name;

              thy kingdom come;

              thy will be done;

              on earth as it is in heaven.

              Give us this day our daily bread.

              And forgive us our trespasses,

              as we forgive those who trespass against us.

              And lead us not into temptation;

              But deliver us from evil.

              For thine is the kingdom,

              the power and the glory,

              for ever and ever.      

              Amen.

May the Spirit, who hovered over the waters when the world was created, breathe into you the life he gives.  Amen.

May the Spirit, who overshadowed Mary when the eternal Son came among us, make you joyful in the service of the Lord.    Amen.

May the Spirit, who set the Church on fire upon the day of Pentecost, bring the world alive with the love of the risen Christ.   Amen.

And the blessing of God almight, the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you and those you love, today and always.   Amen.

Hymn: Crown him with many crowns https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kPkjghup8E

Praise him on the trumpet  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBQTBS_C-bE

An Order for Night Prayer (Compline) Ascension Day 2020

An Order for Night Prayer (Compline) Ascension Day 2020

Parishes of St Philips and All Saints Kew with St Luke’s Kew

Where all God’s children are Welcome

An Order for Night Prayer (Compline)

Ascension Day 2020

Audio

The ancient office of Compline derives its name from a Latin word meaning ‘completion’ (completorium). It is above all a service of quietness and reflection before rest at the end of the day. It is most effective when the ending is indeed an ending, without additions, conversation or noise. If there is an address, or business to be done, it should come first. If the service is in church, those present depart in silence; if at home, they go quietly to bed.

Preparation

The Lord almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.

Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

A period of silence for reflection on the past day may follow.

We confess to God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,
through our own grievous fault.
Wherefore we pray God to have mercy upon us.

Almighty God, have mercy upon us,
forgive us all our sins and deliver us from all evil,
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness,
and bring us to life everlasting;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever. Amen.

Psalm 110

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
    “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
    and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
    and so he will lift his head high.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever. Amen.

Scripture Reading

Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, seeking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in the faith. 1 Peter 5.8,9

Hebrews 7: 23-end  

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Reflection for Thursday 21 May 2020

Today is Ascension Day, the day that Jesus ascended into heaven at the very end of his physical time on earth. This was clearly a traumatic time for the disciples. They had felt very much alone when Jesus had died at the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities, but then he had risen from the dead and they had welcomed him back. But now he was well and truly gone, at least from their sight. Can you imagine the consternation, the confusion, the astonishment of that day?

Jesus knew who he was dealing with and we saw him preparing his disciples in the Gospel reading last Sunday from St John. Jesus talks about God giving them the Holy Spirit. In more modern versions the term “Advocate” or “Helper” is used, giving perhaps a clearer translation of the original meaning than the King James Version, which talks about a “Comforter”. When it came at Pentecost a few days later, the Holy Spirit was indeed a comfort to the early disciples, as it is today to all Christians. But I do not think it was meant in the terms of making people feel warm and cosy as such. In the Oxford English dictionary “comfort” has several meanings. The obvious ones of consolation and relief from affliction, but it also refers back to the Latin: “com” meaning having and “fortis” meaning strength. Advocate and Helper are quite clearly of assistance, comforter in this context means something that will support and strengthen them. The comforter was not a blanket, it was to enable them to take up a challenge! The baton of spreading Christianity had been passed to them, but they were not alone and they were told to expect this amazing assistance.

We all need support and strength; we all need comfort. At this time especially. Although the restrictions have been finessed a little, there are still many people confined to their own homes and worried about the possibility of contracting the virus. And many are worried about jobs or their children’s education and how the future will look. I am sure that many of us have been feeling a bit down recently – just show me someone who hasn’t! But prayer works and when I feel glum, a few minutes on my knees asking for help and strength does wonders for me. We have to keep faith and while we of course worry, it is fantastic to know that God understands our worries and will give us strength to carry on.

The most famous hymn for use at Ascensiontide is the magnificent “The Head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now”. But I want to go back a bit further to the perhaps less well known “O Christ, our joy, to whom is given”, which has its origins in the fifth century. The fourth verse is really quite wonderful:

Be thou our joy and strong defence, 

Who art our future recompense:                                                                                                                               

So shall the light that springs from thee  

Be ours through all eternity.

Richard Austen

Responsory

Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.


For thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, thou God of truth.
I commend my spirit.


Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

Keep me as the apple of your eye.
Hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Gospel Canticle

The Nunc dimittis (The Song of Simeon) is said

1         Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace: according to thy word.

2        For mine eyes have seen: thy salvation;

3        Which thou hast prepared: before the face of all people;

4        To be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.  Luke 2.29-32

Glory to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be
: world without end. Amen.

