Where is God in this Pandemic – Easter Triumph and Times of Trial

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Thursday was St George’s Day – the national saint’s day for the English. It was also Shakespeare’s Birthday and for me that is particularly special as a fellow son of Stratford. Shakespeare knew the pains of plague and pestilence. His son, Hamnet, died in 1596 at the age of 11. There was an outbreak of plague in Warwickshire, and while it is not known that this was the cause of this grief, he clearly knew what plague brought and its darkness enters his poetry and playwriting. Scholars cast oceans of ink on identifying who the various people in his sonnets were, but one might be his son and the subject of the outworking of his grief, as deep as can be. His Sonnet 33 contains these lines:

Even so my sun one early morn did shine

With all triumphant splendour on my brow;

But out! alack! he was but one hour mine,

The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.

Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;

Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun staineth.

The intensity of the imagery suggests a powerful loss with reference to heaven’s sun – which may be Jesus – and therefore his cross which staineth with his blood. Shakespeare would have known that passion and resurrection are linked. In the darkness there is light and we are at its mercy. Human beings are mortal, as in his wonderful song in Cymberline where fearing no more the heat of the sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

The pain and grief are real, and he doesn’t spare us with easy resolution or quick hope. His writing can hold the pain and us while we are going through it. The rawness has a place to be expressed. It is not a giant’s leap from Shakespeare and plague to where we find ourselves at the moment.

St George also turns out to have a connection with sickness and plague, and therefore what we are going through. There was an interesting item on the World at One on Radio 4, also on Thursday, about St George and the plague. During the Medieval period he was one of 14 Holy Helpers, invoked in times of plague and leprosy. St George doesn’t just slay fire-breathing dragons, as depicted in one of the windows in St John’s, but also the monster of disease which can terrify and torment us. In our time of adversity and anxiety, in the face of a new pestilence and virus, we look for a modern St George to come riding over the horizon to slay this contemporary dragon. St George today wears a scientist’s coat and his lance is a laboratory, researching an antidote and vaccine.

One of the questions we naturally ask when something as catastrophic as this virus strikes, is how does this sit with God’s world? Did God make it and if so why? This is one of the biggest questions and it is not new. The Psalm set for today spoke of the snares of death encompassing me, suffering distress and anguish, calling on the name of the Lord to save my life (Psalm 116:3-4). And in the second reading, there is a hope of being born anew, not of perishable, but imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:23). By implication we are mortal now, we perish and we long for a life which doesn’t.

This problem has a name in the study of theology, it is called theodicy. It is the problem of evil, of suffering, of mortality. And all we know is that we are fragile creatures, incredible as we are, and not immune to pain and suffering, to loss and grief, to our own frailty and temporary nature. What we are going through is part of how the world is. But so is the hope we have in Jesus Christ. And it manifests itself in surprising places. For the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), it did so in something so simple as the breaking of bread.

We see the hope of new life and glory within the pain, when heaven’s sun staineth. It is remarkable that in the darkness, and hope does not remove the depth of pain and passion, we find songs of praise at their most profound. Songs of anguish, as with the psalm, end in hymns of praise.

Easter comes not to a comfortable world where no evil or pain happens. Rather it comes precisely in the garden after a burial. It comes in hands bearing the marks of the nails breaking bread. It comes to those who can’t work it out, like Thomas in the upper room, rather than to those who have it all sorted. If you struggle with this, then it is to you that Easter comes because you know that the winter’s rages, the sun which lasts but an hour, the ravages of plague, are painful in the extreme. And we long in our anguish for salvation. And it comes. It comes in life which is imperishable and endures in ways this one doesn’t. This is a hope that goes beyond the confines of this life. And for that it can endure and cope with the worst the world can throw at it.

The light of Easter is that the world is not random or a mistake, but it is temporary – bound by time. It has a beginning and an end and so do we. As mortal, fragile creatures, like Shakespeare’s chimney-sweepers, we will come to dust. But that is not the end and the light of hope, the victory over dragons, is a hope to hold us and inspire us. We live now in its light with praise and thanksgiving. We live for the kingdom to come and in its light now – the light of Jesus Christ rising from the grave. We see that light reflected in the care, the compassion, the loving and sharing. Pain and suffering do not negate any of that, but they do hurt and we don’t understand why. We just have to trust that in and through this God has it, has us, and will not let go.

Shine on in hope and love, in goodness and truth, in praise and thanksgiving, because it is here that you will see the sun rise and its warmth fill your heart with joy and gladness; it is here that you will see the light and hope of Easter.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

Sermon for Easter 3, Live-streamed Sunday 26th April 2020

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Clapping for the NHS

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I’ve been trying to work out what the ‘Clapping for the NHS’ phenomenon tells us about where we find ourselves at this time of pandemic crisis. Some of it may be seem obvious but I sense that there is more to this than meets the eye. This is probably the socio-psychologist in me taking its daily exercise, so humour me.

Firstly and importantly it is a sign of massive appreciation and admiration for the staff who are caring in exceptional circumstances, putting themselves at great risk in the process. The comedian Russell Howard said in a trailer for his latest show that he is living apart from his wife, who is a doctor and is in their home with colleagues isolating as they continue to work thus protecting others from contagion. Personal sacrifices are legion. These key workers are saving lives, nursing the sick and caring for the dying with dignity. It is impressive by any standards and deserves recognition. Despite the great strains they are under their professionalism and dedication is rightly receiving high praise. 

