Readings, Hymns and Sermon for Passion Sunday, 29th March

Opening Hymn

Bible Reading: John 11:1-45

11 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. 

Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?” Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 

11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.” 16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” 25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,[f] and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

Sermon

When my children were small, they – like many children – would be utterly delightful for everyone else, but save their temper and tantrums for me. I found this quite disheartening until the day I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, who is a trained psychotherapist. “How wonderful!” she replied, “it means that they feel safe and loved and don’t have to be on their best behaviour with you!” She was right, of course, and while it didn’t make the tantrums any more fun, it did reassure me that I wasn’t a complete failure as a parent.

I was reminded of this by our story today. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were some of Jesus’ closest friends. And when tragedy struck, and they feel Jesus has let them and their brother down, Martha and Mary are able to be utterly honest with Jesus. Where were you? You could have stopped this happening? And yet, even in her accusations and questions, Martha still trusts Jesus. I believe you are the Messiah, she says. Grief and questions, faith and hope all bundled up together. She brought them all to her friend.

We are living through a crisis unlike anything we have experienced before. There are worries about health and work and schooling and finances and the future. Some parts of the crisis are very hard to bear. In other ways the crisis has brought out the best in people. It has been a bewildering few weeks and we do not know what lies a head. But Jesus longs for us to be like Martha – to bring our griefs and questions and hopes to him. Jesus loves us dearly and is a safe place to take all sorts of emotions in these difficult days.

In this story, we also see Jesus himself experience a range of emotions. There is compassion and courage as he travels back to a place of danger even though he knows his friend is already dead. There is anger and sorrow as he comes face to face with the reality of Lazarus’s death. Jesus as a human being knew the pain of grief and parting. Jesus as God rages and weeps at the hold death has over God’s creation. And finally, there is Jesus’ utter hope and trust in his loving heavenly Father. Perhaps it is some comfort to you this week, whether your are feeling compassionate and courageous, grief-stricken and angry, hopeful and trusting, that Jesus has known these feelings too.

But most importantly, in a time when fear and death are more present than usual in our lives, this story reminds us that Jesus comes to bring life. The raising of Lazarus pointed to what Jesus would do for each one of us soon after on the Cross – defeat death and all its destructive forces forever. And while there may be sadness and grief in our lives still, we know that through Jesus no one need be lost to us forever and no situation need ever be hopeless. So let us bring all our emotions, hopes and fears to the one who holds us and all we love and treasure in his love and indestructible life. Amen.

Reflection Music

Intercessions for Passion Sunday

Fill with your Spirit Christ’s broken body, the Church.
Make her a people of honest lament and unshakeable hope
in these times of anxiety and trouble.
Give to Christian people everywhere a deep longing
to take up the cross and to understand its mysterious glory.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Bless those who lead the Church’s worship at this solemn time.
Grant wisdom and skill to all who seek to bring comfort to your Church dispersed.
In the preaching of the word and the prayers we share
draw your people close to you.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Look in your mercy upon the world you loved so much
that you sent your Son to suffer and to die.
Protect the vulnerable, comfort the fearful
give wisdom to all who lead.
Strengthen all who serve, especially our key workers
in these challenging times.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Bring healing by the wounds of Christ
to all who are weighed down by pain and injustice.
We remember those around the world encountering this virus
alongside other forms of crisis:
conflict and violence, extreme poverty, climate change, oppression.
Stand with them, fight for them, deliver them we pray.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Help the lonely and the isolated, the suffering and the dying,
to find strength in the companionship of Jesus.
We remember before you those known to us today…
Enfold them in your love and care.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Welcome into paradise all who have left this world in your friendship.
According to your promises,
bring them with all your saints
to share in all the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Holy God,
holy and strong,
holy and immortal,
have mercy on us.

Amen

Closing Hymn

Readings, Hymns and Sermon for Mothering Sunday, 22nd March.

Opening Hymn

Bible Reading

Our reading is from the book of Exodus, chapter 2, verses 1-10. For context, before this reading, the Egyptian leaders have enslaved the Israelites and ordered that every newborn Israelite boy should be thrown in the Nile.

About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.

Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.

Then the baby’s sister approached the princess. “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked. “Yes, do!” the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother. “Take this baby and nurse him for me,” the princess told the baby’s mother. “I will pay you for your help.” So the woman took her baby home and nursed him.

10 Later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him Moses, for she explained, “I lifted him out of the water.”

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

Sermon

One of the things I noticed about this reading when I read it afresh this year was that none of the characters, except the baby have a name.  The baby’s mother, the baby’s sister, the Pharaoh’s daughter and the Pharaoh’s daughter’s maid are all nameless.  In a society which only really recorded the names of the important and powerful – warriors and leaders and key heads of households – this is not that unusual.  Later, we will find out that Moses’ mother is called Jochebed and it is likely his sister is the sister mentioned later in his life as Miriam, the prophet. But in this birth story of the great leader, Moses, the main actors are nameless nobodies.

