What darkness brings to light

A service for Good Friday

Opening notes

On Easter Sunday we focus on coming to life, in and through the power of the risen Christ. But in order for us to come to life, we must first sit with the darkness of death. This service is a solemn space in which people can grieve the suffering of Jesus for the sake of our sin and remember their own losses. It has many elements that would be found in a funeral/memorial service.

Despite having a number of children in my children in the congregation for whom I have written this service, I decided not to have our usual time of conversation. I want them to experience the silence and the ritual of this moment. At their table in the front of the sanctuary, however, I have prepared a space for them in which they can discover the theme of the service in their own way: black cardboard, metallic sharpies (markers), a box of different crosses from a Godly Play lesson, and my own messy example in which I have drawn freehand nine different imitations of those crosses that spoke to me – some overlapping. After the service, these will be put in the sanctuary windows. The gold and silvers literally shine on the black background! (I’ll try to take a decent image tomorrow when the light is better).

I have also incorporated a silent “pilgrimage” to the large metal cross on the church grounds. I have pre-cut lengths of red ribbon which congregants will be able to tie to it as a symbol of their confession. It will also be visible to members of the community from the shopping centre across the road.

The lament

This is the night
where violence is the victor
as ambitious men measure a man’s worth in silver
and fearful men turn their backs on a friend,
and powerful men trade what is right for whatever keeps them popular.

This is the day
when the sun refuses to shine 
on the tear-stained cheeks of those who bear witness to such cruelty
or the bewildered faces of those who can’t take back their wrongs
or the hardened hearts already moving on to their next bit of entertainment.

This is the time
in which God goes ahead
into the nightmare landscape of pain and suffering,
into the breach between divine love and human sinfulness,
into the dark,
into the deep,
into death.

Out of the depths we cry to you:
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

TiS 350 There is a green hill far away (verses 1-4)

Old Testament reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (NIV)

As it was prophesied in the book of Isaiah, so has it come to pass:

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

TiS 356 Here hangs a man discarded

(sung to the tune of O sacred head most wounded – 339 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oza5iOPtQkA)

Pilgrimage of confession/pain

The prayers of confession are done as part of a silent pilgrimage to the cross (located in my instance on the outside of the building). Everyone is given a red ribbon as they walk out of the sanctuary to tie to the cross as a symbol of laying their sins on the Intercessor. 

After some silence, a prayer in the face of tragic death is offered (based on some of the language and imagery of Psalm 22). This will connect with people on two levels: the first, as a lament of the injustice of the cross and expression of the questions may have about whether it was really necessary; the second – of which we need to be aware – is at the more personal level of recent or unresolved grief for those whose loved ones have died.

Sovereign Lord,
our great God of compassion,
as we gather around the cross of Christ
we can hardly believe what happened.
Our hearts are shaken with sorrow,
our certainty with disbelief,
for a life so full of promise has been taken
and we do not understand.

Cradle us in our confusion,
meet us in our anger,
contain our shock and sadness,
bear the questions that have no answers,
ease our regret and shame.

We must believe that you do not despise our cries of deep despair –
that You do not look the other way when we are in pain.
You are the first responder to our sufferings:
let us remember that “it is finished”
that we might overflow with life again.
In Jesus’ name.

Chorus: Amazing love (what love is this)  

Gospel reading: John 19:38-42

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. 

Prayer of invocation

O God for whom the darkness is as dazzling as light,
You are our very present help in times of trouble.
With You we have nothing to fear
and in Your hope we place our trust.
In the mystery of life and death before us,
speak to us now Your eternal words of life.
Amen.

Guided meditation:
what darkness brings to light  

I am amazed how in the worst of times, we sometimes get a glimpse of the best in people. My meditation will focus on how Jospeh and Nicodemus, secret disciples who were afraid to be seen of him in the light of day for what it might cost them, in this moment step up, out of the shadows, and claim his body. While it is true that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, sometimes the darkness is necessary for us to work out what we really believe and where we’re headed and to see sources of light that escaped our attention before. 

This is a wonderful place to lead people in an imaginative prayer exercise beginning with our common experience of having our eyes adjust in a dark room when something unsettles us in the middle of the night and finding all sorts of unexpected light sources that orient us, and leading to a prayerful consideration of what our current worries, struggles, or pain might be revealing to us.  

Prayer of petition

Untiring God,
Your love pursues us:
there is no place in heaven or earth or under the earth
where we can hide from You.

Gather us up in Your arms 
– gently, for some of us are bruised, and broken, and bleeding.
Dispel the shadow of death,
the despair that engulfs us, 
with the bright dawn of Your life.

Look upon us with unconditional grace and mercy;
lead us, slowly, in our yearning
for redemption and a brand new day.

Give us patient faith in times of confusion,
strength to meet hard times to come,
and courage to place our hearts, our lives, our spirits,
into Your hands,
confident in the day
when every word will be spoken in kindness,
every tear shed for joy,
and every ending just another beginning
as the first-light comes
with the blessing of Your own face shining upon us.

TiS 349 In the cross of Christ I glory 

Benediction (and moment of remembering)

This is a memorial prayer (available in Tess Ward’s “Alternative Pastoral Prayers” which sends people away to experience the wait for a new day. Afterwards, opportunity is given to those who would like to light a candle in memory of a loved one for whom the words are equally true.

Long the journey we must now make
for one of our kind has left us and we cannot be the same.
Slow the feet tread moment by moment,
a wonder that morning and evening keep coming round.
But weaving the old story into the new cannot be hurried 
for there are no landmarks and no maps.
We must weep over their bones until we carry them within us.
And when the winter of our grief is past
and the rains are over and gone
we will arise and come away,
put our hand in the hand of life,
see the world afresh with newborn eyes
as the flowers appear on the earth again
and the time of singing is come.

Go gently with God.

Come to life

An “all-in” service for Easter Sunday

So often we want to rush to the end of the story – to banish the darkness and celebrate the light and life of Christ shining radiantly beyond the confines of the empty tomb. This service is intended to make room for the sorrow of the women who went to tend to Jesus’ body to give way to the wonderful news that he is risen.

Lamenting in …

As little children we are often afraid of the dark and of the unseen things that might lurk there.

As adults, we are more comfortable with turning the lights out; more certain that in the morning the sun will rise and banish the nightmares away. Yet deep within us, many fears remain: fear of change, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of anything terrible happening to the ones that we love, fear of being the one left behind – grief-stricken and alone …

… like the mother, the dear friend, the faithful disciples of Jesus who had stood as helpless witnesses to his suffering and death; who in the dismal light of early dawn and with great despair in their hearts travelled together to his tomb … . 

