Worship for Sunday 11th April 2021
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray King
Call To Worship
One: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Many: He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
One: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness
of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines
upon you! Let this place resound with joy, as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
Hymn Jesus is risen, alleluia!
Bernard Kyamanywa, English version © John Bell (b1949)
Worship and praise Him, alleluia! Now our redeemer
bursts from the grave
lost to the tomb,
Christ rises to save.
Come let us worship Him, endlessly sing;
Christ is alive and death loses its sting.
Sins are forgiven, alleluia! Jesus is risen, alleluia!
2: Buried for three days,
destined for death,
now he returns
to breathe Easter breath.
Blest are the ears
alert to his voice,
blest are the hearts
which for him rejoice.
3. Don’t be afraid!”
the angel had said,
“Why seek the living
here with the dead?
Look where he lay, his body is gone,
risen and vibrant, warm with the sun.”
4: Go tell the others,
Christ is alive.”
Love is eternal,
faith and hope thrive,
What God intended,
what God conceived
can never be killed.
5. Let heaven echo, let the earth sing”
Jesus is saviour of everything.
All those who trust him, Christ will receive’
therefore, rejoice, obey and believe!
Welcome to worship from the United Reformed Church. I’m Elizabeth Gray-King, URC Minister, project manager and visual theologian. With the Education & Learning team, I support the continuing professional development of URC Ministers part of my working life and the rest of the time I either create visual theology or support affirmative management of charities via elizabethgrayking.com. Let us worship in joy and hope.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and forgiveness
God, tireless creator,
With ever new energy, you make a way for our tired souls to find you.
When we are exhausted, you wake us to the depths of your love.
When we are strong and eager, you bring us to the heights of your pain.
You who gave light as gift to the dark, call us into your powerful reality and we praise you.
You dared flesh. You lived it, touched it, named it, healed it, challenged it. You named the lies and walked in truth. Jesus Christ, flesh of all flesh, bone of all bone, life of all time, we praise you.
You dare flesh still. Your creative eyes see through all eyes, damaged or free. Your energy, pain and power move through the flesh that will have you; touch the flesh which fears you. Holy Spirit, wind of all time, breath of all life, love of all todays, we praise you.
God, tireless creator, flesh of all flesh, love of all todays, you hear us this day. We confess our tiredness—of living, of understanding, of knowing. We confess as we hold our breath against the realities we fear. We complain that you are absent, that we are unknown.
As you know us, forgive us. In this silence, we bring our confession.
Tireless, loving, daring God. You hear us and we praise you. You know us and as we are afraid, we are somehow grateful. Let us know, O love of all todays that this day we are yours again. You name us as your own. We are forgiven.
Hymn Breathe on Me Breath of God
Edwin Hatch (1835-1889)
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love
what Thou dost love,
and do what Thou wouldst do.
2: Breathe on me, Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with Thee I will one will,
to do and to endure.
3: Breathe on me, Breath of God,
till I am wholly Thine,
earthly part of me
glows with Thy fire divine.
4: Breathe on me, Breath of God,
so shall I never die,
but live with Thee the perfect life
of Thine eternity.
Prayer of Illumination
O Holy God of all time and this time, open our minds and hearts that we hear you and know you more. Alleluia, Amen.
St John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Hymn: Faith Begins by Letting Go
Carl P Daw
Faith begins by letting go,
giving up what had seemed sure,
taking risks and pressing on,
though the way feels less secure:
pilgrimage both right and odd,
trusting all our life to God.
2 Faith endures by holding on,
keeping mem’ry’s roots alive
so that hope may bear its fruit;
promise-fed, our souls will thrive,
not through merit we possess
but by God’s great faithfulness.
3 Faith matures by reaching out, stretching minds, enlarging hearts,
sharing struggles, living prayer, binding up the broken parts;
till we find the commonplace ripe with witness to God’s grace.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen in us! Alleluia!
Christ is Risen. So? We heard it last week, people have told us this again and again, as if, if we don’t believe it for ourselves, something large is missing in our lives. We retell the story of dear Thomas annually as if we are being told not to be like Thomas, or that we can be like him and it’s really OK. But no, Oh no. If we had been in that room, we’d believe.
