Not only do we have to be spaced apart by 2m during the service, but everyone has to wear masks!
Not only do we have to be spaced apart by 2m during the service, but everyone has to wear masks!
The Gospel reading set for today is from Mark Chapter 12, verses 18-27 and the story itself is the question posed by the Sadducees regarding marriage at the resurrection. Essentially, they were trying to catch Jesus out, so that they could accuse him of some kind of offence. The story relates to a husband who died with no children, leaving the widow to marry his brother. In fact, there were seven brothers and none had children with the widow before they all died. Then the widow died. The Sadducees asked what would happen at the resurrection when the widow would have seven husbands at the same time.
Jesus accused them of not knowing the Scriptures and not understanding the real nature of the power of God. He told them that, at the resurrection, there would be no marriages. He also told them that, at that future time, they would have to understand that He was not the God of the dead, as there would be no more dead people, that He would in fact be the God of all the living.
This is an interesting concept. I wonder about the mindset of those resurrected people. If they had had long and happy marriages that were only separated by death, would there not be an expectation that they would be married again in their new lives? Would their blissful new lives not be quite as blissful as they might have expected? It’s a bit of a conundrum, which is why the Sadducees thought that it would be a good, trick question that would show Jesus up and catch him out. But they hadn’t done their homework very well because Jesus was easily able to catch the Sadducees out for not understanding the Scriptures, not what God could actually do.
I think that we today may also have an occasional doubt and, even after much scholarly study of the Scriptures over the last 2,000 years, I wonder if we fully understand the power of God, or is it just too huge a concept for us to grasp much more than a very small understanding of His nature – if at all. I think that to develop our understanding, we need to read the Bible regularly and pray for God’s guidance in developing that understanding. As a result, we may feel that we are drawn closer in our relationship with God.
Well, we have government permission to begin worshipping together in St Helena’s again from 23rd May. So on Sunday, 24th May, we are able to gather in St Helena’s for a Service of Holy Communion at our usual time of 9.30am.
Anne and I have been into church and spaced the chairs so that we can observe some physical distance (see picture below), and we will all use hand gel as we enter and leave the the church. If, at the moment, you usually wear a face mask and gloves when you are out or in spaces with other people, you are welcome to wear them in church.
I have never understood the mind of serial killers. I suppose that’s because whatever they had done went completely against my personal beliefs. They are often described as inhuman, almost as monsters. But what does it mean to be ‘human’? I think that we can sometimes be quick to define humanity to exclude people whose lives and crimes threaten us. We label some as ‘inhuman’ so that we don’t have to think of them as being like us, or face the idea that in other circumstances we could be like them! Some of our most serious ethical debates tackle the question of humanity.
This week we have the feast of the Ascension, a day when we celebrate humanity. The story of the Ascension relates what happened to Jesus after his resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead as a fully human person, recognisable as the same Jesus as he was before his crucifixion. But clearly, after his resurrection, Jesus didn’t hang around on earth as his work here was done. There quickly came a time when God’s presence, in the form of the Holy Spirit would carry on God’s work both within and around humanity.
The doctrine of the Ascension is very important to Christians to understand what it means to be human. The picture of Jesus ascending into the clouds tells us that Jesus, the man, had returned to God. Humanity had become part of God forever. After the resurrection and Ascension, Jesus didn’t stop being human. All that he was, all that we are, was taken into the nature of God. Human beings were always God’s creation, but the Ascension casts us in a different light: now we are truly in God.
So we are encouraged to value humanity highly and rightly. We are not perfect – humankind is capable of the utmost cruelty and violence. But we are worth redeeming, worth sending the Holy Spirit to, worth being taken up into the Godhead. We must take the hard, ethical questions seriously because they concern the humanity that God has taken to himself. We can be realistic about human nature, but we can also be optimistic about it. Our future is bound up with God’s future and, as with Jesus, the sky’s the limit!!
‘Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I … But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always another one walking beside you’. T.S. Elliot in ‘The Wasteland’
In tomorrow’s Gospel we hear of Jesus’ promise to his friends of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. He makes it to them that last Thursday evening in the Upper Room as he readies them for his departure.
An ‘advocate’ is someone who looks out for you; someone who is on your side – who speaks up for you; someone who encourages you, supports you and comforts you. Someone who is absolutely there for you.