Secondly I think it is a sign of how much the NHS matters to the people of this nation. Politicians mess with this at their peril. Remember next time there is a budget that it needs funding and we all rely on it, indeed we have a Prime Minister who owes his life to it. We’ll have that £350m now please.

Some of those joining in on streets with neighbours have spoken of the social connectedness it brings and they stand in solidarity briefly breaking cover and alleviating isolation. Just a few weeks in and the reduced, even lost, social contact is difficult to bear. We are social creatures and notice it acutely when it is taken away. This is an act of defiance: we will not be beaten by this and will not be cut off by it. The human spirit will find ways of breaking free to link up and show we are alive.

Fourthly I think this is a scary moment, the stuff of nightmares and horror films. There is a lot of anxiety around and making a noise is what the frightened child inside us does when it wants to scare away a monster. Deep down it is a primal response to something which is beyond our control. Inactivity in such circumstances enhances the feeling of powerlessness and so projects like this give the appearance of taking back a bit of control. We can’t change the virus but we can lift the mood and show our appreciation. It takes quite a prepared mind to stare this in the face and not blink.

In a more superstitious religious age there would have been an appeal to God or the gods to rescue and turn away the wrath visited on us. We can take away the superstitious faith, which in itself may be questionable as to whether it really has been abandoned, but the urge to bargain remains. Harvey Cox has written in ‘The market as God’ (Harvard 2016) about how the market has been deified, so we’re not as ‘irreligious’ or free from this as we might think. There is something in the human psyche that wants to place trust in a force we believe can bring good fortune rather than calamity. The NHS is such a totem. This makes the clapping also a cry of anxiety, for without a focus for faith there is nowhere else to place our hope and trust. And who can say they aren’t anxious at the moment? Those with a deep religious faith also know that it is more likely to be the skill of medical staff that will save them in this crisis because God gives the skill and inspires the compassion. As Mother Theresa used to pray, Christ has no hands but ours, or in this case yours.

Not joining in with the clapping on your doorstep on Thursdays at 8.00pm doesn’t mean that you care any less for the NHS or any other key workers. And as one health worker told me those who clap don’t necessarily remember the next day when those same workers are given priority at the supermarket and they have dirty looks shot at them. Will we remember when this is over that many careworkers and NHS workers come from overseas? Clapping must not deflect from confronting racism or the underfunding which leads to challenges being faced by the system. The NHS has been at full capacity and under significant strain before this pandemic struck for all the politicians lining up to post videos of themselves clapping.

There is one more deflection and it is facing our own mortality. Even those of us with long term conditions tend to concentrate on how we live with it rather than its reminder of mortal limitations. One day we all have to face our mortal nature, remembering that the bell tolls for all of us, but not just yet please! We clap for life.

In a crisis we revert to type. Activists will get active and go into overdrive. The more reflective will wonder and ponder and pause, possibly even go silent and process internally. It’s how we handle the challenge. Which we want to do will tell us more about ourselves than it will about how much we care. We know we need both responses. Things need to happen and in a crisis, as Gordon Brown pointed out in The Guardian this week, we need to act quickly, but there needs to be space for reflection too.

So we clap to show appreciation and admiration, to scare monsters and alleviate powerlessness, to show that this is where we place our trust and to deflect what we don’t want to face including mortality. It is one response but we also need the resilience to stare the monster in the face and look beyond it to a hope that transcends and can therefore hold us more securely.

The sacrificial and self-giving love, displayed by the key workers, is resonant with the heart of the Christian narrative. It is Christlike in its giving and loving, in its sacrifice, and a number have paid the ultimate price in contracting and dying from Covid-19. As this crisis displays passion and grief, so it also shows the signs of new life and hope. Friends and strangers gather to celebrate, to connect across the distancing in common cause of life. There are values and commitment which transcend and stand above other concerns. It is a tale of Easter hope and that shines in the darkness and that darkness is not able to overcome it.  

 

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Easter Day Eucharist: Live-streamed – Rainbow Fizz

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Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic all public worship across the Church of England has been suspended. Worship has therefore moved to online live-streaming. Below is the text of the simple service I live-streamed from Peterborough Parish Church on Sunday 22nd March 2020, for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

 

Sunday Worship – Live-streamed

A Eucharist for Easter Day

Sunday 12th April 2020

 

Good morning and welcome to another live-stream service from the centre of Peterborough. Today is Easter Day, the most important day of the Christian Year. Even though we are separated by distance we join together to celebrate the hope which comes into the darkest moments, Christ’s triumph over death, God’s presence wherever we find ourselves today.

If you have the order of service from the e-newsletter sent out on Thursday or from the links to our website and social media, this is the order of service that I am going to use. This is being live-streamed in the morning but will stay available afterwards and also be uploaded a bit later to our YouTube channel.

Usually on Easter Day we would be sprinkled with water from the font to remind us of our baptism and commitment to follow Christ. We can’t do that this year, but I have a plan, so you will need a bowl of water and, if you haven’t got that to hand, you might want to get that now.

