Service for 9th May 2021

Extracts from the Service for 9th May 2021 being Sixth Sunday of Easter by Mrs. Anne Wilde

Opening Sentences:

God is loving and full of kindness, God is at home in us.
God is welcoming and full of beauty, God is at home in us.
God is forgiving and full of justice, God is at home in us.
God is with us: we are God’s people, God is at home in us.

Hymn… ‘Jesus is Lord’

Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it
For by His power each tree and flower was planned and made.
Jesus is Lord! The universe declares it:
Sun, moon and stars in heaven cry: ‘Jesus is Lord!’

Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord!
Praise Him with hallelujahs, for Jesus is Lord!

Jesus is Lord! Yet from His throne eternal
In flesh He came to die in pain on Calvary’s tree
Jesus is Lord! From Him all life proceeding –
Yet gave His life a ransom, thus setting us free

Jesus is Lord! O’er sin the mighty conqueror,
From death He rose; and all His foes shall own His name.
Jesus is Lord! God sent His Holy Spirit
To show by works of power that Jesus is Lord

Prayer:

Let us pray.
In our minds eye we see the white cloth draped, carelessly discarded, the cross abandoned, and Christ elsewhere.
We see an empty tomb, linen cloths crumpled, the trappings of death left behind.
We see him, moving in the garden, travelling the dusty road, at picnics on pebbly shores, sitting at a table.
We see Jesus, risen from the dead, alive and vital and with us for evermore.
Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord! Praise Him with hallelujahs, for Jesus is Lord!

With eyes and spirits that are blind, we haunt familiar places.
Like lost pilgrims we sanctify empty shells, make shrines of empty tombs, too busy with our litanies of death we block the messages of the angels, too easily we forget Jesus, risen from the dead, alive and vital and with us for evermore.
In the quietness we bring him our failings, our faults, our mistakes, our sin
(take time to bring whatever you need to God)
Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord! Praise Him with hallelujahs, for Jesus is Lord!

Ever patient, smiling at our foibles, Jesus waits, until eyes and hearts begin to open, the light starts to dawn, and like Peter we run throwing off our coats of old ideas, into the warm, forgiving embrace of Jesus and we realize Jesus is risen from the dead, making us alive and vital and with him for evermore.
Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord! Praise Him with hallelujahs, for Jesus is Lord!
Praising him with hallelujahs we rejoice for nothing ever be the same again. Thanks be to God. Amen

Reading: 1 Cor 3: 9b – 11 & 16 – 23

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Reading: John 2: 13-22.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.


Reflection.

Have you ever visited Westminster Abbey? It’s a place that seems to be right at the heart of the nation and it plays a very special place in national life. I believe it has been the scene of seventeen royal weddings over the years, all coronations since 1066 have happened there. Some of the most significant people in the country’s history are buried or commemorated there, including seventeen monarchs, and most famously it houses the tomb of the unknown soldier, buried there after World War 1. It is quite a tomb to be buried in!

Nobody was buried in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, their attitude towards to any tomb was that it was a place of decay and degeneration. They believed that anyone who touched a tomb became tainted by the place of death. They would lime wash the outsides to whiten them, not to make them look attractive, but to make tombs stand out, to be recognised as a tomb and so be avoided wherever possible. The tomb in which Jesus’ dead body laid was no exception, it was a place for the dead; a disgusting place, to be avoided.

But this tomb Jesus was laid in was different to all others, because although it did indeed house death and decay for a time, on Easter day there was transformation. The tomb was empty, life had overcome death, the tomb was transformed to an empty irrelevant shell. It was no longer needed. With hindsight and his experience of that empty tomb, John recalls the words of Jesus: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” His followers realized that Jesus was referring to himself as the ‘Temple’ when he spoke and in those words he was pointing to his death and resurrection.

That Temple in Jerusalem held as special place in heart of the Jewish nation as Westminster Abbey has for the English. Not for royal or historical reasons but because it was the symbol of God’s presence in their nation, and the building was a continual reminder that God was dwelling among them. It was the place of worship and reaching towards God mainly through the offering of sacrifices, and the place where God offered forgiveness and reconciliation to his people.
Going to Temple was considered a wonderful experience and it was the deep desire for all Jewish males, no matter where across the known world they lived. But by Jesus’ time the Temple was anything but glorious. It was the third Temple to be built on that spot. The building had begun fifty years earlier but the builders were still there! Imagine the chaos, builders and their equipment everywhere and on top of that, it had become like another branch of Tesco!
It was the place to buy and sell animals for sacrifice, and a place to change Roman coin into Temple coin to place in the collection box. And worse still it had become a place to fleece the poor, because of the inflated rates of exchange and prices for animals. Consequently, people were prevented from worshipping and coming close to God in the way they should have been able to.