TiS 345 Were you there? (verses 1-5 only)

4/ 5 women walk into the church with  symbols which they place on a bare altar. 

  • One carries the Christ candle with five nails pressed into it in the shape of the cross. 
  • One carries a large stone to represent the cold, sealed tomb.
  • One carries a folded white table cloth to represent the folded grave clothes. 
  • One carries a perfume diffuser or incense stick to represent the spices that they brought for his body. 
  • The optional fifth brings a bright basket of eggs (two normal and two which have have had the insides blown out) to represent new life and be used in talking with the children – this symbol is not placed on the altar, but on the floor in front of it.  

As they lay their items on the altar, they pray:

1st: Lord, I weep with all who suffer,
                              with all who are persecuted,
  with all creatures who endure our cruelty.

2nd: Lord, I weep with those who are lonely,
                                 with those who have buried a beloved,
                                 with those for whom life is harder than death.

3rd: Lord, I weep with all who are oppressed,
                                 with all who are bound by their addiction,
                                 with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.

4th: Lord, I weep where the land is burning,
                                 where war has erupted,
                                 where tempers run high.

5th: Lord, I weep with babies abandoned
in garbage bins and school bathrooms,
                              with children abused by the people they trust,
                              with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed.

Together: Lord, I weep. I weep. I weep.                                                     
                                
 They join the congregation, sitting at the front of the church. 

Looking for life …

The transformation of the altar is enacted as the Gospel is read.

Luke 24:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 

The incense/diffuser is lit and placed to the side of the altar (on the rail, pulpit, a smaller table).

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

The stone is lifted and placed on the side of the altar, on the ground, opposite side to the basket.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 

The nails are pulled out from the candle and placed next to the stone. The candle is lit and placed on the side with the incense.

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The table cloth is unfolded and draped over the altar. The candle is returned to the centre.

Alleluia! This is the Gospel of Christ.
Praise to our Lord! Alleluia!

Prayer:

Living One,
no tomb can keep You,
no door is closed to You,
no life is shut off from You.

Come lead us out of darkness into light,
out of doubt into faith,
out of death into life eternal.
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.
Amen.

TiS 370 Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Opening up …

Children’s Address (or sermon starter)

As you look at our Easter table, do you notice anything strange about it? Something that maybe doesn’t really belong there? (As my basket is a giant yellow chick popping out of its shell, I’m sure that the kids will be quite quick to spot it).

Hmmmm … this looks a little out of place. Should we see what is in it? Invite the kids to take a peek – but don’t let them touch yet. Yes! Yes! It’s full of eggs! These must be Easter eggs!! Would you like to eat one? (Taking care to pick a heavy egg which obviously still has yolk inside it, offer it to one of the children who should recoil at the thought of eating a raw egg).

Depending on their responses say something like, So it’s not an Easter egg? It’s just a normal chicken egg!?! Well, if it’s just a normal chicken egg then there should be something inside it. 

Crack the egg open into a bowl. O yes, you’re quite right. That’s not an Easter egg at all. I wouldn’t want to eat that either – not unless it was scrambled, with a little bit of cheese and tomato sauce on top.

But did you know that are some old, old stories that tell us where that the first Easter eggs were actually chicken eggs to start with? 

My favourite is the story of Simon the Cyrene. Simon was a farmer. His wife had sent him into Jerusalem one day to sell his produce to all the city folk who were preparing for a special feast  that  evening.   Simon had eggs to sell, something that everyone would need for their Seder table.  But when he got to the marketplace, there were people everywhere, shouting and pushing and spitting. So Simon put his basket down and pushed his way to the front to see what was going on. There, on the road, surrounded by soldiers was a man struggling under the weight of a wooden cross. He looked weak, like he had been up all night and taken a really bad beating.

As Simon watched, the man fell to his knees with exhaustion. One of the soldiers kicked him in the side. Another yelled at him to stand up. Simon just couldn’t help himself. He rushed forward to help – and so the soldiers ordered him to carry the cross of Jesus all the way up a hill called Golgotha or Calvary. 

There Simon watched as the whole sky turned black and Jesus died, hanging on that cross between two criminals. His heart was sad, but as he turned back he suddenly remembered: he had left his basket of eggs behind! His wife was going to be soooo mad at him.  He rushed back to the marketplace, hoping, hoping, hoping – and yes! There they were! Right where he had left them!! Remarkably not a single egg was missing, but, even more remarkably, the eggs were no longer white but brightly coloured and glittering. What a surprise!

Not like these eggs. Break the second full egg into the bowl. When we break them, we know exactly what we’re going to get. And that can be a little bit boring, and very disappointing.

Maybe that’s what it was like for the women we read about in the Gospel story. They went to the tomb which had been sealed shut with a large stone – knowing that inside would be Jesus’ body. Where there’s a closed tomb or a covered grace, there’s always a dead body. That’s just the way it is.

Next, pick up one of the blown eggs without really drawing attention to it and break it in the same way as you did the others. It should crumble in your hand.

Wait a minute! That isn’t right! That shouldn’t happen!!

Repeat with the remaining egg. Note the children’s curiosity and exclamations.  

These eggs are empty. Just like the tomb was when the women got there. They expected to see a body. But that’s not what they found! Instead they met two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead.

And that’s what Easter is all about – surprises. The unexpected happening right in front of our eyes. An empty tomb, a living Lord, new possibilities.

The children can be engaged in an activity like decorating or hunting for these “signs of life” – edible ones this time. 

Old Testament Reading (if using): Isaiah 65:17-25

 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

“Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Meditation/Reflection: Coming to Life

My focus is on “coming to life” in response to the angel’s question: why do you look for the living among the dead? The Isaiah passage points to the nature of the resurrection life that Christ makes possible: healing, delight, health, security, fruitfulness, meaningful work, reconciliation etc. The second half of the service consists of symbolic rituals/responses enacting this new life.    

Let us pray (words by Tess Ward – adapted):

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

As we leave the old
and step out into the new this day,
bring new life to our fingers
that we might touch the signs of Your life among us
and have faith.

The elements for Holy Communion are brought to the table
during the singing of:

TiS 373 Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life in the sacred meal we eat
that we might know You
in the breaking of our daily bread.