Jesus’ promise is a deeply personal one. Jesus is promising his friends, and us, that the Spirit of God will ‘abide’ (a favourite verb in John’s gospel) with them, and with us, through thick and thin –and forever.
The Spirit of God has, of course, been there since the very beginning. We hear in Genesis 1 of God’s Spirit hovering over the waters in creation. And throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God promised his people: ‘I am with you’. But often he would be present to them only indirectly, as for example, when appearing to Jacob in a dream (Genesis 28:15).
The extraordinary difference is that, here, God makes this deeply personal promise directly – in person! Here Jesus is effectively telling his friends that God hasn’t only revealed himself afresh in the human form standing and kneeling before them (as if this wasn’t enough!). But that soon he will do so in the fresh intimacy of the Holy Spirit; the one who will accompany them; be alongside them, be within them; and be with them – for all time.
Jesus is promising them, and us, that in all our struggles against loneliness or isolation or depression or pain; that in all our times of joy and laughter and celebration, God is with us directly and intimately and absolutely.
What a wonderful message of hope for the disciples that evening in the upper room. And what a wonderfully hopeful message it is for us today.
Prayers may include the following:
An Act of Commitment
Let us pledge ourselves anew to the service of God and our fellow men and women: that we may help, encourage and comfort others, and support those working for the relief of the needy and for the peace and welfare of the nations.
Lord God our Father,
we pledge ourselves to serve you and all humankind, in the cause of peace,
for the relief of want and suffering,
and for the praise of your name.
Guide us by your Spirit;
give us wisdom;
give us courage;
give us hope;
and keep us faithful now and always.
O Lord our God,
as we remember, teach us the ways of peace. As we treasure memories, teach us to hope. As we give thanks for the sacrifices of the past, help us to make your future in this world,
until your kingdom come. Amen.
from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: kindle in the hearts of all people the true love of peace; and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquillity your kingdom may go forward,
till the earth is filled with the knowledge of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For those who served and died in World War II
O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those men and women
who have died in active service,
particularly in the Second World War,
whose sacrifice brought Victory in Europe.
As we honour their courage and cherish their memory, may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever. Amen.
For those who serve today
O Lord God of Hosts,
stretch forth, we pray, your almighty arm
to strengthen and protect our service men and women. Support them in times of conflict,
and in their rest and training keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty;
and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the peace of the world
O God, who would fold both heaven and earth
in a single peace;
that the design of your great love lighten
upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows
and give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our dwellings and peace in our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
These prayers have been taken from the Church of England website
The Gospel reading set for today is from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. In this reading, Jesus declared himself to be the bread of life and that all who come to him in faith would never be hungry and that those who believed in him would never be thirsty. But it was clear that the disciples still doubted, despite the fact that they had only just witnessed Jesus both walking on the water and feeding the five thousand with five small loaves and two fish.
I think that if I had personally witnessed just these two miracles, I’m not sure whether I would have had doubts. But that’s with the benefit of 2,000 years of Christianity and thousands, if not millions of stories and studies into the New Testament. I wonder if we today are less sceptical than the original disciples? We are all very familiar with the stories surrounding Jesus both during his lifetime and also in the immediate aftermath of his crucifixion. But does that make us nowadays greater believers than the original disciples?
Christians today have so much academic study to guide us in our faith. But I also think that if today we were to witness these miracles, we would almost certainly be sceptical that there were some magic tricks being sprung on us, similar to the acts of stage magicians. I wonder if that is why the disciples just couldn’t take in the enormity of the reality of these miracles and, perhaps, had doubts about Jesus’ actions and whether they were being tricked in some way.
I think that we today need to faithfully believe in what Jesus did when he was performing miracles and prayerfully try to overcome any doubts that we may have that what took place was no ‘magic’ trick but demonstrated that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and had power given to him by his Father. If we can overcome any nagging doubts about the reality of these miracles, I believe that we will then become more faithful Christians.
Our Gospel reading is from John’s Gospel, Chapter 20, Verses 1-18.
This Gospel reading tells the story of the discovery of Christ’s resurrection. After his crucifixion, Christ had been placed in the tomb and a large stone had been rolled in front of the entrance. At the time, this was quite a common way of burying people, particularly those who were well off and could afford to buy a tomb such as had been donated for Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph had donated what was to have been his own tomb to Jesus.