And yet, without these nameless nobodies, there would be no Moses.  Without these nameless nobodies, there would be no leader of the Passover leading to the freedom of God’s people.  The mother’s determination and creativity, the Pharaoh’s daughter’s compassion, the maid’s obedience and loyalty, the sister’s quick thinking and courage all played their part in God’s rescue of the Israelites.

I love to use this reading on Mothering Sunday because it reminds us that the care, protection and nurture of children is more than simply the role of those who give birth to them.  For Moses to live and thrive, he depended on the compassion, courage and care of a community of women.  It is a reminder on a day which can too often descend into sentimental stereotypes, that mothering is a brave and risky task; and that it is often done by a number of people all committed to the child’s welfare.  So, this Mothering Sunday, I wonder who mothered you?  Who have you mothered?  What did these experiences teach you about the mothering love of God?

As I read this story, this year in particular, I am reminded of the cost and pain of love.  Who knows how Moses’ mother must have felt, a few years later, weaning her son and taking him to live with the Pharaoh’s daughter? To do what was best for Moses meant leaving him in the care of another and being apart from the child she had taken such risks to protect.  However, perhaps this has some resonance this Mothering Sunday, which, at this time of the coronavirus crisis, is going be an unusual and painful one for many.  Some of us will not be able to spend this day with those we love because of care for their safety and health.  As we obey the social distancing and self-isolation advice, we must – in love – refrain from the visits we would love to make and the hugs we would love to give.  And that will cost us dearly.

But let us return to the idea of the nameless nobodies. Just as those unnamed women played a critical role in the rescue of God’s entire people by their care for this one baby, so we – small and insignificant as we sometimes feel – have a part to play in our country’s story.  Our choices, our courage and our care could make all the difference in the weeks and months ahead.  Your decision to stay home may prevent yourself or other people becoming unwell taking some of the strain off our NHS workers.  Your phone call or email or video chat may encourage someone who is lonely, worried and struggling at this anxious time.  Your kindness in offering to deliver shopping (if safe and able to do so) or make a donation to the Foodbank (if you are able to do so) might be a lifeline to the most vulnerable during this crisis. Most of all, your prayers and your faith may bring hope to those who need it most.  Keep praying, daily, for as Lord Alfred Tennyson said – and I truly believe – more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

So, it is a difficult and daunting time.  However, this Mothering Sunday, remember the nameless nobodies in our reading without whose courageous and compassionate mothering God’s rescue of God’s people would not have taken place.  May their example encourage you to do your part to care for those around you in the days, weeks and months ahead. Amen.

Hymn for Reflection

Intercessions

Let us pray to God,
who alone makes us dwell in safety:

For all who mother and those who have mothered us,
remembering everyone for whom today will be difficult.
May they find comfort and care:
Lord hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For all who are affected by coronavirus,
through illness or isolation or anxiety,
that they may find relief and recovery:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For those who are guiding our nation at this time,
and shaping national policies,
that they may make wise decisions:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For doctors, nurses and medical researchers,
that through their skill and insights
many will be restored to health:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

For the vulnerable and the fearful,
for the gravely ill and the dying,
that they may know your comfort and peace:
Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

We commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray,
to the mercy and protection of God.
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Closing Hymn

Readings, Hymns and Sermon for 15th March 2020

Opening Hymn

Bible Reading

John 4:5-42

Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” 10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” 13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. 17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” 21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” 28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” 30 So the people came streaming from the village to see him.

31 Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.” 33 “Did someone bring him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other. 34 Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. 35 You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. 36 The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! 37 You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. 38 I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”

39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Sermon – by Rev’d Jo Joyce

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is one of the key stories of John’s gospel. The gospel opens with the author’s intention to help people believe, and each of the stories he tells are to fit into this framework. But it’s not always easy to grasp what they might be saying when the situation feels so different to our own. We are fortunate to have water on tap to our homes, but it was not so long ago that people even here had to collect the water they used, and in many countries the women still gather at the well or local pump to collect the water for the day. I have helped with this during a visit to Africa and I can say it is Very Heavy trying to carry a large bucket of water on your head! Of course, water is vital for life and so there is no choice.

When I read this story of the Samaritan woman I wonder why she was there at that time of day? When people collect water, they do so early in the morning or in the evening, partly because it is cooler then but also because the water will be needed over the course of the day. I wonder if she was isolated from her own community because they disapproved of her personal life, or some have suggested maybe she was there to meet travellers, whatever the reason, she as a lone woman was vulnerable, she would have struggled to lift the water onto her head herself and going in the hottest part of the day would have been difficult, hot and unpleasant.