The elements are blessed and communion is shared.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
to the work of our hands this day
that we might trust
the abundance of Your gifts. 

Thank offerings are brought to the altar or collected by stewards.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
when You interrupt our selfish dreamings
and name those that need Your love and care
as our sisters and brothers. 

The names of the sick and hurting are spoken.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life to our eyes
that we might see You beside us behind our closed doors
and set forth with hope and with wonder
to proclaim Your eternal life
and everlasting love for the whole wide world.

Closing hymn: TiS 380 Yours be the glory

Sending out …

Alleluia!
Go in joy and peace with the Living One
who leads us forward.

Alleluia!
In the name of Christ, we come to life!

Facing the Shadows

A Liturgical Drama 

Preparations

  • All banners, cloths, books, flowers etc. are removed from the sanctuary
  • On the altar, a candelabra or seven single candles are set in a semi-circle 
  • Bread and wine/grape juice in “earthy” looking vessels are ready to be brought into the sanctuary
  • Stations for hand- or foot-washing are set up outside the sanctuary – basins, warm water, towels, a drop of essential oil
  • Volunteers needed:
    • Foot-washers – preferably leaders/elders in the church
    • Communion “stewards” – preferably not the regular stewards but an unlikely and diverse-looking group 
    • 7 readers (with a torch light to assist with their reading)
  • If using a data projector to display responses and songs, there should be a black slide as a “placeholder” to maintain as much darkness as possible.

Upon entering …  

As people enter the church, the mood is upbeat. Those washing their feet (or hands) engage them in conversation about the week that has passed. In the sanctuary some of the hymns or choruses from Palm Sunday can be played to create the link in the story and set the “supper scene.” 

Once most of the congregation is seated, the seven readers come forward to light their candles.

Leader: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Response: Jesus Christ is the light of the world. 

Call to worship (by Thom Shuman)

It was a night of hopeas they gathered so long ago,
God who rescues people from despair and oppression.
You offered grace without blemish
as they left behind the years
of loneliness, grief, and bullying,
daring to follow you
into a future known only to you.

One of the footwashers brings a basin and towel and lays it at the foot of the altar.

It was a night when salvation drew near as they gathered so long ago,
Lord who kneels to serve us,
as you tried to ready your friends for all that would happen.
In humility, you washed their feet
so they might follow you down the dusty road of death;
in love, you transformed a simple meal
into moments of grace and comfort.   

The communion stewards approach with bread and wine and “set the table.”

On a night like this, we gather to draw near to one another and you,
Spirit who shares these stories with us.
Here, is the basin with the living water
which washes away our fears and foolishness;
here is the towel we can use
to wipe the tears of all who weep
from grief, oppression, and loneliness;
here, we find that bread,
which, though broken and dropping crumbs,
feeds us with hope, fills us with strength
to serve our sisters and brothers;
here, we are offered the cup
which causes us to thirst for justice.

The bread and wine is shared with the stewards. The elements are distributed among the congregation but are not returned to the altar. 

(Words by Tess Ward) The “leader” raises hands high and says:
Praise to You, Friendship Giver,
for showing what love is,
for coming to our table and bringing us supper,
with the kiss of death hanging darkly over you.
As You tenderly wash each traveling foot,
In the lastness of it all,
In the job of love to be poured out, come what may,
Praise to You.

All of the lights in the sanctuary and surrounds are turned off. 

Facing the shadows

Leader: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Response: Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

Leader: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world
Response: and we loved darkness rather than light.

TiS 345 verse 1 

Were you there when the crucified my Lord?
Were you there when the crucified my Lord?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when the crucified my Lord?

Reader 1. The shadow of betrayal – John 13:21-30 (TPT)

Then Jesus was moved deeply in his spirit. Looking at his disciples, he announced, “I tell you the truth—one of you is about to betray me.”

Eyeing each other, his disciples puzzled over which one of them could do such a thing. The disciple that Jesus dearly loved was at the right of him at the table and was leaning his head on Jesus. Peter gestured to this disciple to ask Jesus who it was he was referring to. Then the dearly loved disciple leaned into Jesus’ chest and whispered, “Master, who is it?”

“The one I give this piece of bread to after I’ve dipped it in the bowl,” Jesus replied. Then he dipped the piece of bread into the bowl and handed it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And when Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus looked at Judas and said, “What you are planning to do, go do it now.” 

None of those around the table realized what was happening. Some thought that Judas, their trusted treasurer, was being told to go buy what was needed for the Passover celebration, or perhaps to go give something to the poor. So Judas left quickly and went out into the dark night to betray Jesus.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The first candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 1 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Reader 2. The shadow of denial – John 13:31-38 (TPT)

After Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the glory of God to surround the Son of Man, and God will be greatly glorified through what happens to me. And very soon God will unveil the glory of the Son of Man.

“My dear friends, I only have a brief time left to be with you. And then you will search and long for me. But I tell you what I told the Jewish leaders: you’ll not be able to come where I am. So I give you now a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you. For when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.”

Peter interjected, “But, Master, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going you won’t be able to follow, but one day you will follow me there.”

Peter said, “What do you mean I’m not able to follow you now? I would sacrifice my life to die for you!”

Jesus answered, “Would you really lay down your life for me, Peter? Here’s the absolute truth: Before the rooster crows in the morning, you will say three times that you don’t even know me!”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The second candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 2 

Forbid it Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

Reader 3. The Shadow of ignorance – John 14:1-11 (TPT)

“Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you’ve believed in God, now trust and believe in me also. My Father’s house has many dwelling places. If it were otherwise, I would tell you plainly, because I go to prepare a place for you to rest. And when everything is ready, I will come back and take you to myself so that you will be where I am. And you already know the way to the place where I’m going.”

Thomas said to him, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going, so how could we know the way there?”

Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with me. To know me is to know my Father too. And from now on you will realize that you have seen him and experienced him.”

Philip spoke up, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be all that we need!”

Jesus replied, “Philip, I’ve been with you all this time and you still don’t know who I am? How could you ask me to show you the Father, for anyone who has looked at me has seen the Father. Don’t you believe that the Father is living in me and that I am living in the Father? Even my words are not my own but come from my Father, for he lives in me and performs his miracles of power through me. Believe that I live as one with my Father and that my Father lives as one with me—or at least, believe because of the mighty miracles I have done.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The third candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 1 

There is a green hill far away,
Outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.