Prayers & Lord’s Prayer

Remember in your prayers:

  • Our families, friends and neighbours, colleagues and companions
  • Those who are bringing health and healing to the suffering
  • Those who are particularly vulnerable and frightened
  • Those preparing to re-open schools and nurseries
  • Those planning for the next stages in dealing with this Covid 19 crisis
  • Our Church family

Our Father, who art in heaven,

              hallowed be thy name;

              thy kingdom come;

              thy will be done;

              on earth as it is in heaven.

              Give us this day our daily bread.

              And forgive us our trespasses,

              as we forgive those who trespass against us.

              And lead us not into temptation;

              But deliver us from evil.

              For thine is the kingdom,

              the power and the glory,

              for ever and ever.      

              Amen.

The Collect

Visit this place, O Lord, we pray,
and drive far from it the snares of the enemy;
may your holy angels dwell with us and guard us in peace,
and may your blessing be always upon us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Conclusion

In peace we will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.

Abide with us, Lord Jesus,
for the night is at hand and the day is now past.

As the night watch looks for the morning,
so do we look for you, O Christ.

The Lord bless us and watch over us;
the Lord make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us;
the Lord look kindly on us and give us peace.
Amen.

Copyright acknowledgment (where not already indicated above):

Some material included in this service is copyright: ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000

Nunc dimittis (Traditional) ©  The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Bible Study for the eighth week of the Covid 19 church building closure

Bible Study for the eighth week of the Covid 19 church building closure

Section 1:  Acts 1: 6-14

Prayer:  Open our hearts to the power of your Holy Spirit, loving God.  As we read and wait, may we see more clearly how you would have us live, worship and witness.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

Then the disciples gathered around Jesus and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Background

              This is the second time that Luke has written an account of the Ascension.  At the end of his Gospel, Luke describes how the risen Jesus appears to all the disciples once the travellers to Emmaus had returned to Jerusalem and told their story of how they had met Jesus.  The risen Jesus then explains everything to the disciples, they leave the city and Jesus ascends.  In this version, Luke provides the context of the last conversation that Jesus and his disciples have before his ascension – the establishment of the Kingdom of God.  The rest of the book of Acts will be the working out of Jesus’s response to the disciples’ enquiry.

Some questions

  • Why is the first question that the disciples ask of the risen Jesus about the restoration of the Kingdom?  What are they worried about?  Do they fear that crucifixion and resurrection have somehow changed Jesus’s agenda?  Are they still looking for a physical, political and military kingdom?
  • How polite is Jesus’s response?
  • What is the difference between “authority” and “power”?  God has authority to set dates and times, but the disciples will be given power.  How godlike are we, in God’s general scheme of things?
  • What is that “power” of which Jesus speaks?  Why does it not come immediately?
  • The disciples are given a very clear task – tell everybody about Jesus, starting close to home, then spreading out across the globe.  By the end of Acts, the gospel is being preached in Rome.  However, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be his “witnesses” – what does that mean? (Hint: when a new king/emperor was declared, heralds/witnesses were sent out around the country/empire with the news).  So, what is the difference between us as “witnesses” and royal heralds?
  • Does this command still hold true for us today?  If so, how do we go about it?
  • The disciples could speak from their experience.  They had lived with Jesus for 3 years, and had seen him arrested, knew that he had died, and had seen him alive again.  How much of our personal experience can we bring to bear on our outreach?
  • How helpful is the appearance of the two men in white robes?  What is really going on here?
  • When has a cloud, appearing and disappearing, played a significant role in the history and worship of Israel?  And in the story of Jesus? 
  • Part of a Roman emperor’s progression to immortality was his soul visibly rising to the heavens as he died.  What is Luke saying here about Jesus, given that he is alive when he ascends?
  • Is God really “up there”?  If not, where is God?
  • What is the real difference between heaven and earth?  If heaven is God’s realm, and earth where we currently live, can the two be the same place, given that Christ lived here on earth and the Holy Spirit is alive in us now?
  • How far is “a sabbath day’s journey”?  What is the narrative purpose of that detail?
  • How many people were gathered in that upper room?  Luke specifically mentions several other people in addition to the 11 disciples.  Why?
  • What emotions must Jesus’s mother have been experiencing at this point?
  • What were the contents of these people’s prayers as they stayed together in this upper room?  
  • The disciples were still scared, still apprehensive about the future, and effectively locked themselves away until Pentecost.  What has this to teach us about our current situation?
  • How are we able to be witnesses to the resurrection in this time of lockdown? 
  • What could/should we be doing differently when lockdown finally ceases?
  •   

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  God of our waiting, comfort us in our isolation and fill us with the hope of your good purposes, so that, as you released your Church into the world at Pentecost, we too may be sent forth with joy and your Holy Spirit to talk of all your love has done for us.  Amen.

