Sunday 26th April

Service sheet

Call to worship

We who read this, together and apart, 

are united in having taken the risk of living and loving, in a dangerous time. 

We are dwellers on a threshold caught between birth and death.

Together we will raise our eyes to the mountains,

and wonder where our help comes from.

Hymn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw2jpBwa2Io King of Glory, King of Peace (Singing the Faith: 56. Hymns and Psalms: 449)

Prayers

“If the only prayer you said in your life was ‘thank you’ it will be enough.” Meister Eckhart

A prayer: Thank you.

Amen

*pause*      Take a moment to reflect with gratitude on things, people, and times you are thankful for.

Readings

1 Peter 1:17-23

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41

Hymn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXRwCprmji4 O, the love of my Lord is the essence (Singing the Faith 431. Not in Hymns and Psalms)

Reflection: The Lord’s Prayer

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how easy it is to slip into an anti-Jewish rhetoric when it comes to the crucifixion of Jesus. I’m currently reading The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine – Levine is a New Testament scholar who happens to be Jewish. She is fascinated by Jesus as a Jew and although she has no intention of converting to Christianity, studies the scriptures within their very Jewish context.

Peter’s sermon in Acts starts with a potentially damning statement – he is talking to an exclusively  Jewish audience and he puts the blame of the death of Jesus squarely on their shoulders. Perhaps, like me, you are used to hearing sermons where Pharisees are portrayed as pantomime baddies, resembling Malvolio in Twelfth Night, ridiculous, obsessed with protocol, pompous and puritanical. Christians down the ages have been guilty of blaming the Jews for the crucifixion and this had led to violent antisemitism.

Levine has reminded me that Jesus was a Jew. Did I need reminding of that? It is easy to portray Jesus as a white European – we’ve all seen the paintings. Well, not only was Jesus a Jew, he was a pretty orthodox one. If you bring to mind an image of an orthodox Jew, perhaps this is what you see:

Many Jews wearing clothes with fringing, a rule taken from Numbers 15:38 (‘tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments’), and it is likely that Jesus did the same for the same reasons. If we think of the story of the women with the haemorrhage touching the fringe of the cloak of Jesus (Matthew 9:20), perhaps we can now see a more Jewish image of Jesus. The Pharisees were not thought of as hypocrites at the time; this is a purely Christian interpretation. Instead, the Pharisees were the purest in heart, the most faithful. Think of an outstanding Christian; perhaps Mother Teresa or one of the saints, perhaps someone closer to home whose faith you admire – Pharisees were like them.

Levine has helped me to reflect on the Jewish nature of the Lord’s Prayer. She argues that if we read it from within the Jewish context we can find it more political than perhaps we are used to. Jesus refers to God as Abba; under Roman occupation, Caesar would have been referred to as ‘father’, so this is a direct challenge to the authority of the occupying rulers. We still use the word ‘father’ as an honorary title of respect; we refer to the oldest sitting male MP as the Father of the House. By referring to God as Abba, Jesus is reminding us who to put first, and this would have been controversial in his socio-political context when Caesar was top dog.

Most Jewish prayers speak of the name of God as being almighty and sacred. ‘Hallowed be your name’ reminds us of the Jewish unpronounceable name of God (YHWH). The next line (‘Your kingdom come’) also has a political dimension, Levine suggests, because it suggests the world in which first century Palestinians lived was far from perfect. It is a challenge to the Roman rulers that they would be better off under God’s rule, living in God’s world than under Roman rule.

‘Your will be done’ is a call to action. God’s will needs doing. God’s will needs doing by us. We all need reminding that God’s action is mostly carried out through the activities of the faithful. We pray that we are open to understanding whatever God’s will is, and that we commit our lives to bring this about. We are seeking the ideal world that is God’s will.

When we come to, ‘Give us our daily bread’, Levine has an interesting approach – she considers the fact that this is not a request for grain or the right conditions under which we might grow and then produce food; this is a request to God that we work with God to ensure everyone is fed. Bread requires both divine and human effort. I find it interesting that this prayer uses the plural rather than singular – ‘our’ and ‘us’. This prayer is about our existence within community. My God is our God. My bread is our bread.

