A Shorter Communion Service for the Baptism of Christ
 
HYMN - The race that long in darkness pined NEH57 - Dundee 

1 The race that long in darkness pined
Have seen a glorious light;
The people dwell in day, who dwelt
In death's surrounding night.

2 To hail thy rise, thou better Sun,
The gathering nations come,
Joyous as when the reapers bear
The harvest-treasures home.

3 To us a Child of hope is born,
To us a Son is given;
Him shall the tribes of earth obey,
Him all the hosts of heaven.

4 His name shall be the Prince of Peace,
For evermore adored;
The Wonderful, the Counsellor,
The great and mighty Lord.

5 His power increasing still shall spread;
His reign no end shall know:
Justice shall guard his throne above,
And peace abound below.

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
Christ the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts. In his light let us examine ourselves and confess our sins.

Lord of grace and truth, we confess our unworthiness
to stand in your presence as your children.
We have sinned:
Forgive and heal us.

The Virgin Mary accepted your call to be the mother of Jesus.
Forgive our disobedience to your will.
We have sinned:
Forgive and heal us.

The wise men followed the star to find Jesus the King.
Forgive our reluctance to seek you.
We have sinned:
Forgive and heal us.

Your Son our Saviour in humility accepted the baptism of John.
Forgive our pride and rejection of your ways.
We have sinned:
Forgive and heal us.

At a wedding in Cana Jesus changed water into wine.
Forgive our failure to let your transforming presence change us.
We have sinned:
Forgive and heal us.

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

Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen


FIRST READING - Genesis 1.1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

HYMN - O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness NEH 52 - Was Lebat 

1 O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
With gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness,
Kneel and adore him, the Lord is his name!

2 Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness,
High on his heart he will bear it for thee,
Comfort thy sorrows, and answer thy prayerfulness,
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

3 Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine:
Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness,
These are the offerings to lay on his shrine.

4 These, though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
He will accept for the name that is dear;
Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness,
Trust for our trembling and hope for our fear.

GOSPEL - Mark 1.4-11

John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

SERMON 

Today has, appropriately enough, the distinct theme of beginnings – the beginning of the universe and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. For Mark it all begins with Jesus’ Baptism – this is the first time that Jesus is proclaimed as God’s Son – proclaimed not by himself, nor even by John the Baptist, but by the very operation of God. God’s action is three-fold, first the boundaries of heaven and earth are torn apart – temporarily re-ordered – then the spirit of God descends upon Jesus and then God speaks. The speech of God is not haphazard – it names, ‘You are my Son’, it confers identity and form, then it approves, ‘with you I am well pleased.’ We are supposed to make connections – this is God’s creative initiative at work – this is God being God as at the very dawn of the time.

God said, “let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.

Which takes us to Israel’s own account of the beginning of everything. Some of the most well known words in the English language – “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..” But of course, it wasn’t written in English, it wasn’t the product of an English mind, nor for that matter a North European one – it was written in Hebrew for Hebrew people by Hebrew people.

Breysheyt barar elohim yet Harshamaeem veyt hararrets

In beginning created God the heavens and the earth

Our reading was only the first five verses of Genesis but they really can’t be divorced from the whole account of Hebrew pre-Abraham history. For much of what follows I am indebted to the great Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann.

The theologians of Israel, in these chapters, face the basic mystery of life upon which all well-being depends. They use material from the common traditions of the near East but they handle and utilise it in a particular theological way. They want to affirm that the ultimate meaning of creation is to be found in the heart and purpose of the creator and that the world has been positively valued by God for itself. 

We should take Genesis neither as history nor as myth, but as a declaration of God's dealing with his creation. It is an attempt to describe the relationship between the Creator and the created.

We read that it is by speaking and hearing that the interaction between creator and creation takes place. God does not create in the sense of a manufacturer. He does not "make" so that an object is simply "there." In Genesis chapter 1 God creates by speaking. Creation listens and answers. You could say that "God calls the world into being." It is telling that in the final part of Genesis before Abraham comes on the scene the last state of pre-Israelite humanity is lo' shema', "they do not listen". And when creation does not listen, it cannot respond as God’s creature. Nonetheless, the caller still calls, urging the world to answer.