Reader 4. The shadow of negligence – Luke 22:39-46 (TPT)

Jesus left the upper room with his disciples and, as was his habit, went to the Mount of Olives, his place of secret prayer. There he told the apostles, “Keep praying for strength to be spared from the severe test of your faith that is about to come.”

Then he withdrew from them a short distance to be alone. Kneeling down, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup of agony away from me. But no matter what, your will must be mine.”

Jesus called for an angel of glory to strengthen him, and the angel appeared. He prayed even more passionately, like one being sacrificed, until he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground.

When Jesus finished praying, he got up and went to his disciples and found them all asleep, for they were exhausted and overwhelmed with sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “You need to be alert and pray for the strength to endure the great temptation.”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The fourth candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 3 

He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by his precious blood.

Reader 5. The shadow of violence – Luke 22:47-53 (TPT)

No sooner had he finished speaking when suddenly a mob approached, and right in front of the mob was his disciple Judas. He walked up close to Jesus and greeted him with a kiss. For he had agreed to give the religious leaders a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the one to seize.”

Jesus looked at him with sorrow and said, “A kiss, Judas? Are you really going to betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When the other disciples understood what was happening, they asked, “Lord, shall we fight them with our swords?”

Just then, one of the disciples swung his sword at the high priest’s servant and slashed off his right ear. Jesus stopped the incident from escalating any further by shouting, “Stop! That’s enough of this!” Then he touched the right side of the injured man’s head and the ear grew back—he was healed!

Jesus turned to those who had come to seize him—the ruling priests, the officers of the temple police, and the religious leaders—and said, “Am I a criminal that you come to capture me with clubs and swords? Wasn’t I with you day after day, teaching in the temple courts? You could have seized me at any time. But in the darkness of night you have now found your time, for it belongs to you and to the prince of darkness.”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The fifth candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 4 

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate,
Of heaven, and let us in.

Reader 6. The shadow of detachment – Luke 23:13-25 (TPT)

Pilate gathered the people together with the high priests and all the religious leaders of the nation and told them, “You have presented this man to me and charged him with stirring a rebellion among the people. But I say to you that I have examined him here in your presence and have put him on trial. My verdict is that none of the charges you have brought against him are true. I find no fault in him. And I sent him to Antipas, son of Herod, who also, after questioning him, has found him not guilty. Since he has done nothing deserving of death, I have decided to punish him with a severe flogging and release him.” For it was Pilate’s custom to honor the Jewish holiday by releasing a prisoner.

When the crowd heard this, they went wild. Erupting with anger, they cried out, “No! Take this one away and release Barabbas!” For Barabbas had been thrown in prison for robbery and murder.

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, tried to convince them it was best to let Jesus go. But they cried out over and over, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

A third time, Pilate asked the crowd, “What evil crime has this man committed that I should have him crucified? I haven’t found one thing that warrants a death sentence! I will have him flogged severely and then release him.”

But the people and the high priests, shouting like a mob, screamed out at the top of their lungs, “No! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Finally their shouts and screams succeeded. Pilate caved in to the crowd and ordered that the will of the people be done. Then he released the guilty murderer Barabbas, as they had insisted, and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The sixth candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 3 

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Reader 7: The shadow of death – Luke 23:44-55 (TPT)

It was now only midday, yet the whole world became dark for three hours as the light of the sun faded away. And suddenly in the temple the thick veil hanging in the Holy Place was ripped in two! Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, I surrender my Spirit into your hands.” And he took his last breath and died.

When the Roman captain overseeing the crucifixion witnessed all that took place, he was awestruck and glorified God. Acknowledging what they had done, he said, “I have no doubt; we just killed the righteous one.”

The crowds that had gathered to observe this spectacle went back to their homes, overcome with deep sorrow and devastated by what they had witnessed. But standing off at a distance were some who truly knew Jesus, and the women who had followed him all the way from Galilee were keeping vigil.

There was also a member of the Jewish council named Joseph, from the village of Ramah, a good-hearted, honorable man who was eager for the appearing of God’s kingdom realm. He had strongly disagreed with the decision of the council to crucify Jesus. He came before Pilate and asked permission to take the body of Jesus and give him a proper burial, and Pilate granted his request. So he took the body from the cross and wrapped it in a winding sheet of linen and placed it in a new, unused tomb chiseled out of solid rock. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was fast approaching.

The women who had been companions of Jesus from the beginning saw all this take place and watched as the body was laid in the tomb. 

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The seventh candle is extinguished.

TiS 345 verse 4 

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

A deep moment of silence is observed in the dark.

The sending

After the silence, a single candle is lit.

Watchful Spirit who stays awake
and guards us through the night:
Be with all those who have been betrayed by another,
Misunderstood by another,
Denied by another,
Neglected by another,
Attacked by another, 
Disowned by another,
Killed by another.

Illuminate the shadows that dance deep within us 
That we may see how “another” may actually be me
And, through the passion of our Lord, grant us protection,
Through his suffering, our salvation,
Through his hurt, our healing,
Through his death, our deliverance,
And through his light, life eternal.
Amen.

The people leave the sanctuary in silence. 

Palm Sunday

Preparing for Palm Sunday as an all-in (my preferred, more all-encompassing term for intergenerational) worship, I wanted to create a space that would give voice to the clamour of voices in our own lives by moving from lots of noise and movement to a stiller listening which would ready us for the silence and shadows that deepen as we move through Holy Week.

PREPARATION

The sanctuary can be decorated with Palm fronds or these can be brought in during the singing of a processional hymn like All glory, laud and honour (Together in Song 333). Stones should also be strewn around the altar to create the scene of the Gospel reading.

Palm fronds sufficient for the average number of children attending your service should be cut out of light green cardboard and given to children/volunteers seated throughout the sanctuary (there are plenty of easy templates available through Google search). These will be used in making worship a little more interactive for children, as well as for the prayers of praise later in the service.

WELCOME

This or some other introduction:

Today, Palm Sunday,  marks the beginning of Holy Week. This is the day when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and then enters it on a donkey as a person of peace rather than a rising power. Yet, in spite of his humble entry, he is hailed by the crowd who recognise him as being of God and praise him with loud hosannas. Only weeks later, they will be baying for his blood with shouts of “Crucify him.”

Our King is coming.
And so, we cry from our hearts,
“Hosanna. Save us!”

If it has not been sung as a processional hymn, TiS 333 is sung now.