Yet believing in something in and of itself is just that, belief. The Gospels show us in so many ways that the community of faith grew around Jesus not because of what Jesus believed, but because he acted in the power of that belief. He believed in justice so he challenged situations where he didn’t see it. He acted by turning the tables in the Temple. He healed on a sabbath; he spoke to women others refused to see. He worked with men who weren’t accepted in the mainstream. We are shown that Jesus believed God-power in the physical geography of his time and in the reality of himself and the people who followed; so he named that power in others and they acted by changing their lives with him.
We can believe in justice as a thing. We can believe in love and care and kindness and humility. But until we start living and acting as love, living out that care, graciously spilling over with kindness and working with others in humility as compared to power, a belief is just a belief, almost an object to be admired. Thomas wanted to move his belief into tangible territory, touching what he hoped to know as true. Believing in resurrection is OK. Living resurrection is quite another thing.
I need to stop for a moment because I’ve been talking about belief and that’s a hot topic in our civil society right now. We wonder what is true and what is not. We can believe strongly in many things. Most painfully recently, we can see the results of blind belief in charismatic leaders which makes people act in toxic and life denying ways, attempting to or actually overthrowing governments. People can act on their belief in a way which brings destruction and injustice. We are called to be very cautious of and discerning about who we follow, testing truth as we go.
With that absolutely affirmed, I go back to our narrative – by the time Resurrection itself had arrive in this upper room, these disciples had evidence of quite another power; love itself in active reality.
Let’s look at that upper room story. I have a hard time taking any of the Bible literally, coming as it is in waves of myth, poetry, prophesy, remembered relationships and political writing for certain points of view. Like others, I try to probe just why some texts ended up the way they did, what the eventual author wanted to say and why a group of scholars decided to save the tales for posterity. Whoever John is wrote this story after Jesus was executed and about 20 years after Rome destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was seen as a sign of rebellion, part and parcel of heaps of Jewish people’s reaction to Roman occupation. Crucifixion was a deadly Roman stunt to create fear and it worked. Jesus’ followers were afraid. Of course. And fear makes people do things against their nature. Perhaps John tells this moment around Thomas to identify with our humanity and hint at what John knew to be true. The story has these humans gathered in fear in their old nature, against the new natures they had lived with Jesus. So John shows us that resurrection is not a thing to be believed, but a thing to experience, and experience changes what we do. The deep truth of ‘Christ is Risen’ woke this fearful bunch in that upper room, and the continued stories of those followers showed their courageous lives as not believing resurrection, but living it.
The Acts reading shows us some of the fruits of living our own resurrection – community, common wealth, the companionship of mutual support. Yet I hesitate with this and wonder whether the compiler of Acts was more aspirational than not. Living resurrection so that one is free to be generous goes against most of our natures. It is difficult. It’s not that we can’t be generous, but trying to be generous because it is a good thing to be can be like believing because we feel we must. It is taking on a behaviour in hope that our deeper selves will be better – indeed that God will love us more. Though we know that God loves us no matter what, many of us have an exhausting list of all the reasons God shouldn’t. If God really knew, God wouldn’t love us. So we’d better be good. Whether this is you or not, so many of us behave in order to believe, or believe in order to behave.
What Easter calls us to do is neither. Easter’s message ‘Christ is Risen’ calls us not to believe, or to behave, but to live resurrection. Fine, Elizabeth. HOW?!
First of all, look back at your own life. You are here now, this moment, in this podcast, listening to these words. You are here. Now. You know that there were times when you thought you wouldn’t be here. You might have been near death as I have been, or you might not have had your mental health, or your physical health has been so limited, or you might not have had the courage to make the commitment to open this service and listen. You have been through an enormous amount in your lives no matter what age you are, and much of what you’ve been through most people don’t even know.
Second, name that truth. You are here. Physically. Alive, even while you grieve.
Third, have a go at naming the deeper truth of your being here. Each moment you thought you’d die, each time you thought you wouldn’t make it, you did. Each and every time you thought it was the end, it wasn’t. It may not feel fair. Let’s lay that down. You are here no matter what.
Dare to call each survival resurrection. In real time, you faced your own hell and you have come out of it. With help sometimes, other times, all on your lonesome. You may be more fragile as a result or you may have more character or more courage or less worry. However, you’ve come out, you’re here. I call that resurrection. Life from death.
Finally, breathe that in. Let Holy Spirit, God’s self in this present moment, affirm that you are indeed a person of resurrection experience. You have lived it. It isn’t someone else’s story. Your story is that you are already living resurrection. You have had your own upper room of fear, and you are here. You have met ‘Christ is Risen’ and you are living resurrection.