So, it was understandable that Jesus’ frustration and anger boiled over in the Temple, and so he went berserk! This should have been a Temple but it had become a tomb, a place where a dead religion lay, decaying, disintegrating. It was not a place where the people could go to be made clean, and receive new life, but place that defiled and contaminated them.
Jesus, enigmatically explains that it will be in his body that God will dwell among his people in new way. Through the life of Jesus, God was taking a new approach to forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus in his body, was replacing the Temple and renewing God’s relationship with people. The trouble was that no one understood what God was doing so they killed him for it.

Later Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church takes the idea one step further. The people who made up the church have become the Temple, just like Jesus. But it seems they too still have ‘builders’ in, their Temple remained uncompleted, because they had much to learn and lots of growing still to do. From his letter we know they were making lots of mistakes and often misunderstood God’s ways. Never-the-less, the Corinthian church was the place where God dwelt.
They were a society which allowed God to dwell in Corinth. By their preaching and witnessing to Jesus Christ, God was meeting Corinthians to offer new life and renewal.

Paul’s words are not exclusive to the Corinthian church, they apply to every church still today. That begs the question: Are our churches tombs or Temples? Are they tombs where dead religion has been laid to decompose, with nothing to offer society? Are they places where the contamination of criticism, grudges, gossip, and prejudices seep from members. Are they open, empty tombs with no present purpose or relevance? Do they live on the memories of the past and longing for the good old days, clinging on to memories?
Are we ourselves tombs where a dead faith is rotting behind ritual and habit, where our faith has long faded away through the difficult experiences of our lives? Have we become empty tombs with no substance, no foundations?

Or are we, and are our churches Temples transformed by the life-giving victorious love of God, into a living symbol of a living God dwelling amongst our families, friends and neighbours? Have we been instituted by Christ, sanctified by God, and transformed by a living relationship with the Holy Spirit? Places where through speaking and preaching, loving and witnessing to Jesus, God meets people to offer new life and renewal, hope and a fresh start to everyone who needs it? If we are living Temples then the Resurrection of Jesus Christ will be seen to be reality, not fake news. We will display Jesus’ resurrection by our understanding that life, death and life after death are all part of God’s purpose, plan and a gift for all.

Of course, there are times when we all face bleak and painful situations, these past thirteen months have not been easy for any of us, but God does not intend that to be the end. We don’t have to stay in tombs of despair, or despondency. When we are facing death for ourselves or a loved one, or the death of something we cherish, we can be sure God’s intention is that through the love of Jesus we will be brought out of the place of the dead and be transformed into a place where God is living. We are renewed and God becomes visible for others to see.

Just like those men and women who were transformed by their coronations into Monarchs within Westminster Abbey, we can be transformed, because of our relationship with the King of kings, the Prince of Life, who offers us life in all its fullness. That way we will never be a tomb, a place of death and decay but living Temples, God’s holy Temple in our world today.

Prayers of Concern:

Now let us bring before God our concerns for the world.
For a world suffering from the natural and human made disasters of climate change:
God of Resurrection shine the transforming light of new life into the tombs of desperation and need, greed and selfishness.

For people living in war zones, or places where civil unrest threatens:
God of Resurrection shine the transforming light of new life into the tombs of hatred and bitterness, suffering and fear.

For employers and employees struggling with the present economic situation:
God of Resurrection shine the transforming light of new life into the tombs of mistrust and insecurity, stress and struggle.

For dying relationships in marriages, in families, in workplaces, in communities:
God of Resurrection shine the transforming light of new life into the tombs of hurt and anger, frustration and loss.

For all whose dreams or independence is dying and those facing their own physical death or that of a loved one, and those who mourn:
God of Resurrection shine the transforming light of new life into the tombs of emptiness and fear, loss and regret.

For all those who are especially on our minds or need our prayers today:
God of Resurrection shine the transforming light of new life into the tombs of pain and struggle, weakness and confusion.

God of Transformation, accept our prayers,
God of Life, breathe your wisdom into them,
God of Love we ask them in your name. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen


Hymn… ‘Thine be the glory’

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o’er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.
Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory, thou o’er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.

Closing Sentences.

The power of the Creator, who brings life out of death, be in this place, the risen Christ be our constant companion, the healing embrace of the Holy Spirit encircle us, so that we see resurrection ever about us. Amen.