Worship at Home – Sunday 5th April 2020
Grace, mercy and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
be with us all.
Welcome again to ‘Worship at Home’. Take a moment to think of those with whom you would normally be worshipping in church on a Sunday. We may be worshipping individually, but we do so with all the church family and -in different ways- God’s people everywhere.
Let’s begin with praise and adoration of Jesus our King. Read through (or sing!) these familiar words. You can find the rest of the hymn and read or listen to it via a web browser.
Crown Him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon the throne;
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own:
Awake, my soul, and sing
of Him who died for thee,
and hail Him as thy matchless King
through all eternity. Matthew Bridges
Let us pray. We begin by reflecting for a moment on our own relationship with God ….We invite the Holy Spirit to come, to fill us, inspire us and work in us. As you say the sentences slowly to yourself, be reminded of God’s presence with you, his love, forgiveness and faithfulness:
Be with me, Spirit of God;
Nothing can separate me from your love.
Breathe on me, breath of God;
Fill me with your saving power.
Speak in me wisdom of God;
bring strength, healing and peace.
Today is Palm Sunday. We remember Jesus entering Jerusalem for the last time amid the hosannas of the crowd so soon to turn against him. It is also the beginning of Holy Week, in which, culminating on Good Friday, we walk with Jesus to his death, through the agony and suffering he endured for us. One of today’s readings, from Matthew’s Gospel, takes us all through the passion narrative, from Judas Iscariot’s plotting with the high priests to Jesus’ death on the cross. It is 116 verses long -but a great way to begin Holy Week. Why not take some time to read it through…
Matthew 26:14 - 27:55
Few events in Matthew’s narrative could have happened if there had been a plague and the Romans had imposed restrictions similar to those we currently suffer. No plotting, no Last Supper, no betrayal or arrest, no Sanhedrin, no denials in the courtyard, no judgment of Pilate (except perhaps his public hand-washing) and no mockery by the soldiers. So much of our behaviour - good and bad- is up close and personal. Reading the events through a ‘social-distancing filter’ highlights the solitary moments in the story.
A prisoner once wrote: “The first few days…were really tedious. I felt a growing sense of doom and despair welling up inside me…For the first time in my life I felt totally helpless and alone….I was scared…and I had no one to turn to.” (40 Stories of Hope, CWR, 2017, 150-151). Such feelings of fear and isolation are shared by many, especially the most vulnerable, at this time of national crisis. If you have been used to sharing life’s challenges with someone close but no longer can, your sense of loneliness is inevitably deeper. For each of us at the moment, life is increasingly a solitary walk.
The Passion story includes three men alone and abandoned. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss. When he saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priest and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said. “What is that to us?” they replied. That’s your responsibility.” (27:3-4). Judas was trapped. In no man’s land. The chief priests had rejected his confession. Jesus’ last words to him had begun with ‘friend’ (26:50), but he couldn’t now ask for forgiveness from Jesus who had been led away. And he certainly couldn’t go back to his fellow disciples. He had been abandoned to his own sin. Filled with self-loathing and without hope, he went away and hanged himself, his last solitary walk.
Peter hadn’t, like the other disciples, deserted Jesus. He had followed at a distance right up to the high priest’s courtyard. He was going to stick by Jesus come what may. But when it came to the crunch, he three times publicly denied even knowing Jesus. In the moment of that cock crow, Peter realised that all his boasting and bravado had been worthless. How could he have let down his Master so badly? How could he ever look Jesus in the face again? Fear and shame overwhelmed him and drove him into the arms of solitude as “he went outside and wept bitterly.” (26:75).
Jesus himself knew all the weaknesses and failings of his disciples -better than they did. “This very night, you will all fall away on account of me,” he had told them (26:31). Indeed those closest to him, Peter, James and John, couldn’t even stay awake for an hour while Jesus prayed at Gethsemane. In deep sorrow and anguish Jesus prayed alone. Failed by his friends and facing death, he drew strength from prayer to his heavenly Father. And finally, on the cross, in the agony of his final moments, Jesus cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (27:46). It is the ultimate cry of abandonment, that moment when he bore upon himself the world’s sin and our separation from God.
As we walk the way of solitude, and feel our own isolation and separation from the company of others, we take comfort that Jesus walked that solitary road before us; he knows what we, and millions of others, are going through; so often he ministered to the marginalised and isolated. Like him, we can draw strength through prayer to our heavenly Father. And we can be absolutely certain that in Jesus we have hope, that anchor for our soul in times of crisis. For God did not forsake Jesus and does not forsake those who love him. He raised Jesus from the dead and through him gives us the victory over the enemy we currently face and the final enemy, death.
From the risen Jesus, Peter found forgiveness and a new life of purpose. Helpless and alone, some prisoners, sadly, follow Judas. Others, like the prisoner above, turn to God and find that same forgiveness in Jesus as Peter did. His story ends: “I realised that God was with me too. He listens to and answers my prayers. Since then, he has taken me on an amazing spiritual journey to a place of peace and joy…He has shown me the way to a new sense of hope for a bright and prosperous future.” On our own solitary walk, we have Jesus for company and a destination of peace and joy. Hosanna in the highest!
Let’s close with prayer.
First, in thanksgiving for Jesus, who for us ‘humbled himself and became obedient to death -even death cross.’ (Philippians 2:8)
Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your tender love towards the human race
sent your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection; 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.
We pray into these difficult times, lifting before our heavenly Father: those who have suffered bereavement, those who are sick, those who minister to the sick, those who are especially vulnerable and those who may be struggling with enforced isolation. Pray inspiration for scientists working on vaccines and ventilators, wisdom for decision-makers and calm among the population.
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
We end by joining our prayers together with our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world by saying the Lord’s Prayer.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing.
Bible Quotations: Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers and Liturgy: copyright © The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England.