This service is a Eucharist. It felt particularly important for it to be a Eucharist on Easter Day, the most important day of the Christian Year. That can feel a bit odd when we are not all able to share in the bread and the wine. There is a concept of Spiritual Communion, where we make the best of what we can. Here, the presence of the Sacrament is acknowledged and we recognise that we share in communion with Jesus Christ, who is always fully present to us.

We have an Easter Garden and next to it is a Paschal Candle, and we will begin as we do each year with the lighting of that candle. In her special Easter Day broadcast, the Queen has referred to the light of hope, the light that shines in the darkness, the light  that is always stronger than the darkness. For us this is the light of Christ and so we will be begin by lighting the Paschal Candle.

So, I invite you to be still for a moment as we focus our hearts and minds on the God whom we have come to worship.

 

The Lighting of the Easter Candle

 

We meet in the name of God:

+ Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father

and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

 

We gather this morning

to celebrate Christ’s glorious resurrection;

We gather to celebrate that he is the light of the world,

he has overcome the sting of death and brought us new life;

We gather to re-affirm our baptismal vows

to walk as children of light.

 

The Easter Candle is lit

 

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

All       He is risen indeed. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

 

The light of Christ.

All       Thanks be to God.

 

Risen Lord Jesus

as Mary Magdalene met you in the garden

on the morning of your resurrection,

so may we meet you today and every day:

speak to us as you spoke to her;

reveal yourself as the living Lord;

renew our hope and kindle our joy;

and send us to share the good news with others. Amen.

 

Prayers of Penitence

 

Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed for us.

Let us therefore rejoice by putting away all malice and evil

and confessing our sins with a sincere and true heart.

 

Silence may be kept

 

Like Mary at the empty tomb,

we fail to grasp the wonder of your presence.

Lord, have mercy.

All       Lord, have mercy.

 

Like the disciples behind locked doors,

we are afraid to be seen as your followers.

Christ, have mercy.

All       Christ, have mercy.

 

Like Thomas in the upper room,

we are slow to believe.

Lord, have mercy.

All       Lord, have mercy.

 

May the God of love and power

+ forgive you and free you from your sins,

heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,

and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The Collect for Easter Day

 

God of glory,

by the raising of your Son

you have broken the chains of death:

fill your Church with faith and hope;

for a new day has dawned

and the way to life stands open

in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

 

Readings

 

Throughout Lent we have explored the first creation story in the Book of Genesis, following themes in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, by Ruth Valerio, ‘Saying yes to life’. The final day (Day 7) is the Sabbath. And so we conclude this Lenten journey with the final passage.

 

Genesis 2:1-3

Psalm 18:1-2, 14-24 – Between the Readings

Acts 10:34-43

Gospel Reading: Matthew 28:1-10

 

Sermon

 

Throughout Lent we have been working our way through the first Creation story in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. This has been alongside many of us reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for this year, by Ruth Valerio ‘Saying Yes to Life’ (SPCK Publishing). As we have noted all along, the Creation story is not meant to be an account of what happened, but a poetic reflection and we have found many rich connections with the world, it’s purpose in God’s love and our responsibility as stewards of it; our environmental challenge.

Each week we have taken a different day, exploring its themes and deeper treasures. It has presented us with God as creator, bringing the world into being by his deliberate action and will, not random, but willed and wanted, made from and for love; light, land and sea, seeds and plants, stars and planets, sea creatures and winged birds; life emerging from the waters; the breath of life breathed into creatures including human beings with the job title to tend, to treasure and to transform. Each day bringing a deeper insight into the delicate balance, the interrelatedness of the earth in the vast and wonderful universe.

Today brings us to the final day, Day 7. This is the Sabbath Day, the day God is depicted as resting, delighting in what he has made. The Sabbath is actually Saturday, the end of the week, but since the first days of the Christian Church, Sunday has been kept as special because it is the day we remember Jesus rising from the dead. Each Sunday is a mini Easter Day, the day God has the last word over pain and suffering and death. It is the principle day of hope and at the moment we need to be renewed in that hope, in that faith, in that trust that no matter what, God has this and will not let go.

There is an encouragement for children to make and decorate rainbows as a sign of hope. I think the story of the rainbow in the Bible is the theme that runs through the whole bible. God’s love is so strong and powerful that it will never abandon us or let us go. Even if we stray a very long way, there is always a way back and God’s love is always before us.

We looked at the rainbow a little on Day 1, back at the beginning of Lent, when we looked at light. Light is the sign of God’s presence, bringing hope and joy, God’s purpose being fulfilled and sealed. As this is the origin, so it is the goal. Easter is the supreme sign and expression of this. It brings it to life – literally.

So, as a sign of this hope, this trust in God through whatever we face, I am going to make a fizzy drink to show this – I’ve called it Rainbow Fizz.

  • Orange juice
  • Fruit syrup – over back of a spoon, down side of glass to sink to bottom
  • Soda water with blue food colouring – over back of spoon to float on top

Rainbow fizz 🌈

Something to remind us to the light and hope, the sparkle of Easter, its joy and wonder.

Ian Black

 

The Re-affirmation of Baptismal Vows

 

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead,

we remember that through the paschal mystery

we have died and been buried with him in baptism.

 

In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.

 

Therefore, I invite you to say with me

All       I turn to Christ.

             I repent of my sins.

             I renounce evil.

 

Brothers and sisters, I ask you to profess the faith of the Church.

