A Service for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

If you would like to watch the service as a complete video then start immediately below (you may wish to open a second browser window and follow the text at the same time):

HYMN - Be thou my vision - Slane

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

Lord our God,
in our sin we have avoided your call.
Our love for you is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Have mercy on us;
deliver us from judgement;
bind up our wounds and revive us;
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. cf Hosea 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
God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us
   to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

FIRST READING - Acts 17.22-31

Paul Speaks at the ancient court of Athens, the Areopagus on a hill near the Agora, or market place. He may well have been there defending himself, though this isn’t the context the writer of Acts gives us. 

Paul quotes Aratus of Soli, a favourite poet of c. 300BC. But in the main Paul responds to the complexity of religion in Athens in a somewhat dismissive manner, as if he really didn’t understand it at all - either that or, perhaps more likely, the writer of Acts doesn’t have time, space or inclination to give it much of an airing. In the end the message boils down to ‘repent, the end is nigh’. I am not sure that this was ever a way to communicate the gospel, and it sells Paul rather short. But it does remind us that Paul walked a tightrope all his life as an Apostle of Christ, between Jew and Greek, and the struggle he had to discover a language that he could use to talk to both about ideas neither would naturally have experienced or understood.

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

HYMN Come down O love divine - Down Ampney

GOSPEL - John 14.15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

SERMON - John 14.15-21

Our gospel reading continues last week’s extract from Jesus’ long farewell speech to his disciples, or at least the writer of the gospel’s idea of that speech. Of course this is a crucial part of John’s exposition of his theology. The purpose is to draw the disciples together, and so too the community of Christians for whom John was writing. We must never forget that John has an audience and that he is acutely aware of them, their needs and their fears, their trials and their suffering. 

What will get his people through when there is great hostility to their beliefs is the knowledge that they are not alone, that they have each other and that they have the presence of God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate - he who will give them words better than their words, and courage better than their courage. 

Jesus assures them of his constant presence, invisible to the world but tangible to the community of the faithful; and his presence is guarantee enough of not only his resurrection from the dead, but his place with his Father. The connection Jesus has, according to John, with his disciples is based on their love for him, which is, in turn, based on their keeping of his commandments, the principal of which was to love one another. 

The language of love that John uses here is the language of relationship. It isn’t about a set of beliefs about something, harder or easier to accept, it is about the creation and growth of a relationship. The most profound statement in the Bible, and its most audacious, perhaps ridiculous, claim, is that man and woman were made in the image of God. I can’t believe that the writer thought that we looked like God, that would be ridiculous, but I do think that he thought that we can connect, that at some level and through the fog of our confusion, we and the author of all things can relate to one another. 

The claim of Christianity is to take that one step further and to say that the expression of God’s nature was seen perfectly in Jesus, and that it is compassionate, forgiving, beaten and bleeding - hurting, and yet for ever begging his creation to see that its joy and glory may be found in the awareness of its relationship with its father and mother, creator and saviour. That in relationship is our hope and our salvation.

To be a disciple is to awaken to this relationship and to understand its implications for our lives, and what they might become if we answer the call of God. The writer of the First Epistle of John, probably the same person, wrote these words to his people:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us…No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

ANTHEM I give you a new commandment

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
Lord we come together today from our different homes, looking to you for guidance and support as we are approaching our 9th week of uncertainty and lockdown. We pray for William and his team as they endeavour to reach out to our church community, lead our worship in different ways and support those who feel anxious or alone.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our Prayer

We  pray that leaders around the world, listen and collaborate with each other to solve the problems. Give them the grace to make unselfish decisions, which are in the best interests of everyone, in order to lessen the impact of the virus as much as possible.

As schools prepare to reopen after Half Term we pray for all the school leaders in our Benefice who are struggling to make the return as safe as possible for children and staff.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

We pray for those who are suffering from the Corona virus. May you give them strength to fight the illness,  be there at their side Lord, reassuring them and their families. We pray for all the health and social care teams who are bravely continuing their vital work to care for the sick in hospital, in care homes and in the community, bravely putting themselves at risk. May they feel guided and protected by you.

We pray also for those suffering from mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, exacerbated by the isolation during the lockdown. Help them Lord to ask for help.

Lord in your mercy: Hear our Prayer

We remember those who have died or who have lost a loved one due to the virus or other illness and who may be isolated with no one but you to comfort them. We remember anyone known personally to us and we pray that you are there at their side Lord and they feel your loving presence. 

Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Lord, in these times of isolation, apart from loved ones, distant from friends, away from neighbours, thank you that there is nothing that is able to separate us from your love. 

Keep us all in your care

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
The love of the Lord Jesus
draw you to himself,
the power of the Lord Jesus
strengthen you in his service,
the joy of the Lord Jesus fill your hearts;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
bless you and keep you, always. Amen

HYMN

HYMN God is love let heaven adore him - Abbots Leigh

TO END

Translation:
Jesus remains my joy,
My heart’s comfort and sap. 
Jesus obviates all misfortune, 
He is my life’s strength,
My eye’s delight and sun,
My soul’s treasure and bliss; 
Therefore I will not let Jesus go 
From my heart and sight.

If ye love me - Tallis