‘Forgive us our sins’ is more accurately translated as ‘debts’; this calls for us to take a long hard look at what we owe and who owes us. I have spoken before at my dislike of transactional relationships and how we feel the need to pay back good deeds (and occasionally bad ones!). Christianity (and indeed Judaism) is not based on the concept of karma (and thank God for that) and the nature of forgiving debts is partly about economic justice. We all justify good living through hard work; those who enjoy large houses or fast cars must have worked hard and therefore deserve these things. Forgiving debts, just as God has forgiven us is partly about us seeing value in everyone and addressing the economic disparity. It goes beyond this though, as I discovered when I visited Rwanda last summer. This line in the Lord’s Prayer took on a whole new meaning to me as I sat in churches where survivors of the genocide worshipped alongside the perpetrators. Forgiveness is a lived reality in Rwanda.

‘Save us from the time of trial’ is generally considered a better translation than speaking as if God seeks to tempt us into doing wrong. Levine suggest that at a time of huge persecution of the Jews, they would be keen not to be put into a position where they would deny their faith. Although many people speak as if God never gives us more trials or struggles than we can bear, I’m not persuaded by this; what we each pray for is that our pain and suffering will not to bring us to a point where we fail to find meaning in life. I’m also not persuaded that God is the one who gives us these sufferings in the first place. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am resistant to the idea that God is the engineer of our pain. Instead, we pray that we may continue to find God whatever trauma we may experience.

The final part of the Lord’s Prayer we have inherited is not included in the gospels (‘the kingdom, the power and glory are yours’) but this is included to give an ending to our prayer. Levine has helped me to find the Jewish desire for justice within this prayer; she has given me a new perspective on a prayer I admit to occasionally find boring. Having reflected and re-examined it in the light of the Jewish nature, I don’t think I will find it repetitive or dull again.

So now, I invite you to say out loud the Lord’s Prayer. Try saying it slowly and concentrate on each line. I hope my reflections might encourage you to revisit this most familiar prayer.  My preference is for the modern version, which is below, but please use whichever version springs to your lips:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours

Now and forever.

Amen

Hymn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBfRNrvvUfc Father, I place into your hands (Singing the Faith 519. Not in Hymns and Psalms. Complete Mission Praise 133)

Readings

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

Luke 24:13-35

Reflection

I know the Emmaus Road story provides great strength and is a favourite passage for many Christians. Here’s my next confession: I’ve never been a fan of this reading. I’ve always been left with a sense of irritation that these despondent male disciples recount the news of the resurrection by the women, but remain grief stricken, because of course, women’s testimony is not to be trusted. They tell this stranger that the women claim to have been witnesses, but their male friends couldn’t verify it, so it can’t be true. They were devastated; their hopes in the Messiah were dashed. Perhaps they were even angry that Jesus had allowed himself to get caught and killed. Maybe they secretly thought Jesus had been foolish.

Unfortunately this story resonates in a #MeToo era, where women’s stories of violation and sexual abuse continue to be disbelieved. We don’t treat any other crime in the same way. If your neighbour told you they had been burgled, would your first reaction be to ask whether they were telling the truth? Would you suggest it might have been their fault in flaunting their goods through their windows and frankly, what did they expect? No, of course, you wouldn’t. You would feel sympathy and offer to help. For millennia, the account of a woman is somehow less trustworthy than that of a man. She must be wanting attention, or she must have done something to deserve her treatment, or she must have sinister ulterior motives for ruining the reputation of a man with false sexual accusations.

The women at the tomb were not believed. It simply wasn’t credible. They must have fallen into a hysteria (as women are apparently prone to doing) and they cannot tell a story accurately and dispassionately. Unless it can be verified by a man, it must be a lie. At best, this is women’s gossip. If we look at verse 11, the testimony of the women is dismissed as an ‘idle tale.’ Actually the Greek is a bit more colourful than that, one which I might put in a rather more crude Anglo-Saxon way, but I’ll spare you that for today.