 

All       I believe in God, the Father almighty,

            creator of heaven and earth.

 

            I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

            who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

            born of the Virgin Mary,

            suffered under Pontius Pilate,

            was crucified, died, and was buried;

            he descended to the dead.

 

            On the third day he rose again;

            he ascended into heaven,

            he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

            and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

   I believe in the Holy Spirit,

            the holy catholic Church,

            the communion of saints,

            the forgiveness of sins,

  the resurrection of the body,

  and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

If you have a bowl of water in front of you,

you might want to dip your fingers in the water

and make the sign of the cross on your forehead

as a reminder of your own baptism,

or in preparation for it if yours or another’s baptism has been delayed

by the Coronavirus disruption.

 

God of grace and life,

in your love you have given us

a place among your people;

keep us faithful to our baptism,

and prepare us for that glorious day

when the whole creation will be made perfect

in your Son our Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Prayers of Intercession

The following response may be used

   Risen Lord

All       Fill our hearts with Easter joy.

 

And at the end

Merciful Father,

All       accept these prayers

  for the sake of your Son,

  our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

 

The Liturgy of the Sacrament

 

The Peace

 

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said,

‘Peace be with you.’  Then were they glad when they saw the

Lord.  Alleluia. John 20:19-20

 

The peace of the Lord be always with you. Alleluia!

 

Preparation of the Table

Taking of the Bread and Wine

The bread and wine are prepared.

 

The president takes the bread and wine.

Be present, be present,

Lord Jesus Christ,

our risen high priest;

make yourself known in the breaking of bread. Amen.

 

The Eucharistic Prayer

 

The Lord is here.

All       His Spirit is with us.

 

Lift up your hearts.

All       We lift them to the Lord.

 

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All       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,

and on this Easter day

to celebrate with joyful hearts

the memory of your wonderful works.

 

For by the mystery of his passion

Jesus Christ, your risen Son,

has conquered the powers of death

and restored in men and women

the image of your glory.

He has placed them once more in paradise

and opened to them the gate of life eternal.

 

And so, in the joy of this Passover,

earth and heaven resound with gladness,

while angels and archangels and the powers of all creation

sing for ever the hymn of your glory:

 

All       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.

 

Lord, you are holy indeed, the source of all holiness;

grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit,

and according to your holy will,

these gifts of bread and wine

may be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ;

 

who, in the same night that he was betrayed,

took bread and gave you thanks;

he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying:

Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;

do this in remembrance of me.

 

In the same way, after supper

he took the cup and gave you thanks;

he gave it to them, saying:

Drink this, all of you;

this is my blood of the new covenant,

which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

 

And so, Father, calling to mind his death on the cross,

his perfect sacrifice made once for the sins of the whole world;

rejoicing in his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension,

and looking for his coming in glory,

we celebrate this memorial of our redemption.

As we offer you this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,

we bring before you this bread and this cup

and we thank you for counting us worthy

to stand in your presence and serve you.

 

Send the Holy Spirit on your people

and gather into one in your kingdom

all who share this one bread and one cup,

so that we, in the company of all the saints,

may praise and glorify you for ever,

through Jesus Christ our Lord;

 

by whom, and with whom, and in whom,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

all honour and glory be yours,

almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

Rejoicing is God’s new creation,

as our Saviour taught us, so we pray

 

All       Our Father in heaven,

            hallowed be your name;

            your kingdom come;

            your will be done;

            on earth as in heaven.

            Give us today our daily bread.

            Forgive us our sins

            as we forgive those who sin against us.

            Lead us not into temptation;

            but deliver us from evil.

            For the kingdom, the power,

  and the glory are yours

            now and for ever. Amen.

 

Breaking of the Bread

 

The president breaks the consecrated bread.

 

Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life

which I give for the life of the world’. Cf John 6:51

 

The Agnus Dei is said as the bread is broken

 

Jesus, Lamb of God,

have mercy on us.

 

Jesus, bearer of our sins,

have mercy on us.

 

Jesus, redeemer of the world,

grant us peace.

 

Alleluia. Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.

Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.

 

Spiritual Communion

 

While it is not possible to share in physical Communion, there is a long tradition of what is known as Spiritual Communion. This is where the presence of the Sacrament is acknowledged and we recognise that we share in communion with Jesus Christ, who is always fully present to us.

 The Book of Common Prayer describes the Sacrament as ‘an outward and physical sign of an inward and spiritual grace’.

 The Church of which we are members is not defined by the walls of a building but by the Body of Christ of which we are members. In making our communion spiritually, we are joining with Christians everywhere to be nourished by the one who tells us, ‘I am the Bread of Life’.

 We will hold a moment while all are able to reflect on Christ’s presence and lifegiving love offered for us and to us.

 

Prayer after Communion

The president says the Post Communion prayer.

 

God of Life,

who for our redemption

gave your only-begotten Son

to the death of the cross,

and by his glorious resurrection

have delivered us from the power of our enemy:

grant us so to die daily to sin,

that we may evermore live with him

in the joy of his risen life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The Blessing

 

God the Father, by whose love Christ was raised from the dead,

open to you who believe the gates of everlasting life. Amen.

 

God the Son, who in bursting from the grave

has won a glorious victory,

give you joy as you share the Easter faith. Amen.