God’s speech is not coercive but evocative. It invites but it does not compel. It hopes rather than requires. So, it may be resisted and unheeded. But the call of the creator is not thereby made redundant. The creation is not an object built by a carpenter, it is a vulnerable partner whose life is impacted by the voice of one who cares in tender but firm ways. 

The story of God’s evolving relationship with his creation is distinctly one of ups and downs, but the message is that God will not leave the world alone, he will not abandon it – God is patient and will wait. That message alone would have been very precious for those for whom it was written. Most Scholars think that it was written in the 6th century BC and addressed to the exiles languishing in Babylon. It was designed to refute the claims of the Babylonians that their gods controlled the future, that the God of Israel had been defeated. 

Genesis is not an abstract statement about the origin of the universe, rather it is a theological and pastoral statement addressed to real people in danger of despair – to meet a real need and answer a real problem. The problem was to find a ground for faith in the one God when the experience of the sixth century defeat by Babylon seemed to deny the rule of this God. Against such claims, Genesis asserted that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is still God, he is the one who watches over his creation and will bring it to well being.

So Genesis was never intended for general ruminations about the world. It continues to be a ground for faith in God when more immediate historical experience is against it. Its affirmation is: this God can be trusted, even against all apparent data, including sickness, poverty, unemployment, loneliness, that is, every human experience of abandonment.

Genesis is about good news, its writers weren’t interested in the mechanics of creation, just about the connection between Creator and created. They concluded that between the Creator and creature there is distance and closeness. The closeness is God’s abiding attentiveness to his creation day by day, and the creation’s response to that attentiveness. But yet there is also a distance which allows creation its own freedom to act. The creation is not over powered by the creator. The creator not only cherishes his creation but honours and respect it according to its own way in the relationship. The grace of God is that the creature whom he has caused to be, he now lets be. This God speaks not of must be, but let be. Life in its fullness is therefore possible.

In the Baptism of Jesus, Jesus reflects the humility of the creator coming as creature, in the voice from heaven God speaks another word and a new connection between the creator and his creation is announced. “You are my Son, the beloved.” And once again God awaits the response of his creation – and once again his sovereign rule is expressed in terms of faithfulness, patience and anguish.

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 - Edna Bloomfield

From the rising of the sun to its setting, let us pray to the Lord. Holy and Eternal God, Lord of all, we pray for the people of God in all the world.  May we worship You in spirit and in truth and discover the unity which is Your will for us.  We offer our prayers for our Benefice, and as we join together in prayer today, we remember the Magi as they come to worship and offer gifts.  We offer gifts today; praise, worship, our souls and bodies.  Lord, we belong to You, come from You and will return to You.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for our Rector William, for Warwick and Myra and all who minister in this benefice.  Thank you for their dedication and service as they work to find new ways to worship and connect with You, Lord, and each other, at this very difficult time.  As we pray and worship in our homes, we remember that we are still part of the Benefice and worldwide church.  We give thanks for our churchwardens and all who keep our churches open for personal prayer and reflection.

Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are sick in body, mind or spirit, those suffering from the Corona virus, in hospital and gravely ill, and for those whose treatment has needed to be delayed or cancelled.  Bless all the medical staff, nurses, doctors and all who support them.  Please give them the strength and energy to carry on when they are weary and feel ready to drop.  With the NHS under such pressure, we pray for Your protection for all who work in our care homes and the elderly in their care.  We remember those dear and known to us who are sick, troubled and anxious in these uncertain times.  We pray for Your peace and calm and Your loving presence with them always.  Loving Father, hold in Your care all who mourn the loss of loved ones.  In their darkness and pain, comfort them.

Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, we place in Your care our families and friends.  Keep them safe and well.  Give them peace and hope to sustain them.  We thank you for those who love and care for us, as Jesus loved his human family.

Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Father, we ask You to touch our lives with your grace and renew our faith by your Holy Spirit.  May Your love deepen our trust in You and remove our fear of tomorrow.  May Your mercy hold onto us when we are weak.  May Your truth fill our minds and Your Holy Spirit empower us to serve You.

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

THE PEACE

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace 
The peace of the Lord be always with you
and also with you

HYMN - Hail to the Lord’s anointed NEH 55 - Cruger

1 Hail to the Lord's Anointed!
Great David's greater Son;
Hail, in the time appointed,
His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
To set the captive free;
To take away transgression,
And rule in equity.

2 He comes with succour speedy
To those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy,
And bid the weak be strong;
To give them songs for sighing,
Their darkness turn to light,
Whose souls, condemned and dying,
Were precious in his sight.

3 He shall come down like showers
Upon the fruitful earth,
Love, joy, hope, like flowers,
Spring in his path to birth:
Before him on the mountains
Shall peace the herald go;
And righteousness in fountains
From hill to valley flow.

4 Kings shall fall down before him,
And gold and incense bring;
All nations shall adore him,
His praise all people sing;
To him shall prayer unceasing
And daily vows ascend;
His kingdom still increasing,
A kingdom without end.

5 O'er every foe victorious,
He on his throne shall rest,
From age to age more glorious,
All-blessing and all-blest:
The tide of time shall never
His covenant remove;
His name shall stand for ever;
That name to us is Love.

THE PREPARATION OF THE TABLE

Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power,
the glory, the splendour, and the majesty;
for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
All things come from you, 
and of your own do we give you.

Eucharistic Prayer H 

The Lord is here.
His Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give thanks and praise.

It is right to praise you, Father, Lord of all creation;
in your love you made us for yourself.
When we turned away
you did not reject us,
but came to meet us in your Son.

You embraced us as your children
and welcomed us to sit and eat with you.

In Christ you shared our life
that we might live in him and he in us.

He opened his arms of love upon the cross
and made for all the perfect sacrifice for sin.

On the night he was betrayed,
at supper with his friends
he took bread, and gave you thanks;
he broke it and gave it to them, saying:
Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of me.

Father, we do this in remembrance of him:
his body is the bread of life.

At the end of supper, taking the cup of wine,
he gave you thanks, and said:
Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins;
do this in remembrance of me.

Father, we do this in remembrance of him:
his blood is shed for all.

As we proclaim his death and celebrate his rising in glory,
send your Holy Spirit that this bread and this wine
may be to us the body and blood of your dear Son.

As we eat and drink these holy gifts
make us one in Christ, our risen Lord.

With your whole Church throughout the world
we offer you this sacrifice of praise
and lift our voice to join the eternal song of heaven:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

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.

We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.
Though we are many, we are one body, 
because we all share in one bread.
Jesus, lamb of God: have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins: have mercy on us
Jesus, redeemer of the world: grant us your peace.

As Mary’s body was given for Jesus,
so Jesus’ body is given for us.
Here the Word made flesh
comes to us,
cradled in bread and wine.

[Please come to the table to receive the bread, respecting the necessary distance.]

Post Communion PRAYER

Lord of all time and eternity,
you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father
in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son:
by the power of your Spirit
complete the heavenly work of our rebirth
through the waters of the new creation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

BLESSING
Mysterious God, confounding expectations, 
meeting us where we least expect to find you,
be with us this Epiphany.

Child of the manger, healing our pain,
sharing our weakness,
be with us this Epiphany. 

Source of life
birth of God within our own experience,
be with us this Epiphany.

Be with us in our frailty
be with us on our journey
walk beside us, live within us
lead us to glory, lead us home.

May he who by his incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, grant us the fullness of peace and goodwill and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon us and remain with us always. Amen

HYMN - Brightest and best are the sons of the morning NEH 49 - Epiphany Hymn

1 Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

2 Cold on his cradle the dew-drops are shining,
Low lies his head with the beasts of the stall:
Angels adore him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Saviour of all.

3 Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
Odours of Edom, and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest or gold from the mine?

4 Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would his favour secure;
Richer by far is the heart's adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ. Amen