Section 2: 1 Peter 4: 12-14; 5: 6-11

Prayer:  Loving God, open your word to us as we read, think and prepare to act on what you will teach us.  Give us open hearts and mind to receive your wisdom and challenge.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Background

              These are the closing remarks in the first general letter attributed to Peter, which was to be circulated amongst the churches in Northern Turkey.  The intensity of the persecution seems to be greater here than in earlier passages, so the encouragement to stand firm amidst the suffering is increased.

Some questions

  • “Fiery ordeal” sounds alarming.  Just how bad do you think this persecution really is for Christians in this part of the world, at this time?
  • Is it fair to regard every persecution as a test from God?  Is God somehow to blame for this?  Or is it actually the other way round – human cruelty devises evil against the people of God, and God teaches us through that experience?  If so, what is God teaching these people to whom the letter is addressed?
  • Can our current lockdown experience be compared in any way to the situation described in this text?  What is God teaching us, now?
  • The writer suggests that for Christians to experience persecution is a sharing in Christ’s suffering.  How can that work?  Does it make sense?  Can there be any similarities between human suffering at the hands of others and the ill treatment meted out to Christ?  If yes, do you know any examples?  If no, why not?  Was Christ’s suffering in any way different from any other unjustly treated human being?
  • When will Christ’s glory be revealed?  Has it already happened, or are we still waiting for a full revelation of his glory?  If so, what are we looking out for?
  • We are used to the idea of being blessed if we are persecuted – the writer is quoting from the Beatitudes, amongst other sources.  What does the writer mean by “the Spirit of glory and of God”?  Is this different from the Holy Spirit?  The capital letters have been supplied by modern-day translators: they do not exist in the ancient texts.
  • Does the notion of the “Spirit of glory” broaden your understanding of the Holy Spirit?  If so, how?
  • Why should we humble ourselves under God, during a time of persecution?  Surely it must be hard to be arrogant or assertive when we are suffering.  What exactly does the writer mean?
  • The promise that God will lift us up in due course has always been part of God’s dealings with humanity.  Christ repeats that in the Beatitudes, Mary sings about it in the Magnificat.  Have we ever experienced it?  Can we look forward to such a lifting up when our current restricted lifestyle reverts to some sort of normality?  If so, how will it feel or what will it look like?
  • “… the God of all grace …  will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” Do we yearn for this to come to fruition?  Is it realistic or just rhetoric to encourage a struggling church?
  • The last sentence might seem a little strange, “To him (ie. the God of all grace) be the power for ever and ever.”  Does not God have all power, eternally, anyway?  Why talk of power and God in this context?  Does this power differ from the power promised to the disciples in the above passage from Acts? If yes, how?  If no, just how great is the power of the Holy Spirit that has been released to us?
  • Does all this strike a particular chord during this current crisis?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  God of all power and authority, shield us with your mighty hand, sustain us with your loving presence, and lift us up to the heights of heaven in your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen

Section 3: John 17: 1 – 11

Prayer:  Loving God, as we read Christ’s prayer for his Church, open our hearts to your grace and wisdom, that we may learn of you, and grow in faith.  Amen.

Read the passage through twice:

Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.  I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 

Background

              John 17 is known as Christ’s high priestly prayer.  It is a summary of the evangelist’s Christology, sometimes in clear language, sometimes in a more convoluted style.  It presents various problems while also giving us much joy and clarity.  The context is still the upper room and the last supper, before Jesus takes his disciples off to the Garden of Gethsemane.  The whole chapter is worth reading from start to finish, but for our purposes this week, these 11 verses are more than enough!