CALL TO WORSHIP – CLAP YOUR HANDS

A rap/ rhyme with clapping and verbal responses. The leader should prepare the congregation for the expected actions which are either a repetition of the words “when the Lord comes” or three claps following any other phrase. The overall effect should be a fairly fast, fun, flowing call to worship in which people of all ages can participate. It really doesn’t need to be perfect, just loud! Here’s a (poor) example of the rhythm:

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

We’ll shout and sing (clap, clap, clap)
Fear no earthly thing (clap, clap, clap)
Give Him everything (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

We’ll call His name (clap, clap, clap)
Proclaim the fame (clap, clap, clap)
Of He who stays the same (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

See Him enter in (clap, clap, clap)
Our humble King (clap, clap, clap)
Let us shout and sing (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

SONGS OF JOY

A medley of two or three choruses are sung with recurring words. The children are invited to wave their (cardboard) palm leaves in the air every time they hear those chosen words e.g. “hosanna” and “glory” sung. I would suggest Hosanna in the highest and Glory, glory in the highest and maybe the “laughing song” for the children in particular.

PALM PRAYERS (AND OFFERTORY)

In groups of 5 or 6, mixed group of adults and children write down on a (cardboard) Palm leaf some of the things that they would like to praise God for. When sufficient time has been given, one of the choruses above can be sung through again as children bring their “palms” forward and scatter them among the rocks at the altar as a symbol of bringing their prayers of praise to God. The offertory can also be collected at this time as an act of adoration.

GOSPEL READING: LUKE 19:28-40

Before this familiar story is read, set the scene by picking up one of the stones and holding it to your ear. Then look at it quizzically, tell everyone to shhhhhhhh, and listen again. Say, “In today’s story, Jesus tells the Pharisees that even if the people who were singing songs of praise to him were quiet, the stones would shout out. Can you help me find a stone that speaks?”

Encourage the children to help you look – or rather listen! – for one that talks. When you’ve exhausted all the options, suggest that maybe they’re keeping quiet because there are so many other voices in our lives that we’re always listening to. Ask them whose voices these may be.

After a short time of sharing, say, “So many voices. In our story from Luke today there are a lot of voices too. Maybe we can listen together and count how many people are talking.”

The story is read.

With the congregation, try to identify the “voices.” I count 5 that I will be talking about in the time of meditation:

  • Jesus – the voice of authority/instruction 
  • The colt’s owners – the voice of ownership/interrogation   
  • The two disciples – the voice of imitation/obedience
  • The voice of the multitude – the voice of praise/expectation
  • The Pharisees – the voice of criticism/offence 

“SILENT” PRAYER

To be offered slowly, gently.

O Still Point of our Turning World,
Let us be aware of You in silence this day.
Let us not be distracted by the clamour of every thought
But let us sit – still and safe –
In the certainty of Your presence
And the assurance of Your love.

Let us trust that You are enough
And we are enough
And it is enough just to be here,
Just as we are.

Free us from the voices that would have us believe otherwise:
That would lead us away,
That demand we get back to the busyness of our day,
That question our worth,
That criticise our efforts,
That worry us and wear us down.

In this moment,
May our hearts be still,
Our minds uncluttered,
Our faces unmasked,
Our spirits at ease.

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within you….

A time of silence is observed – just allow it to expand as long as is comfortable. Then ….  

May the peace of the Lord be with You.
And also with you.

The peace is shared.

PALM CROSS ACTIVITY

As people return to their seats, the children can be invited to make palm crosses at the table – they will probably need assistance, or, at the very least, company.

https://www.catholicicing.com/how-to-fold-a-palm-cross-in-10-easy-steps/

MEDITATION/REFLECTION

PRAYERS FOR THE WORLD

(An adaptation of a prayer by Tess Ward)

Great God whose love can never be silenced
Hold us in Your heart when the noise of our busyness is hushed:
After the gunfire of war, the stillness of the fallen.
After the crying of the baby, the contentment of sleep.
After the gossiping of tongues, the wounded heart of the one that is reviled.
After laughter with friends, the void of solitude.
After the hymns have been sung, the watchful waiting of an empty church.
After the beloved voice of those dear to us, the nothingness with which we are faced when they are gone. 

Be with those who are afraid of the stillness that this day may hold,
With those for whom quiet is equated with loneliness or loss,
With those who know silence to be the calm before the storm of violence and abuse erupts,
With those who feel so voiceless in their situation that they wish the stones would cry out on their behalf.
Great God whose love can never be silenced
Hold them in Your heart.
Amen.

TiS 585 I heard the voice of Jesus say is sung

BENEDICTION

In the clamour of this day
grant us a stillness of seeing, O God.
In the conflicting voices of our hearts,
grant us a calmness of hearing.
Let our seeing and hearing,
our words and our actions,
be rooted in the silent certainty of Your presence.
And, in our certainty let us cry out,
“Hosanna. Save us!”
that the world may be blessed
By the love of the Father,
The Life of the Son,
And the leading of the still, small voice of the Spirit.
Amen.

TiS 779 May the feet or some other quiet song of blessing is sung

A pebble in my hand

So, I realise that this is late – if you were looking for a liturgy for Ash Wednesday. But if you’re looking for a guided reflection in the season of Lent around the themes of repentance, rebuilding and renewal, well then it’s probably still in good time.

I used this as part of a day of prayer within the congregations with whom I journey to “the promised end.” It worked particularly well in less formal settings, seated in a circle, or around a table.

You’ll need two small bowls filled with dark and light pebbles (enough for each member of your group) and a candle.

Opening up

Welcome friends,
we meet here today though we are busy
and life is full of pressures and demands.

We meet to pray –
to pray for ourselves,
to pray for our church
to pray for the community in which we gather.

We have chosen to be here
instead of somewhere else.

For our time together,
I invite you to choose a small pebble 
to accompany you as we pray.

And, as you choose,
I invite you to share – in a single word or sentence –
why you have chosen to come
to this time and this place.

<the bowl is passed around and a dark pebble is taken by each person present as they share their choosings>

Prayer of Invocation

<a candle is placed in the centre of the group>

As we have chosen to be present,
let us open ourselves up to God’s presence … with and within us ….

God.
God, You are.
God, You are everywhere.

God of sand,
God of stream,
God of everywhere
in between…

God of the dry places
where the sun beats down
and the rivers dry up
and the grasses brown …

God of the streams
where creatures meet
to quench their thirst
and escape the heat …

God of hearts
as hard as stone,
struggling through life
as though alone…

God of children
called by grace,
to meet You
in this sacred space …

bless us
in this time of Lent;
change our lives
as we repent;

give us eyes to see
and ears to hear:
the time has come,
our God draws near.