When that happens, you, we, can do anything. No longer afraid, swept out of our fear by the resurrections we have truly and literally experienced, we can live that resurrection where we see others who are in fear. Full of Holy Spirit, we can walk the way of Jesus, working with power where injustice needs resurrection power. We can talk to politicians without undue awe – we’re resurrected people. We can look others in the eye with humility, care and respect because we don’t need them to affirm us. We’re are resurrection lives. We can read what we’ve been afraid to see and write what we’ve kept ourselves from writing. There is no stopping us. There is no stopping you.
For many of you listening, you are rightly full of scepticism. I gently ask you to look back. See a moment you survived. Try saying to yourself, “I lived after that.” “I am living resurrection.” “I can walk this walk.”
Christ is Risen! You are Risen!
Hymn Father of Mercy, God of Consolation
Fr James Quinn SJ
God of consolation,
Look on your people,
gathered here to praise you,
Pity our weakness,
come in power to aid us,
Source of all blessing.
2: Son of the Father,
Lord of all creation,
Come as our Saviour,
Jesus, friend of sinners,
Grant us forgiveness,
lift our downcast spirit,
Heal us and save us.
3: Life-giving Spirit,
be our light in darkness,
Come to befriend us,
help us bear our burdens,
Give us true courage,
breathe your peace around us,
Stay with us always.
4: God in Three Persons,
Father, Son and Spirit,
Come to renew us,
fill your Church with glory,
Grant us your healing,
pledge of resurrection,
Foretaste of heaven.
God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery
which the Scriptures describe in various ways.
It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for humankind.
They reveal the gravity, cost,
and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work in which we trust.
Please find an object you are happy and comfortable to hold. It could be a cushion, a small figurine, a stone, a stuffed animal. Find anything you are happy to simple be with, and join in prayer. I’ll wait a moment whilst you find and hold it. (pause for 30 seconds)
Living God of this time and place, we come to you for ourselves, desperately seeking to love ourselves as much as we love our neighbours. We come to your for our neighbours, desperately seeking to love all of our neighbours as much as we love ourselves.
Lord God, I hold this thing in my hands. It is real, I can see it, I can feel it. It reminds me of my reality and the realities of my life. I thank you for my resurrection times.
I so want others to know this too. In this silence, I name those who are dear to me who I want you to touch and heal.
Oh God, I see the faces of people in the news and imagine their agony. I hold this thing in my hands and move myself to more care than I have had, as if by holding this object, I hold them. Move more people to care, dear God. Move more to speak out instead of keeping silent. I am together in this prayer time with others. As we all hold something now, let us all see the path to actions, bringing resurrection life and anger to what appear to be hopeless things. In this silence, we name all those people, places and situations in our world which cry out for meaningful connection and justice; structures, our planet, our societies and for all of those touched by them.
We bring all of these prayers to you O God, confidently and hopefully, for you are our Saviour, our own resurrection life.
We pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the power and presence of Holy Spirit. Amen.
We offer now what we can. It comes from our personal commitment and by your gracious resurrection life. As we thank you that we have it to offer, let the gathering of this which we can give be blessed to change as much as it can into loving service and relief.
Hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Robert Robinson (1735-1790)
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
mount of Thy redeeming love.
2: Here I raise my Ebenezer.
Here there by Thy help I come.
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger
wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger
interposed His precious blood.
3: Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.
Let that goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it – prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it seal it for Thy courts above.
May God who is light shine in your darkness
May God who is love be the love between you
May God who is life be your life everlasting
And the blessing of God, Creator, Christ and Spirit be with you and remain with you now and forever.
Sources and thanks
Jesus is risen, alleluia! – Bernard Kyamanywa, English version © John Bell (b1949) sung by Scottish Festival Singers, Ian McCrorie (Conductor), John Kitchen (Organ)
Breathe on Me Breath of God– Edwin Hatch (1835-1889) – BBC’s Songs of Praise
Faith Begins by Letting Go – Carl P Daw © 1996 Hope Publishing Company- Sung and played by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
Father of Mercy, God of Consolation – Fr James Quinn SJ – sung by the choir of Marlborough College Chapel
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Robert Robinson (1735-1790) – sung by the group All Sons and Daughters
Fugue in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
(organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Procession by Arthur Wills
(organ of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, Italy – 2014)
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to Andrew Wilson-Dickson, John Marsh, Pam Carpenter, Adrian Bulley, Jenny Sheehan and David Shimmin for reading various spoken parts of the service.