Some questions

  • This prayer comes after 3 chapters of Jesus addressing all those present at the Last Supper.  He has talked about his Father’s house with many rooms, about himself as the true vine, and about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He finishes his teaching with this astonishing prayer.  Does it resemble any of our prayers?  Should it?
  • Which “hour” has come?  Is it the same one that Jesus says had not come when his mother asked him to do something about the lack of wine at the wedding at Cana?  If it is that same hour, how does Jesus know that this is that long-awaited moment?
  • Is it a good thing that the hour has come?  What might Jesus’s emotions be at this moment?
  • What does “glorify your Son” mean?  Why should God do that?  It makes sense for Jesus to glorify his Father, but how can it work the other way round? 
  • Jesus seems to suggest that God has to glorify Jesus before Jesus can glorify the Father.  How can this be?
  • What authority did Jesus have?  Are there examples of this authority in the Gospels?
  • To whom did Jesus give eternal life before this point?  Anybody?
  • “ … this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.  Does this work as a definition of eternal life?  Might our perception of eternal life have to change as a result of reading this?
  • Do we really know God and Jesus Christ?  Can we?  If we can, do we know him better now than when we first believed?
  • Jesus says that he has finished God’s work on earth, but this is not the end of the story: the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection are all to come.  Are they not part of “God’s work”?  If they are, what does Jesus mean here by “finished”?
  • From this point on, two worlds co-exist in Jesus’s words – the realm of God and the human sphere.  Jesus is occupying both, as the Father & the Spirit do, while speaking in the created realm.  Christ’s glory in God’s realm has never gone away, but it has been invisible in the human realm.  Will that glory every be fully revealed in this world?  Do the disciples see it?  Do we the readers see it?  If so, where, and how? And what does it look like?
  • Jesus makes some fairly extravagant claims about the disciples, that they know and understand everything that he has taught them – is this another theoretical/eternal timescale utterance, or is it actually true?
  • Jesus says that he is praying for the disciples, not for the world.  What does that mean?  Is Christ’s intercessory work limited to people who acknowledge him and know him?  In which case, are we included?
  • This concept of “the world” can have two meanings.  Jesus says that the disciples are in the world, and that he won’t be in the world for much longer, so that sounds like the physical, created world.  But when Jesus says he is not praying for the world, but for the disciples, he means something quite different.  What?  And what could be the consequences of that difference?
  • Is it comforting to know that the disciples (and therefore us, by extension) belong to God?
  • How on has glory come to Jesus from his disciples?  They consistently fail him, misunderstand him and in the coming hours, will both betray and deny him and abandon him in his hour of greatest need.  Or is Jesus talking about something else?  If so, what?
  • God’s name is powerful, the greatest source of truth and light in the world.  Jesus asks his Father to protect the disciples – and us, by extension – by the power of that name.  Do we feel protected to that extent?  The God of all creation protects us, according to Jesus.  Do we actually believe that?  If we do, how does it colour our behaviour?  If we don’t, why not?
  • “ … so that they may be one as we are one .. “  This is where this whole passage has been heading – the unity of God’s people, the unity of the Church.  It is potentially one of the most wonderful prayers ever uttered, and also the most despairing, that it has to be uttered at all.  Christian unity is a longed-for goal, from the very early days of the Church.  There is harsh realism in this prayer – that humanity is not capable of such unity without the direct intervention of God, and even then we will mess it up.   
  • Do we keep pressing for this unity?  Will it ever arrive?  If it does, what will it look like?  And how much are we involved in its realisation?
  • To what extent is this prayer actually a prayer?  How much of it is teaching for the Church?  Can such a prayer actually be prayed by a human being?
  • If this prayer was actually prayed at the last supper (in those days, everybody prayed out loud, wherever they were), how would the disciples have reacted to its content?
  • Is this prayer comforting/challenging/helpful?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  God of love, you glorified your Son in his life, death and resurrection, and share that glory with your Church.  Help us today to live as those who have been extraordinarily loved, that we may reflect your glory to everyone

Reflection for Tuesday 19th May 2020

Reflection for Tuesday 19th May 2020

“Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”

Yesterday was the first of three Rogation Days leading up to Ascension Day on Thursday.  Rogation Sunday is the day when the Church has traditionally offered prayer for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labours of those who produce our food.

The word “rogation” is from the Latin rogare, “to ask.”  Historically, the Rogation Days were a period of fasting and abstinence, asking for God’s blessing on the crops for a bountiful harvest.  Less of us today directly derive our livelihood from the production of food, yet it is good to be reminded of our dependence upon those who do and our responsibility for the environment.

One of my favourite programmes on a Sunday evening is Country File and over the last few Sundays individual presenters have been looking at how the present ‘lock down’ has effected the different areas they live in and on the whole the results have been very interesting.

If we are able to take any positives at all from this world Pandemic, it is that our wildlife and environment have in the main part enjoyed the lack of human footfall and interference.  Many may well find that this is NOT surprising!

The air quality in many cities and towns, worldwide, has seen a marked improvement with the lack of traffic, as have the skies overhead, with the marked decrease in air traffic.

Our wildlife has enjoyed a period of peace and quiet without the usual ‘people pollution’, and although our farmers have had various problems, especially overcoming a very wet autumn and winter, they are resilient people and with now an improvement in the weather, crops are being both sown and harvested.

Are there things that each and everyone of us should learn from this Pandemic?  Well, I expect there are quite a few things, if we are honest, that we should take to heart when we are able to look back on these times.

One I believe to be important, is how we treat this world that God gave us, how we truly value it and wish to pass it on to future generations.  Most of us in the British Isles are very fortunate to live in and be close to beautiful countryside of great variety, much of which supplies us with the food, and areas of recreation, for our wellbeing.  Let us all take a little bit more time to appreciate and be truly thankful for this God given gift.

I will, like my fellow Reader, Richard, finish with a well known verse from a Hymn!

We plough the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand;
he sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine
and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above,
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
for all his love.