 

God the Holy Spirit, who filled the disciples

with the life of the risen Lord,

empower you and fill you with Christ’s peace. Amen.

 

And the blessing of God almighty,

+ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

 

Go in the peace of Christ.  Alleluia, alleluia.

All       Thanks be to God.  Alleluia, alleluia.

 

God bless; stay in touch, look out for one another and stay well.

Have a happy and blessed Easter.

 

End of livestream.

  

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included in this service, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 onwards

 

 

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The Penitent Thief – Reflection for Good Friday

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A few years ago, driving through Edinburgh, I went past a funeral director’s premises. Above it there was a tax accountant’s office on one of the upper floors. To this day I wish I had got out of the car and taken a photograph because in that one image would have been the two certainties in life: death and income tax. And income tax is not as certain as we might think. Death is something we don’t like thinking about and, come to think of it, most people don’t like thinking about tax either. We might have to get a bit more used to thinking about death at the moment, one of the shocks as the death toll from coronavirus rises is that we are having to confront it every day and live with it as a near neighbour. It has moved into our block and may come knocking at any time.

The story of the penitent convict, who dies on a cross next to Jesus, is only told by Luke (23:32-43). Matthew (27:38-44) and Mark (15:25-36) merely refer to the bandits being executed alongside him who join in with the taunting and mocking. John doesn’t mention them at all. It is Luke who gives us the reality check, as one of them points out that they are in no position to gloat. Whether they are guilting of theft, murder, rebellion or belonging to the zealot party, they too are under the same condemnation, facing judgement and are about to die. They have to decide how they will face that, face their own ends, face their own mortality. 

They give two different responses. One mocks, cries at the injustice and looks for someone else to deflect their shame and humiliation. Jesus is a convenient distraction from the horrors being faced. There might even be some anger in the taunting. If he could save others, why can’t he save himself and them too, while he’s at it? This is the ultimate let down. He promised much, but look where he is now.

The other has a different thought. He is more reflective, and thinks of last things. How will he prepare for his final moments? He reflects on the purpose of life, that God brings life in all its fulness, that he beheld his creation and behold it was good. May be, just may be, this can be for him a moment when death becomes the gateway to life. And so he asks that Jesus doesn’t forget him, but leads him to the promised Kingdom to come, at the end of time. What he gets surprises him. No waiting, he will be in paradise today. The concept of paradise comes from a Persian word meaning a ‘walled garden’. He is promised, then, the new Eden, the new garden paradise, to walk there with this king with a difference, and to be an honoured citizen of it. That’s a hope for all of us as penitents at the hour of our death.

As we face death, and one day we all will whether we want to think about it or not, which of these two will we be? Will we be angry that we’ve been robbed, denied, it’s all been taken away and better was expected? Will there be the cry of the cynic and the sneerer – life is pointless and this just shows it. Or will we be penitent, looking not to be forgotten and finding that what is given is the realisation that there really is a purpose and it is in the face of death that we see it more clearly and powerfully. We can then join with Richard of Chichester, whose prayer is used for the song ‘Day by Day’ in the musical Godspell:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,

for all the benefits thou hast given me,

for all the pains and insults 

thou hast borne for me. 

O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, 

may I know thee more clearly,

love thee more dearly,

and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.

 

A reflection for Good Friday, Peterborough Cathedral, 10th April 2020

Good Friday Devotion from Peterborough Cathedral

 

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A monster calls

A monster callsThe BBC seems at the moment to be choosing the films it shows very carefully. They know that people need a lift or perhaps something to inspire. Such a film, with a message for our time, is ‘A monster calls‘, aired on BBC1 on Sunday night. It is the story of a 13 year old boy, Callum, whose mother is dying of cancer. Despite the best care and various courses of treatment she is not getting better. To add to Callum’s pressures, he is being violently bullied at school.

In this dark fantasy, the old yew tree in the churchyard on the hill, which has stood through millennia, represents continuity and transcends time, becomes a monster that pays a visit. He gives Callum four lessons through stories, the last being one Callum has to tell himself.

The first lesson is that people are not all that they seem. Life is not a question of good or bad, but more a complex mixture of the two and those who we think are evil, can turn out to be ones there to help us. His grandmother is a case in point. Scary and cold, but actually loving and caring.

The second lesson is that medicine doesn’t always work. People do die, and he is going to have to face this. Sometimes there isn’t a treatment and no magic is going to change it.

Thirdly, he learns that he is stronger than he thinks and significantly stronger than his bullies realise when he fights back. This surprises them and him.

The fourth lesson is the darkness within himself. He has to admit his own darkest thoughts, which he would rather die than admit. The truth can be hard to face, especially when it is our own. This truth is that he wants it to be over and he knows that, even though he loves his mother more than he can say, this means his mother will die. And she does. It’s not his fault for wanting it to be over and he has to learn that.

It is a beautifully crafted film, based on the book by Patrick Ness.

In these difficult days of virus sweeping our land, our world, these are lessons for us. No one is all good or all bad, and that includes politicians trying to do their best, even with mixed up motives and mistakes, wrong calls and who knows what else. The secrets will one day come into the light, but for now we make our way through this as best we can.

When we are so used to being able to fix things, find a cure, be put back together, there is a stark realisation that we are mortal and not everyone will get better, how ever much of a fighter they might be, or however hard the doctors and nurses try.