Culturally a for a man to speak to a woman alone in those circumstances was unthinkable, particularly for an unmarried rabbi with a reputation to protect.

So why was Jesus there? Especially with no means to gather water? It was the tradition at the time for travellers to carry a leather pouch to collect water in, perhaps the disciples had it with them, perhaps Jesus knew the woman was to come along, maybe that was where he had agreed to meet the disciples. We don’t know but the conversation that follows is fascinating as Jesus and the woman hesitantly begin to speak.

Notice that he makes himself vulnerable too. Rather than withdrawing 20 feet, as was the custom there then, shockingly he begins the conversation by asking for help. The woman unsurprisingly is a bit startled. The Jewish  people and the Samaritans had held a bitter 500 year feud – the Samaritans had allowed the Greeks to use their territory as a base to attack Jewish territory, as a result the Jews had destroyed the Samaritan temple and the Samaritans had desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. It was a difficult and unpleasant situation. The English translation also misses that she asks why a Jewish man was talking to a Samaritan woman. Jesus is breaking a lot of cultural taboos with his simple request. But then he goes on to talk rather cryptically about living water.

Unsurprisingly she doesn’t understand – although the idea of living water sounds attractive. Then Jesus reveals that he understands more about her personal life than she could have known. My guess is that its now she begins to take more notice. Who is this man she has never met, who knows all about her? She draws the conversation back to the differences between Jews and Samaritans – we worship here, but you say we must worship there… My guess is she was perhaps embarrassed to dwell too much on her own life. But Jesus response demonstrates why he was comfortable to talk to her. The time is coming he says when all will worship, not in Jerusalem or in Samaria but ‘in Spirit and in truth,’ in other words, who we are or where we worship God will no longer matter.

Then we come the key point of the story, this is what it has been building towards. The woman says to Jesus that she is expecting, waiting for the Messiah.

Jesus replies; ‘I am the Messiah’ or ‘I am the one speaking to you’ (as it says in the Greek), but of course this phrase harks back to something far grander – for ‘I AM’ is the very name of God. If we look back to chapter 3 of Exodus, Moses having met with God in the burning bush asks for a name to give the people who ask him who sent him, and God replies ‘I AM who I AM.’ This extraordinary claim speaks deeply to the woman, who rushes back, excitedly, the first woman to preach the gospel, she tells all she meets, ‘come and see, is this the messiah?’ – and never be in any doubt – this is clearly what Jesus claimed to be, and, by the use of the phrase ‘I am’ he is indirectly suggesting far more.

When the disciples come back there is much to be thought on. Jesus is back to being cryptic, talking of fields ripe for harvest. I can just imagine the disciples rolling their eyes at each other – ‘why have we just gone to buy food if you already have it??’ But of course, Jesus was saying that the time for his ministry was now, people were hungry to know more of God. This chance encounter reveals it’s not just the Jewish people who were waiting and hoping, but that the Messiah was to come for all those who were expectant. The testimony of the woman was such that the people of the town persuaded Jesus to stay for two days, and many came to believe.

It’s an extraordinary encounter isn’t it? A brief conversation that changes the woman’s life and that of many of those in her town.

I wonder if we are expectant like she was? Looking for God in unexpected places and unlikely people? Prepared to trust Jesus and take him at his word for who he said he was?

Or maybe we feel cut off, or fear being cut off. Just as she was isolated from her own community, we too fear isolation. We don’t know why she was at the well that lunchtime, or if she was there every day. We do know it wasn’t normal for a woman to be out alone in the heat of the day. But we do also know that it was there when she was alone and isolated, that she met with God in a new way. When a brief conversation with Jesus changed the way she saw the world.

There is rightly a lot of concern at the moment about the virus and what it will mean for us as individuals if we are isolated, how things will develop, how we should worship. This story speaks into some of that – the day is coming when we will all worship God in Spirit and in truth, we don’t have to be in a special place, and sometimes God meets us in completely unexpected ways, sometimes when we least expect it and when we are all alone, God can come in.

But of course, this story is about far more than that. It’s about the amazing truth that God cares about all people. That a relationship with God is not just for those who are part of the religious ‘in crowd’ of the day but for all people at all times, that Jesus offers the water of new life to all who are thirsty, regardless of their background, no matter what they have done. This is a story of crossing cultural, gender and racial divides, of a God who cannot be pinned down to be the God of one people, worshipped in one way. But a God who cares and understands us whoever we are regardless of our gender, or our religious, cultural or racial identity. This story of the wideness of God’s love brings us hope and cause for celebration, but it also challenges us when we try to pin God down, or suggest that God is limited to our own particular people, place or culture.

Reflection Music

Closing Hymn