<the candle is lit>

Preparing to listen

I invite you to take a moment to look carefully at the stone that rests in the palm of your hand.

Turn it over. Trace its outline. Study its texture.

See if there is any fault or blemish on it. Does its flaws make it less perfect for you? Or more beautiful?

Feel its weight. Is it light or heavy? How does it compare to the circumstances of your own life right now?

Consider its temperature – is it warm or cold?

Squeeze it tight. Now let go. Look again. Have you changed its shape or has it left an impression on you as you’ve held it tight?

Now I know it’s just a pebble, a small stone … but in our hands and along life’s journey what else might it represent or be?

<people are given time to respond to the question>

Like a pebble thrown into a pond, it could be a catalyst for change.

Like a stone in my shoe, it could be a painful grudge that I’ve held onto which has crippled my heart and my posture.

It could be a stumbling block – that I throw into the path of another or trip over myself.

Or it could be a journey marker which shows me the way to go.

It might be the means of slaying a giant.

Or a weapon of judgement with which I wound another.

The pebble seems less important 
than the heart of the one who holds it,
as we hear in our Gospel story today.

Gospel reading: John 8:1-11 (NRSV)

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 

They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. 

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 

Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 

She said, “No one, sir.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Prayer of confession:

As the woman’s encounter with Christ freed her from condemnation and from her sin, so too do we seek God’s liberating love as we pray (based on Psalm 51):

Have mercy on us O God,
according to Your faithful love!
Wipe away our wrongdoings according to Your great compassion!

Wash us completely clean of our guilt.
Purify us from our sin!

Because we know our wrongdoings,
our guilt weighs heavily within our hands.

We’ve sinned against You – You alone,
committed evil in Your sight.

Purify us with hyssop
and we will be clean.
Wash us and we will be
whiter than snow.

Create a clean heart for us, O God;
and put a new and faithful spirit
deep inside us!

As a symbol that God has heard and answered our prayers, I invite you to exchange your dark people for a light one.

<in a time of silence people make the exchange> 

Words of assurance
from Isaiah 58:9-12 (the Message)

Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you get rid of unfair practices, 
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, 
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Meditation or group reflection on the passages

Prayer of response 

"Living stones" by Marianne Musgrove (with a few adaptations)

God, in this moment, remind us
that we are river stones
tumbled and polished,
burnished
by living water

We are unearthed fossils
revived 
by the warm breath of God 

We are 
stalagmite and stalactite
reaching out to one another –

We are skimming stones
skipping over translucent
water
fuelled by joy

We are
meteors blazing
trailing tails like wedding veils
eager to answer God’s call

We are 
rough cut stones
hewn to form a highway
the master builder placing us
just so

We are 
stones and dust and clay 
divine spark-animated – 
created and loved by God

And with Jesus as our
cornerstone
we’re built into a
spiritual house.

We are stones
we are living stones 

build our congregation, 
enliven our community,
reveal Your love to the whole world
as we lay down our lives
and offer our gifts
to Your glory.

<people place their pebble on the altar, offering their own prayers for the community in this place>

Benediction

Go into this community of <insert name> as builders rather than stone throwers. 

Point people to the God’s handmade beauty in all the creation. Stand firm with those weathered and worn by the harshness of life’s journey. And work together to build a temple of love for all who long for justice.

And may the peace and the power of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer accompany you on your way – both now and forevermore. Amen.

The blessing of bread

As I’ve been reflecting on the lectionary readings for this week – Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26 in particular – I am aware that so much of life seems to be about the ups and downs, or the “curses” and the “blessings” as both writers call them. I am struck by Jesus standing on a level place from which to offer words that calm the people’s troubles and a touch that heals them.

The table is that level place. Here the ordinary elements of bread and wine, in the way that they are spoken of and shared, become the extraordinary: a tangible reminder of the presence of God with and within us.

This week I want to keep that focus and so a little bit of Godly play language and a little of my Celtic roots have gone into celebrating this blessing in a simple way.

As I have children in the congregation, I will begin by sitting with them in a half circle in front of the covered communion table with a small basket of some heads of wheat, bread, grapes, and an indestructible picnic glass of grape juice.

***

Once there was someone who did such wonderful things and said such amazing things that people wondered who he was. Finally, they just couldn’t help it. They had to ask him who he was.

One time, when they asked him, Jesus said:

“I am the bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”

Many people didn’t understand. Some of them even got angry. But some of them decided to follow him wherever he went.

Another time, Jesus told those who were following him:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.”

Point to the bread: Grain from the field, 

Point to the grapes/juice/wine: fruit from the vine .… 

As he sat at the supper table with them, he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God for it, broke it, and gave it to them saying something like this:

“When you share the bread like this, I will be there.”

A piece of bread is given to one or more of the children.

And after supper, when they’d eaten everything they wanted to eat, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks to God for it, and shared it with them saying something like:

“When you share the cup like this, I will be there.”

A sip of juice is given to one or more of the children.

Stand and walk slowly to the altar. Remove the cover. Stretch your arms wide to show all that is set.

Grain from the field, 
fruit from the vine, 
ready at the table for us to share. 

The children (and any interested adults) are invited to come up to look and the wondering questions are offered – to encompass the whole congregation.

I wonder which part of this feast you love the best? 
I wonder if the wine and the bread make people happy?
I wonder if God comes close to us when we share like this?
I wonder who else God would like to come close to?

***

Addressing the congregation:

The table is ready. Christ himself is both the host and the meal. Eat the bread and be full of the life of Christ. Drink the cup and be filled with the love of Christ. Remember as you eat and as you drink that Christ is here and be blessed.

Communion is shared – first with those already gathered around the table. People should be encouraged to come up and stand together in groups around the table. Although this is a little less orderly than some congregations may be used to, there is a joy and togetherness at the table which can be a great blessing – especially to those who may feel isolated, unloved, or even unlovable.  

The elements are covered and the closing prayer is offered with arms outstretched to the whole congregation:

Christ is here.
Through the grain of the field
And the fruit of the vine
Shared among friends 
We remember:
God remains in us.

May we remain with God
To bear fruit in the world
In every season of our lives.

Amen.     