In all of this we are stronger than we realise. We are resilient, even in the anxiety, the fear, the worry.

Owning up to how we really feel is one of the steps for emotional and mental wellbeing. Even if it is dark and we don’t like ourselves for thinking it. Wanting it to end is actually a sign of how hard we find it to bear. When Jesus says in the gospels that we are to take up our cross and follow him, he does not mean figuratively. The suffering is real, the anguish is acute, the heartache cuts deeper than any blade. We will all bear it one way or another.

In the middle of one of the stories there is another piece of advice. It is the importance of belief and to be careful where that trust and faith is placed. In the wrong hands it can be destructive. When placed well, it will bring life and flourishing. Without it we have nothing to care for, live for, hope for.

This week we journey with Jesus through his passion, as he embraces the suffering of the cross, This is no meek and mild, insipid and remote figure. This is one who is embroiled in the pain and suffering and through it reveals the depth of hope which we see in his rising at Easter. This is the week where the light makes shadows and shade. The people depicted can sometimes seem cartoon caricatures, but they are much more complex, a mixture of the good and the evil, and somewhere in between. It is not difficult to place ourselves in this story.

The desire to rush to the end, to the chocolate eggs and the party of Easter, to want it to be over, to miss out Good Friday, is very natural. This year we have to live with an Easter that is somewhat muted, even if the faith is not. We are almost stuck in a loop between Holy Week and Good Friday, never quite getting to the other side. But we will. Some will succumb to the illness, but the hope we have is that even they will not be abandoned. And we are stronger than we think. With faith placed in real hope, not false promises, we can be held through the darkest moments and even if we feel alone, there is the ancient, the one who transcends time that will be with us.

A monster calls is a story. But stories ignite the imagination and boost the spirit. Really good ones tap into what we know to be hardwired into the fabric of the universe. The Christ who enters into our world of pain and suffering, of distress and deep anxiety, takes us through it and will lead us into a new future, beyond our imagination. A new day will dawn for us all. This makes the Christian story, rooted in Good Friday and Easter, one to carry us through these coming days and months.

 

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Lent 6 (Palm Sunday): Live-stream – Job Description to tend, treasure and transform

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Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic all public worship across the Church of England has been suspended. Worship has therefore moved to online live-streaming. Below is the text of the simple service I live-streamed from Peterborough Parish Church on Sunday 22nd March 2020, for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

 

Sunday Worship

A Simple Order of Service

Palm Sunday – 5th April 2020

Good morning and welcome to another live-stream service from the centre of Peterborough. Today we have moved into our dining room so that we can have a bit more space to make palm crosses on this Palm Sunday.

If you have the order of service from the e-newsletter sent out on Friday or from the links to our website, this is the order of service that I am going to use. This is being live-streamed in the morning but stay available afterwards and also be uploaded a bit later to our YouTube channel.

Usually on Palm Sunday we would give out Palm Crosses, but we can’t do that at the moment, so this week we are going to begin with something creative: if you would like to , we are going to make our own Palm Crosses out of paper. I hope you managed to get what you need to hand.

What you need to join in as part of the service

  • A sheet of A4 paper – green if you have it – cut a narrow strip from the long side about 1.5cm side
  • A pair of scissors – if you have a paper trimmer all the better
  • Younger children will need an adult to assist
  • Fingers

 

Blessing of Palms

Grace, mercy and peace

from God our Father

and the Lord Jesus Christ

be with you

 

During Lent we have been preparing

for the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection.

Today we join with him as he enters his own city

on his journey to his cross and passion,

and to fulfilment of all he was and is in his resurrection.

So, we begin by dedicating the Palm Crosses we have made,

either just now or earlier, to remind us his great love for us.

 

Crosses are held up

 

With shouts of joy and jubilation

you entered your city, Lord Christ.

With shouts of anger and hatred

you carried your cross to your death.

With a cry you breathed your last

and bought for us salvation and peace.

May these palm crosses remind us

that while our love may be like the morning mist that vanishes so early,

yours remains constant and true.

In this is our hope and confidence to stand before you.

Keep us faithful through times of trouble and peace,

and may we rejoice in your eternity. Amen.

 

© Ian Black ‘Prayers for All Occasions’ London: SPCK, 2011 p10

 

Readings:

Throughout Lent we have been travelling through the first creation story in the Book of Genesis, following themes in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, by Ruth Valerio, ‘Saying yes to life’. Today brings us to Day 6.  The theme this week is ‘Let the land produce living creatures and human kind in our image’.

 

Genesis 1:24-31

 

Psalm 31:9-18 Between the readings:

Alternatively – St Michael’s Singers “Servant King” on YouTube

 

 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:1-11

 

Reflection:

Our theme throughout Lent has been the first Creation story in the Book of Genesis. In this we have been following the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for this year, by Ruth Valerio ‘Saying Yes to Life’ (SPCK Publishing). As we have noted all along, this is a poetic reflection, not a literal account of how the world came into being.

Each week we have taken a different day, exploring its themes and deeper treasures. It has presented us with God as creator, bringing the world into being by his deliberate action and will, not random, but willed and wanted, made from and for love; light, land and sea, seeds and plants, stars and planets, sea creatures and winged birds; life emerging from the waters. Each day bringing a deeper insight into the delicate balance, the interrelatedness of the earth in the vast and wonderful universe.