This stranger, who up until now has been pretty quiet, turns to them and says, ‘You fools.’ That’s the bit of the story I like the most. Had they never paid attention to how Jesus lived? His birth was entrusted to women; of course his resurrection would be the same. It is the women who attend births and rebirths, it is women to whom Jesus turns and gives life, proves that life conquers death. It is the good news of this life that Jesus chooses to entrust to those on the margins of respectability. And when he calls these disciples fools, he is saying, ‘Now do you believe her?’ These men, who thought the women foolish, who maybe even thought the same of Jesus, they are the ones who are shown to be the real fools.

Those who are powerful always expect to be first in line. It is a hard blow when they realise the world Jesus inhabits doesn’t react to status. Instead, he prefers to share good news and life with those who have the least of these things. Perhaps because they need it the most, they need it first, but also because they are the ones who won’t react with scepticism. They are the ones open to being transformed.

The women were the first witnesses and their testimony was a fragile thing. But from their evangelism, their preaching of the good news, a world-wide movement started which we are a part of today. Our own testimony might feel like a fragile thing, something we wonder if it is worth telling. We might doubt if our testimony has any power to change the listener and perhaps we even fear being boring in our ordinary tales of encounters with God we have experienced along the way. Maybe we worry about our testimony being ridiculed, like those first women at the tomb; an unbelievable tale. Perhaps we are simply scared of sharing our stories.

We can all learn from the witness of those women at the resurrection. They decided not to stay quiet, they risked being doubted and ridiculed. They spoke out and thank God they did. So my challenge for you this week is to pick up the phone and share your story. Have a conversation of depth in which you tell someone how the risen Christ has made a difference in your life. We each have a story to share and you might be surprised at the difference it makes. The Bible weaves together the story of God with the story of humanity. God continues to do that today, weaving our stories together, and when we entrust our story with another person, they become more deeply connected to us and suddenly we can find their story is now woven into our own.

Hymn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h-wlsGDnUE On the journey to Emmaus (Singing the Faith 308. Not in Hymns and Psalms)

Prayers

Holy One,

There are so many people needing our prayers at the moment, we feel overwhelmed. There is so much suffering and grief as this pandemic takes hold, we don’t know where to start, we don’t know the words to find. Speak to us, O God, so that we don’t have to.

We know your love is extraordinary and your generosity extravagant. Send them to those who need them and maybe even include us in that too.

Are you happy with lists, Holy One? Because that’s all we’ve got at the moment. Lists for shopping. Lists of those to phone. Lists of books to read. Lists of concerns. So we’re going to list to you now those things that bother us the most, knowing that they must bother you too:

  • the medics on the frontline and the cleaners behind the scenes in every hospital in every country
  • those who lie in hospital beds, or in their own beds in care homes, whose bodies are being weakened with this disease
  • those at home, panicking because they cannot hold the hand of their dying beloved
  • the ones whose mental health is just getting worse and worse
  • the ones whose addiction is bubbling under the surface and simply getting through to the end of each day takes a monumental effort
  • the kids and the parents who are pushing each other’s buttons, especially those with no gardens to let off steam
  • the decision-makers and the ones in charge who we have no idea whether they’re getting it right or not
  • (space for the ones who bother you, including yourself)

Locked away, inside our homes, most of us can’t do much to help expect stay put. O God, give us wisdom and courage to face each day not with dread but with enthusiasm. Give us a voice to speak to those who need us. Give us a heart to care and tears to cry for those who suffer and may the solidarity of our compassion reach out to them, so that they know they are not alone. And let some of that compassion bounce back to us, because we need that too right now.

Above all, step into our lives and become obvious to us. Because we do not want to face the days ahead without you beside us.

We offer these prayers in all the holy names of God. Amen

Hymn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu6Z-P2y2WU Calm me, Lord, as you calmed the storm (Singing the Faith 624. Not in Hymns and Psalms. Hymns Ancient & Modern 832)

Blessing

Already a blessing
in the walking

already a blessing
on the road

already a blessing
drawing near

already a blessing
in the listening

already a blessing
in the burning hearts

already a blessing
in the almost evening

already a blessing
in the staying

already a blessing
at the table

already a blessing
in the bread

already a blessing
in the breaking

already a blessing
finally known

already a blessing
give us eyes

already a blessing
let us see.

(Jan Richardson: paintedprayerbook.com)

(some resources taken from Liturgy in a Dangerous Time complied by Simon Cross and is free from copyright)

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