Poppy Sunday

The prayers for this week’s Remembrance Service are taken both from the Uniting Church assembly resources (download from link at the bottom of the page) and a wonderful resource for Christian pilgrims and worship leaders: Tess Ward’s Celtic Wheel of the Year.

While the focus is on peace-making, I have chosen to use the lectionary readings for the week rather than some more obvious alternatives as they speak of the richness of human experience: the sanctity of life, the blessing of family (and children in particular), the vulnerability of the poor and the powerless, the inclusivity of God’s love and life, wise warning against the two-faced decision makers who are not prepared to give their all.

We see, especially in Ruth’s story, the protecting, restoring power of God coming full circle as Naomi’s advice to her daughter-in-law results in a good marriage, the birth of a child, and Naomi – in turn – being blessed by the love given and received. From loss, alienation, vulnerability comes harmony, security, the blessing of family, and the ever-expanding plan of salvation as Ruth (a foreigner) is written into the Messiah’s family tree.

As we remember, we recognise the difference that one life can make – in both its absence and its presence – and we are challenged to consider what difference our own lives will make in bringing about the peace of God’s promised kingdom, for all people.

I have included hymn suggestions from Together in Song. The service should flow through prayer and rituals related to the readings with the suggested hymns holding together a sacred space for our joy and sadness.

Let us remember:
peace begins with me

<water is poured from a plain jug into a plain (preferably transparent) bowl>

Blessed be you O Sacred Peace-maker
who longs for harmony
and weeps over the things we do to each other.
Indwell Your Spirit of peace in all we do this day.

Psalm 127 (The Message)

If God doesn’t build the house,
the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
giving rest to those he loves?

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.

TiS 10 The Lord’s my Shepherd

Praise to you Suffering God.
You know the wounding by metal
of skin that was made to love.

Your prophets spoke long ago
of melting down weapons and bombs
to make machines for hospitals and farms,
of using money and intelligence spent studying war
on housing all and finding cures for our dis-eases.

Praise to you for not abandoning us
but remaining with us in the darkest dereliction
of our choice.

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within …

<fresh, silk, or paper (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUiRFyPfwvU) poppies are floated on the water in the bowl>

O Holy One who came in peace,
your blood fell on dusty ground
like scarlet poppies in golden fields,
standing erect as graves,
for every father, son and brother;
for every woman too;
row on row of unmarked stone,
indecently clean and straight
belying the messy stain
that can never be eased from our story now.

As age shall not weary them,
may despair not overcome us.
We will not cover the spectre of terror with forgetfulness.
We will remember them.

<a candle is lit and, if appropriate, opportunity is given for sharing our remembering>

TiS 586 Abide with me

For all the war studied
and all the lessons never learned,
we offer our contrite hearts
and our sadness
and place them into Your hands.

<silence is kept>

Hear then the Good News (from Hebrews 9:27-28 The Passion Translation):

Every human being is appointed to die once, and then to face God’s judgment. But when we die we will be face-to-face with Christ, the One who experienced death once for all to bear the sins of many! And now to those who eagerly await him, he will appear a second time; not to deal with sin, but to bring us the fullness of salvation.

So, the peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

<the peace is shared>

Old Testament Reading: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 (NRSV)

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Gospel Reading: Mark 12:38-44 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Meditation: let us remember (peace begins with me)

<can be done as a responsive prayer with the congregation offering the alternate lines>

Giver of peace, we pray for an end to war
but there can be none without living for peace.
We pray for peace in the world
but there can be none without peace in the nations.
We pray for peace in the nations
but there can be none without peace in our communities.
We pray for peace in our communities
but there can be none without peace between neighbours.
We pray for peace between neighbours
but there can be none without peace in our homes.
We pray for peace in the home
but there can be none without peace in the heart.
Give peace in our hearts this day O God
and when the fighting of this world overwhelms us,|
let us know that peace begins with us.
Amen.

TiS 607 Make me a channel of Your peace 

Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:

for the servicemen and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for civilian women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for peace-makers and peace-keepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for all Defence Force chaplains offering support,
encouragement, acceptance, compassion and understanding
wherever and whenever it is needed;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.
As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
Amen.

TiS 614 O God of love 

May God’s dream of peace bless the world.
May every gun be dropped so every mouth be fed.
May every plan of war be torn up so every person may go to school.
May every fist raised become a tender hand towards a child.
May all God’s people sit in the shade of a tree, without fear.
Be present in our choices – this day [and evermore] –
and use us in Your dream of peace.
Amen.

Hallelujah love

The texts for this week focus on the salvation love of God – to which we respond with hearts and minds and voices: HALLELUJAH! They are:

  • Psalm 146
  • Ruth 1:1-18
  • Mark 12:28-34
  • Hebrews 9:11-14

Chloe Axford at engageworship has a wonderful reflection on the meaning of the word “Hallelujah” as well as some creative ideas for the call to worship which can be found at https://engageworship.org/ideas/hallelujah-reflection.

A gathering prayer (based on Psalm 146)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord God Almighty,
we gather together this day to praise You
from the depths of our innermost being,
for You are our hope and our help.

You are the Creator of heaven’s glory,
earth’s grandeur, and ocean’s greatness:
through sky and soil and sea You settle us
into this salvation life
which knows no end –
even when our bodies return to dust
and our plans and projects are over.

Unlike all our experts and politicians and distinguished leaders
who fail and fall,
You alone keep all Your promises
and we claim them now –
O Jacob’s Jehovah,
great Zion’s God:

justice for the oppressed (hallelujah),
food for the hungry ((hallelujah),
freedom for the prisoner ((hallelujah),
sight for the blind ((hallelujah),
restoration for the sinner (hallelujah),
protection for the immigrant and the stranger (hallelujah),
support for all left defenceless in their grief (hallelujah).

 Lord, You will reign forever:
You are God for good!
So receive the hallelujahs of our hearts:
some joyful
some broken,
some searching,
some hoping
but all gathered together in Your anthem of love.

Amen.

Prayer of confession (following the Ruth reading)

The world teaches us many ways to love, but most are based on selfish desires and the fulfilment of our own needs. Seldom are we prepared to make the sacrifice of Ruth, of Christ, and to bind our lives to another, lovingly, completely, unconditionally. And so, this day, we make our confession:

It is painful to confess, O Loving God, how hard it is to love
as You have demonstrated through Your own sacrifice and self-giving. 

We long for love;
we pray for love;
we sometimes even beg for love
or lie to secure and hold onto love. 

