A Service for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Sunday after the Ascension)

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HYMN - Hail the day that sees him rise - Llanfair

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

The Spirit of the Lord fills the world and knows our every word and deed.
Let us then open ourselves to the Lord and confess our sins in penitence and faith.

You raise the dead to life in the Spirit:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You bring pardon and peace to the broken in heart:
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You make one by your Spirit the torn and divided:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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.

O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

FIRST READING - Acts 1.6-14
A theme of the gospels is the inability of the disciples to ‘get it’, they just keeping missing what Jesus is saying. And Luke has them still looking for the restoration of a independent kingdom of Israel, but the power they will receive will not be the power to rule but to witness; power to communicate, not to dominate. Power to communicate a faith worth sharing and create a community worth joining.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

HYMN O for a heart to praise my God

1 O for a heart to praise my God,
a heart from sin set free;
a heart that's sprinkled with the blood
so freely shed for me:

2 A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
my great Redeemer's throne;
where only Christ is heard to speak,
where Jesus reigns alone:

3 A humble, lowly, contrite heart,
believing, true, and clean,
which neither life nor death can part
from him that dwells within:

4 A heart in every thought renewed,
and full of love divine;
perfect and right and pure and good -
a copy, Lord, of thine.

5 Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart,
come quickly from above;
write thy new name upon my heart,
thy new best name of Love.

GOSPEL - John 17.1-11
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Sermon - from Keith Atton

One of my habits is to want to know the exact time of everything. I like watching train times, aircraft take-offs and dates of flying; our train is 5 minutes late … it's caught up 2 minutes ... I don't think I could have been like that before the modern world; times and dates were used loosely as we can see by the ages of Old Testament characters. Numbers had a different, powerful meaning - 3 days, 12 tribes, 40 days or 40 years. (Just like today – 3 word slogans “Get Brexit Done” are very powerful!) Time too seems to go at different paces; as I have got older, I remember my parents saying, time speeds up, and it does feel like that – where did that year all go? Where did those years since retirement go? Is time going faster or slower for you during lock- down?

One thing I do each morning is to read newspapers and the BBC news on the internet. The same story but different so often emerges. This morning's one, as I write, is that an interviewer has been put in her place by the Home Secretary or the Home Secretary has been shown to be in the wrong by that same interviewer, depending on which paper you read.

So we should not be surprised when we find that the gospel writers, second generation Christians rather than eye witnesses, did not give exactly the same account of the resurrection and the ascension. The story of the ascension appears very briefly only in Matthew and Luke and in Matthew there is no description of Jesus departure, he  simply commissions the disciples to carry on His work. The 40 days between the resurrection and ascension comes not from Luke's gospel, but from his second volume i.e. Acts where there is a much fuller account of Jesus' final departure. In Luke's gospel, it appears the ascension happens on Easter day. The idea of entering into a cloud (like the transfiguration) is an explanation in ancient cosmology of  the experience the disciples had, of Jesus who had risen and was seen by His followers after having died, but was now no longer visible because he was re-united with God.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, the question in everyone's minds must have been “what now?”. Perhaps He was, after all, going to “restore the kingdom of Israel” to quote Acts 1.6. Perhaps they thought “if only He would stay with us instead of coming and going”. But, of course, if He had shown His post - resurrection self to everyone, continually, everywhere, He would have forced people to follow him and as it is put in a hymn I love “force is not of God”; without free will we would be just God's play things. (This forcing people to believe reminds us of one of the temptations that Jesus rejected just before His ministry started.)

Many years ago now, 55 in fact, I was fortunate enough to come across Rev. Frank Wright, Rector of Stretford, now in the Manchester Borough of Trafford. He put fully into practice the gospel of caring; people I came across would say “Oh! You go to St. Matthew's. The Rector helped me when ….” Then one day my wife had heard “The Rector is leaving”. Like many, I was shocked and dismayed. But his departure enabled others to grow (including his 2 curates); his departure led him to influence a much greater number of people – by university extra mural courses, by his work as Residentiary Canon at Manchester Cathedral, by his books and by his many television programmes for Granada. In my former professional life, I would frequently have the same experience. Someone asks “how will we manage without that inspiring teacher .. or that inspiring student?” The answer is that others will grow to replace them, not quite in the same way. The influence of the person who has left will now be felt in new spheres.

Jesus had returned briefly to certify to His disciples who he was. But however much they wanted him to, He could not stay, could not return to His former ministry in the small towns of Galilee. As a result of His departure, His disciples were enabled to grow, just as good parents and teachers give guidance but know when to let the young person have the freedom to find out for themselves. The disciples could now spread far and wide enabling others, who in turn enabled others …. so that the mission could be to people of all nations. 

We too as 21st Century disciples have the signposts Jesus gave, by His life, His death and His resurrection, so that we can go forward on our pilgrim journey and so that we, and those we come into contact with, may have, as Jesus is reported to have said, “life in all its fullness” (John 10.10) And He gave one more thing, but that is for next week ….

ANTHEM    Sing Joyfully, Psalm 81.1-4 - Voces8

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 - Gill Macdonald
Lord you have ascended into the heavens and we await the gift of your Holy Comforter:

We pray for your worldwide church, at a time when the comfort of the Holy Spirit could not be more important.  We pray for all Christians who are facing this pandemic, unable to worship you together, but fragmented, anxious and fearful.  We pray for all bishops and clergy at this time, and especially for William and his team , maintaining connections with the congregation and finding new ways of keeping us altogether.

Lord in your mercy – Hear our prayer.

Lord we pray for your world in this time of turbulence.  We see the misery that has been caused worldwide by this pandemic, and we see nations who already are facing challenges of famine and starvation,  many displaced because of war and natural disasters.   This is your world Lord and we  would  pray that  you  guide all  leaders, politicians and experts into your knowledge and wisdom, so that they make the right decisions at the right time.

Lord, in your mercy – Hear our prayer.

We thank you for the  many blessings that have been offered to us at this difficult time.  The opportunity to help our neighbours, to have time to listen, reflect and pray :  to think about what is important in our lives, time to be quiet  and  the pleasures of beautiful sunshine and the tranquillity of nature.

Lord in your mercy – Hear our prayer.

We pray for all those who are suffering from Covid 19, all those in hospital - many  in intensive care, and for those in care homes and  isolating at home.  We pray for all doctors, nurses and other support staff caring for them, and for anxious families at home.  We pray for all who are worried about their job security and livelihoods, for those living under the threat of domestic violence and abuse, and for our children who have  been deprived of their school life and interaction with friends and extended family. We pray for our schools, for the staff and the children waiting to know whether they will be returning to the classrooms soon.

We pray for all who are sad, anxious, lonely and afraid and we ask that your healing presence may surround them all at this time.

Lord, in your mercy – Hear our prayer.

Lord we commit to your loving care all those who have died  recently, especially those in isolation, and for relatives who are mourning their loss and grieving their inability to pay their final respects. Please let them feel your healing presence and give them peace. 

Lord in your mercy ; Hear our prayer.

Lord we pray for ourselves, that we might be strong, confident and reassuring to all those we meet, knowing that you are holding us  all in the palm of your hand and that you are the God of the past the present and the future.

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.

The power of God be about you,
the love of Christ enfold you,
the joy of the Spirit be within you;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be among you, and remain with you always. Amen

HYMN Jesus shall reign where er’ the sun


Psalm 47 O Clap Your Hands - Orlando Gibbons - VOCES8

How can I keep singing - Pete Seeger