But this reading is the story of Jesus’ miraculous reincarnation. Once Jesus had been buried, the disciples and all those who witnessed the crucifixion must have thought “Well, that’s the end of that” and went about their normal business as much as they could in the circumstances. The Apostles must have wondered what was going to happen next, having followed Jesus and been taught by him for more than two years.
We have been to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, to what is widely believed to be the tomb from which Jesus arose. It is now in a very pretty garden – next to a main bus station! But it gives a sense of what, first, Mary Magdalene and then the Apostles would have encountered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It would have been quite a feat of strength to have rolled away the stone that stood in front of the tomb and, clearly, the Apostles didn’t at first believe Mary Magdalene when she told them that Jesus’ body was not there, but only his grave clothes remained in the tomb.
The Apostles must have been as amazed as Mary Magdalene was. She had also had the amazing encounter with the two angels seated in the tomb where Jesus had been laid. What a shock that must have been to her – I think that it’s pretty rare to meet with angels! But then the situation became even more amazing when Mary Magdalene met Jesus and at first didn’t recognise him. It was only when Jesus called her by name that she cottoned-on to who he was and, although she must have wanted to hug him, he declined and told her instead to give the news to the Apostles.
What a message of hope this is. At what must have been the darkest time in the Apostles lives, they were given the hope that Jesus had not just died, but had risen from the dead to come back to them. This message of hope is still with us today, 2,000 years later and it is absolutely right that we celebrate this incredible story on this most holy day of the Christian year. May we all have a happy Easter and rejoice in remembering that Jesus is the risen Christ.
‘Unsettled’…’confusing’ … ‘strange’. All words we’ve heard to describe these weeks of COVID-19. Yet, there begins to be talk of the possibility of the pandemic having perhaps peaked here in Cyprus; rumours of hope; glimmers of light in the darkness.
This morning felt a little strange, as I received greetings from friends elsewhere celebrating Easter Day, in line with the western calendar. For this year, in solidarity with the Orthodox Church in Cyprus, we celebrate Easter next week, and so Palm Sunday today.
Today, about the time that Easter dawn services were taking place online in the UK, Christopher and I said Morning Prayer for Palm Sunday. We prayed in bright sunshine. The veranda door was open and I became aware of three things: the quiet of stilled traffic; the sound of birdsong; and the lovely chanting of the Orthodox priest from our village church. It felt good to be in prayer together on Palm Sunday.
9.30am approached and we sat together to watch our pre-recorded Palm Sunday service – another strange experience, particularly as there was no sound initially! But the hitch did give us an opportunity to enjoy Zoom coffee and conversation both before and after the service! And I’m so grateful for the technology and for Richard’s expertise, which enabled us to worship and to come together as a community in these strange times. Opportunities for love shown and love shared; glimmers of light in the darkness.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, when we journey with Christ ever closer to the cross. It’s that week when Jesus did things that were so very extraordinary – that seemed so strange and unsettling to his friends. The week he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey; overturns the moneylenders’ tables in the temple; eats with the wrong kind of people yet again; allows a woman to anoint his feet with oil; washes his disciples’ feet; dries them with a towel; prays with passion in the garden; and permits himself to be arrested. Strange and unsettling times indeed.
As we share in the strange events of this week with Jesus and his disciples we will find, amid suffering, that there is love shown and love shared. There are glimmers of light in the darkness. For we journey through the confusions of this week as Easter people, in the certain knowledge of the resurrection that is to come.
I am finding it interesting how often now I see people signing off from a message not simply with their love, good wishes or regards, but with ‘stay safe’.
We have been used to threats to our safety coming in the form of violence, whether by aggression or accident, that attacks us. So our thought for others is that they will be as careful as possible to avoid injury and stay safe from harm. We try ourselves to minimise risk by avoiding areas known for trouble, by driving carefully, by looking both ways before crossing the road, by using the appropriate safety equipment for any activity. This is commonplace in our lives.
The ending of a message may become formulaic, words we have been taught that are correct and polite to put at the end of a letter, or in finishing a conversation. I always find it odd and a little untrue that phone calls in films and on television don’t end with good wishes and proper goodbyes, they just stop.
I try to choose these words for ending carefully. I do want to be polite in a general way, but I also want to try to be genuine with that person, so that I am expressing my hope for them.
I think that is what we are doing currently when we write or say, ‘stay safe’. We are giving voice to our hope, that this person will continue to experience safety from harm.
May our hopes be not a matter of form or politeness. May our hopes be also our prayers.