A Service for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

If you would like to see this service run in YouTube, then you can watch it here:

HYMN Christ whose Glory fills the skies - Ratisbon

1 Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
triumph o'er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

2 Dark and cheerless is the morn
unaccompanied by thee;
joyless is the day's return
'til thy mercy's beams I see;
'til they inward light impart,
glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

3 Visit, then, this soul of mine;
pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
fill me, Radiancy divine;
scatter all my unbelief;
more and more thyself display,
shining to the perfect day.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
The grace of God has dawned upon the world with healing for all,
Let us come to him, in sorrow for our sins, seeking healing and salvation.  cf Titus 2.11

O Christ enthroned on high,
filling the earth with your glory:
holy is your name,
Lord God almighty.
In our sinfulness we cry to you
to cleanse our lips to speak your world,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. cf Isaiah 6

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE COLLECT
Almighty God,
who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
grant that, as by your grace going before us
   you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help
we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

FIRST READING - Acts 7.55-60
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

HYMN Thou are the way by thee alone - St James

1 THOU art the Way: by thee alone
From sin and death we flee;
And they who would the Father seek
Must seek him, Lord, by thee.

2 Thou art the Truth: thy word alone
True wisdom can impart;
Thou only canst inform the mind
And purify the heart.

3 Thou art the Life: the rending tomb
Proclaims thy conquering arm;
And those who put their trust in thee
Nor death nor hell shall harm.

4 Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life:
Grant us that Way to know,
That Truth to keep, that Life to win,
Whose joys eternal flow.

GOSPEL - John 14.1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

SERMON

“But they covered their ears, and with a load shout all rushed together against him.”

And so the fate of Stephen, the church’s first martyr, was sealed. And what did he do to win this unfortunate honour? Cause a riot? Set fire to a holy building? Poison the Emperor? No, he spoke – he uttered words. And were those words such as to call people to arms, to demand a violent struggle? No – but they weren’t tactful. 

In our passage set for the epistle, you didn’t get any of the words that caused his martyrdom, so here are a few… “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?”  You get the idea… 

It seems people don’t like to be told off, they don’t like to be told that they are in the wrong. But Stephen made an even more fundamental error in his preaching technique - he stood apart from his audience, he used the wrong pronoun - he said ’you’ and not ‘we’. I suppose that wasn’t very surprising, he did feel apart from his audience, he was no longer one of them, he had joined the followers of Jesus.

Over quite a short period of time this gulf between the follows of Jesus and their Jewish roots became accepted as inevitable. What Jesus had left behind was not a set of writings, or laws to replace the Torah, not even a cause to take up arms for, but a community to become a part of, and a way of life to follow - a distinct community and a distinct way of life.

By the time St John’s Gospel was written, this sense of being a separate community, a people gathered together from all places and all races, all backgrounds, was very strong, and naturally  persecution only served to make its boundaries sharper and its purpose more seriously understood. In fact, it was clear to these disparate early Christians that they had a unique role in bringing the world to experience God’s grace in Jesus Christ. 

Indeed, as Jesus had shown people the God whom he called ‘Father’, so must they show people the man they called the Messiah, the Son of God. Without them the world would never know him. Without them, all that Jesus had taught in the world would be lost. They were a vital link in the chain, they were the means of communication, not as individuals, (who could fulfil that role?) but together as a people. Together they could become the hands and feet of him whom they followed.

What defines this new people is not birth or appointment, not even a ritual – according to the writer of St John’s Gospel, what defines them is simply belief and action. “Very truly I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” What opens the way to the work of Christ, ongoing in the world, the task of his people, is belief. The gathered community of those who follow Jesus, is no social group, it is no state sponsored organisation for teaching good morals, it is a household with a purpose. Its purpose is to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom in word and deed – and to live the life of that kingdom in the world – in every generation.

I read this week that Christians in pre-Constantine Rome were known for their work in caring for neighbours who had contracted one of the various plagues that overcrowded Rome was prey to. In fact, such was their dedicated care, and its consequences, that a rumour grew that they actually took the plague into themselves in order to heal their neighbours, often dying in their place. Perhaps here is the real reason for the spread of Christianity in Rome - a selfless living out of the way of the Kingdom, that put service before even safety. Much as we have seen so many staff do in residential homes, hospitals, and hospices in these months of this pandemic - living the life of the kingdom in what they do, day by day. Maybe that isn’t how they would describe it, they may see in their actions nothing of faith; but to live the way of the kingdom is to follow Jesus, whether acknowledged or not. Maybe it is not, therefore, belief that most strongly defines those who live the way of the kingdom, but action.

"Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices. Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.” 

St.Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle

ANTHEM Christ has no body now but yours

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
Let us declare our faith
in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS
God our father, living through the challenges of this pandemic, we bring our thanks for the blessings we are receiving: the emergence of early summer: the walks giving us time to reflect - time to pray; the joy of conversation from unexpected casual meetings; the generosity of the community in donating food and offering support; our Rector’s skill in keeping the church open online and offering us the opportunity to worship and pray together. For all these we are truly thankful. 

Lord in your mercy…..

Hear our prayer.

Lord, you have given this human creation of yours so much potential, so many gifts. We pray for the success of the scientists, and those willing to take part in trials. May they bring their best endeavours and their total commitment, to uncovering a safe pathway through the dangers posed by the virus. 

Lord in your mercy……

Hear our prayer.

God our mother, as we move into the easing of lockdown, we pray for those for whom this may bring anxiety and trepidation about their once so familiar, safe world. We remember also the vulnerable for whom there is no release – just a continuation of staying indoors.  Some of the elderly, told what is “best” for them, may feel that it is the worst. Comfort all who are struggling to remain cheerful and positive in isolation. We remember in this benefice, Jackie and her family, Lucy, Diane, Ray and Christopher.

Lord in your mercy…….

Hear our prayer.

God our father we are a country in mourning and we ask that you bring your solace to all who grieve. May we remember them once the flood of sympathy peters out and life becomes normal for us, but not for those on the journey of bereavement. Comfort them as they try to reassemble a life; be the cornerstone for them and grant us the words we need in order to help.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
May Christ, who out of defeat
brings new hope and a new future,
fill you with his new life.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
Amen

HYMN Jesu lover of my soul - Aberystwyth

1 Jesu, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll,
while the tempest still is high:
hide me, O my Saviour, hide
Till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last.

2 Other refuge have I none,
hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah, leave me not alone,
still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
all my help from thee I bring;
cover my defenceless head
with the shadow of thy wing.

3 Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
more than all in thee I find:
raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
heal the sink, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
false and full of sin I am,
thou art full of truth and grace.

4 Plenteous grace with thee is found,
grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound,
make and keep me pure within.
thou of life the fountain art,
freely let me take of thee,
spring thou up within my heart,
rise to all eternity.

TO END

Gregorio Allegri: Miserere

The Parting Glass