Today brings us to the last day of creating, Day 6. Day 7 is the sabbath, for delighting. More of that next week. On Day 6 the breath of life is breathed into creatures. This includes human beings who are made on the same day as the other creatures. Put in a way our scientific minds will find easier to take, all creatures bear a likeness and common breath. We now know that there are genetic similarities and we have evolved from this same stock. Not made on the same day, but we belong to the same batch of creation, are created to be in communion with other beings because we share the same essence of life.

The distinctive element in the creation story for humans is that we are described as being made in the likeness of God and to have dominion. So often this dominion has been taken to permit abuses of power and exploitation. It should, though, be seen more as a job title, one that brings responsibility and a sacred trust. Dominion really means we are to care and it brings a warning that we have to power to misuse that position, so don’t. As with all power it exists for a purpose, to ensure the wellbeing and flourishing of those committed to its charge; to treasure, to tend and to transform for good.

Today is also Palm Sunday and we began our service by remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. This is the day that this king with a difference, the servant king – who comes to serve not to be served – calls us back to our job title. And as he does so, he shows that to be truly human does not bring immunity from creation’s suffering. Oh, how we are becoming aware of that at the moment with a virus that jumped from another species, and there are theories that this is connected with the exploitation of the earth, excesses and greed, abuses of power and acting without a sense of consequence. For that we all suffer at the moment, but the poor will suffer most. Another abuse.

So, we hold up crosses, wear them, bear them, to remind ourselves of what it means to have the job title of being made in the image of God. This is to show the love of the creator in acts of loving service, self-giving, caring, walking in the way of Jesus in faith and hope. Former Archbishop Rowan Williams has reminded us that whenever we look into the face of another human being we face a mystery, for we stand on holy ground. That other person also bears the image of God, who made us both. That is an awesome moment of revelation.  To be called back to our job description is a sacred moment. Taking up the cross to follow Christ, to accept the cost, is to accept who we are and the responsibilities it brings, to tend and care for the earth and all who share the breath of life.

As we take up our crosses and bear them, I end with one of the verses from my own hymn about living the sayings of Jesus, ‘Christ the Saviour’:

‘See this cross’, said Christ the Saviour,

‘take it up and follow me,

as so many have before you,

share its shame and victory,’

Walk in hope of Easter triumph,

when all things shall be redeemed,

in the love of Christ’s own promise;

singing praise to Christ our Lord.

As we bear the cross through this week and though our lives, may it be for us as sign of hope; a reminder of the job title that we  bear, to bear the image of God and to honour it in all living beings, in those we meet, in those most in need and never to abuse the power and responsibility that it brings.

Ian Black

 

Prayers:

God of hope and consolation,

In times of anxiety,

may we be drawn by your hope, not driven by fear.

In sickness and in health,

may we find your song of praise to lift our heads in thanksgiving and joy.

When times are hard,

inspire us with your generous love to be mindful of the needs of all people.

In isolation and physical distance,

helps us to reach out to others with words of encouragement and companionship.

Bless all whose work ensures our common wellbeing,

that together we may travel through this vale of misery

to the bright dawn of your new tomorrow,

which is always much greater than the past;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

 

We pray for:

 

The Lord’s Prayer

We sum up these and all our prayers, the ones we can find words for and the ones we can’t as we say together the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever. Amen.

Additional Collect for Palm Sunday

True and humble king,

hailed by the crowd as Messiah:

grant us the faith to know and love you,

that we may be found beside you

on the way to the cross,

which is the path of glory.  Amen.

 

The Blessing:

Christ crucified draw you to himself,

to find in him a sure ground for faith,

a firm support for hope, and the assurance of sins forgiven;

+ and the blessing of God Almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always. Amen

 

We are finding different ways for us to keep in touch over the coming months. Please keep an eye on our social media feeds and website and sign up for our e-newsletter if you would like to receive this direct.

God bless; stay in touch, look out for one another and stay well.

 

End of livestream.

 

 

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Lent 5: Live Stream – Life in the seas and skies

Swarm

Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic all public worship across the Church of England has been suspended. Worship has therefore moved to online live-streaming. Below is the text of the simple service I live-streamed from Peterborough Parish Church on Sunday 22nd March 2020, for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

 

Sunday Worship

A Simple Order of Service

Lent 5, Passion Sunday – 29th March 2020

 

Good morning from the centre of Peterborough. Today we can’t be inside the church because earlier this week we were told that churches had to close as part of the efforts to slow down the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

It feels very odd not being able to be inside the church, and even stranger not being able to come together. So this is coming from my study at home.

Although we can’t be together physically for this act of worship, over the next few moments we can pray together, read the bible, reflect and seek God’s grace to hold us and guide us through all the week ahead will bring. And it is very hard to second guess just what the week will bring, given how dramatic that past few weeks have been.

If you have the order of service from the e-newsletter sent out on Friday, this is the order of service that I am going to use. I am live streaming this at 9.15am in the morning but it will be available on the church facebook page to view later as well.

So, I invite you to be still for a moment as we focus our hearts and minds on the God whom we have come to worship.

 

Opening Prayer (Post Communion for Passion Sunday):

Lord Jesus Christ,

you have taught us

that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters

we do also for you:

give us the will to be the servant of others

as you were the servant of all,

and gave up your life and died for us,

but are alive and reign, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings:

Throughout Lent we have been travelling through the first creation story in the Book of Genesis, following themes in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, by Ruth Valerio, ‘Saying yes to life’. Today brings us to Day 5.  The theme this week is ‘Let the waters teem with life and let birds fly’. Click on the links below to read the passages.

 

Genesis 1:20-23

 

Psalm 130 Between the readings:

Sung Version: Words and Music by Keith Getty, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, and Stuart Townend)

 

Gospel Reading: John 11:1-45

 

Reflection:

Our theme throughout Lent has been the first Creation story in the Book of Genesis. In this we have been following the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for this year, by Ruth Valerio ‘Saying Yes to Life’ (SPCK Publishing). As we have noted all along, this is a poetic reflection on God as creator, not meant as a literal account of how the world came into being – we look to science for that. That said, this familiar story still has many riches to unfold for us to discover.

On Ash Wednesday I spoke about God as creator; the creation being the action of his will and purpose. It is not random, but willed and wanted, made from and for love.

On the first Sunday of Lent we looked at Day 1 in the story, at light, and seeing this as showing God’s purpose and active presence.

The second Sunday we moved on to Day 2, where space is made for this purpose to get to work. That space is made within God, who accommodates creation.

The third Sunday brought us to Day 3, where the land produces vegetation – trees and plants, seeds and fruit trees. The seas are also made, but the creatures have yet to emerge. We belong to the earth – it is the setting for our pilgrimage, one which is blessed and blesses.

Last week we arrived at Day 4, stars and planets lighting up the sky. This planet is in orbit and part of something so much bigger and connected than daily living reveals, inspiring awe and wonder set before us, where God’s future held out before us is greater than the past.

Today, Day 5, we go back to the seas and land, and they teem with life: sea creatures and winged birds. That life emerges from the seas has a startling resonance with current scientific theories of life being triggered in the hydrothermal vents in the sea-beds. Life comes out of the seas.

The Hebrew language uses the same word for ‘creatures’ and ‘beings’. Some translators render this as ‘soul’, but the meaning of the word is ‘being’ or ‘life’. Every living being, creature, draws its breath, its life, from God. It is to be honoured as such, for when God saw it, it was good.

The oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface. Not only are they vast, they are powerful. Human beings are puny in comparison. Anyone who has stood in the waves and been overcome by them knows that we are as driftwood in their force. And yet, it is these waves, these storms at sea that Jesus calms in the story of a boat tossed and in danger of being wrecked in a storm (Mark 4:35-41). The oceans are powerful, but God is more powerful, because he is their creator.

The power of God was expressed in the gospel reading (John 11:1-45), with that touching story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It is a story of hope that even death is answerable to God. Or as St Paul put it in his great letter to the Romans,

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, … nor things present, not things to come, … can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)

We are so used to being in control, being able to fix things, that we expect to be able to deal with anything that comes our way. We are facing something at the moment that is beyond us, and so much of our society is shutdown to slow the advance of this Covid-19 virus. When we are being battered by such forces which are more powerful than we can handle, God is not defeated. Whatever comes, our life is precious, for it comes from his breath, and the same Christ speaks words of peace, stilling that storm and the storms of life, even those which arise from the place where life emerged. Nothing can separate us from that love.

As we reflect on Day 5 of the creation story, we celebrate that all life comes from God and is to be honoured as such. We are to care for the seas, stop polluting them because we depend on them. And remember that when we face forces we can’t tame or control, there is one who stands above them and who is therefore our hope. The God who raised Lazarus, because life is precious to him, will raise us too.

Ian Black

*The video referred to can be found at http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/saying-yes-resources

 

Prayers:

God of hope and consolation,

In times of anxiety,

may we be drawn by your hope, not driven by fear.

In sickness and in health,

may we find your song of praise to lift our heads in thanksgiving and joy.

When times are hard,

inspire us with your generous love to be mindful of the needs of all people.

In isolation and physical distance,

helps us to reach out to others with words of encouragement and companionship.

Bless all whose work ensures our common wellbeing,

that together we may travel through this vale of misery

to the bright dawn of your new tomorrow,

which is always much greater than the past.

 

We bring before God the prayers on our hearts…

 

The Lord’s Prayer

We sum up these and all our prayers, the ones we can find words for and the ones we can’t as we say together the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever. Amen.

 

The Collect for Fifth Sunday of Lent

Most merciful God,

who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ

delivered and save the world:

grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross

we may triumph in the power of his victory;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and ever. Amen.

 

The Blessing:

Christ crucified draw you to himself,

to find in him a sure ground for faith,

a firm support for hope, and the assurance of sins forgiven;

+ and the blessing of God Almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always. Amen

 

We are exploring various ways for us to keep in touch over the coming months. Please keep an eye on our social media feeds and website and sign up for our e-newsletter if you would like to receive this direct.

God bless; stay in touch, look out for one another and stay well.

 

Wednesday was the Feast of the Annunciation – when the Angel announced to Mary that she was to be the God-bearer, her ‘yes’ would bring Christ among us. We end with our Cathedral choristers singing a version of Mary’s song, The Magnificat, ‘Tell out my soul’.

 

 

 

End of livestream.

 

 

 

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