Yet, in our own offering of love,
there is often a hardness of heart,
a brokenness, a poverty
that speaks of past hurts and disappointments;
of an aching chasm between what we need and long for
and what we have received, endured, put up with.

Still, You call us to give expression of our love for You
in the way in which we love our neighbour,
forgive the brother or sister who has wronged us,
and embrace the stranger.

As we sit in the silence and savour Your Love with and within us,
we say sorry for the inadequacies of our own ….

<silence is kept>  

Here then the Good News (based on Hebrews 9:11-14):

Christ alone has made our salvation secure, forever.

Jesus has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice that now frees us from our dead works and our hard hearts to worship and serve the living God.
Hallelujah!

May his love for us cleanse our consciences,
heal our wounds,
and help us to love others as God loves us:
compassionately and completely.

In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

<the peace may be shared>

Prayers for the world – I wrote a letter to my love 

In response to the meditation, the congregation is invited to write a love letter to someone who is suffering: the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner the blind, the sinner, the immigrant or the stranger, someone left defenceless in their grief that were mentioned in our gathering prayer. 

For some, these will be people known by name; for others, it may be a person or group of people that they have encountered through the news or social media or church bulletin. Each letter should be a prayer for them in their current circumstances and an expression of our love and care.

After a few minutes of prayerful writing/drawing, the congregation sings “make me a channel of Your peace” – or similar – as they come up to the altar and “drop” their letters into a bowl or heart shaped container symbolising the love of God.

Words of mission

In God’s Kingdom, all are loved for who they are.
Hallelujah!
Welcomed, loved, healed, forgiven  –
we are not far from God’s kingdom.

And now, as we are sent forth,
God’s kingdom is not far from those
who are longing and hoping and searching for love.
Hallelujah!

An acrostic prayer – Psalm 34

This week’s worship is inspired by Psalm 34 which is an acrostic poem following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. 

Written at one of the lowest points of David’s life, it is full of encouragement to drink deeply and feast with plenty on the One who provides – even in the most difficult of circumstances. 

Combined with the other readings, the many words relating to taste, touch, sight and sound all invite us to experience the reality of God’s presence which moves us from desperation to deliverance, fear to joy, seeing to believing.

The opening prayer/call to worship below is based on the Psalm but written to represent the English alphabet.

A mighty shout shall fill this place
Because God is good.

Can you understand God’s purpose?
Do you doubt God’s saving power?
Evil does not go unpunished
for the Lord listens to his people.
God stoops down to hear our prayers.
He encircles us, empowers us, shows us how to escape.

I’m boasting of his miracle-deliverance;
Jumping for joy over what God’s done for me.
Know that my testimony is true:
Love wins.
My lips are full of perpetual praise!
Nothing can destroy me.

Oh, if only those with crushed spirits and broken hearts would cry out,
“Protect me, Lord.
Quiet my fears.
Rescue me from my many troubles.
Shelter me in your love.”
Then joy will come.

Unfettered, we’ll feast with plenty;
Victorious, we’ll walk with our heads held high.
We’ll glorify God together;
eXalt his glorious name;
yoke our lives with his.

Zestily – that’s how God moves us to live!

For the prayers of praise and thanksgiving that follow, the congregation can be divided into small groups – each receiving a piece of paper with a word relating to your meditation they are to use to form their own acrostic prayers. The invitation is for them to share what they are grateful for and then try to express this in an acrostic form. After a few minutes, a representative from each group reads their prayer aloud – perhaps interspersed with verses from a hymn/chorus of praise.   

 

Hidden Folks

14 October Psalm 22:1-15 Job 23:1-9, 16-end Hebrews 4:12-end Mark 10:17-31

In last week’s readings we encountered the God of the “thrust out” who seeks to embrace and welcome in all people – particularly the vulnerable and discarded. This week, we are challenged to see not only these “hidden folks” but also our hidden selves through four passages which all have to do with the capacity to see:

  • The Psalmist, David, in the midst of a time of terrible persecution and suffering feels like he is invisible to God. “Look at me,” he demands even as his enemies croon, “Now let’s see if your God will come to your rescue!” This Psalm is, furthermore, a foreshadowing of the suffering of Christ on the cross from the opening cry of “God, my God! Why would you abandon me now?” to the mocking jeers and the awful thirst and the agony of every joint in his body being pulled apart.
  • Job, too, pours out his lament, his bitter complaint that he can catch no glimpse of God though he searches the four corners of the earth. He feels as though his face is covered with darkness and yet he will not be silenced.
  • The rich man in Mark’s Gospel is a good man who has honoured all of God’s commandments and wants to know what more he should do to inherit eternal life. As Jesus instructs him to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor, he is really challenging him to see and take responsibility for those who live on the periphery of his community.
  • Hebrews 4:12-16 highlights how exposed and defenceless we all are before God’s eyes. Our thoughts, our secret motives, our innermost being is penetrated to the core by the Living Word.

 

Call to worship/Gathering prayer

Hidden folks is a hand-drawn, interactive game which involves searching for people hidden in different landscapes. A creative preface to the gathering prayer is to encourage people with devices to download the app (android and apple compatible) and play a round with those without devices assisting them. 

Alternatively, any image from a magazine or newspaper containing a crowd of people could be used with instructions to spot a particular person (e.g. a lady in a hat) or to pick a person and share who you think they are and what they’re doing there based on the picture.

Before the gathering prayer, the following wondering is offered: “I wonder who we’ve forgotten to look for, who didn’t even make it into the picture?”

O God who gathers us in,
we are grateful this day for the brothers and sisters
with whom we have come – boldly and freely –
to where love is enthroned
and we are welcomed and known.

Here we receive mercy’s kiss;
here we discover the grace that we urgently need;
here we are pierced by the energising power of the Living Word.

… but …

you are the God who seeks to gather the whole world in
and the whole world is not here.

Make us mindful this day
of those we have not invited into this place of grace;
of those we have not even thought to invite:
the unknown,
the unwanted,
the unseen,
the discarded
who have been in your custody since the day they were born.

Stay close to them,
and us,
as we enthrone you with our songs and shouts of praise.

Amen.

An appropriate hymn such as Together in Song 474 “Gather us in” is sung.

Prayer for the day

by John van de Laar (www. sacredise.com)

Money talks and power makes the world go around,
or so they would have us believe;
And we, forgetting that other voice,
join the march in hopes that we may find a place
among the rich and strong.

But, you, O God, feel no shame,
fear no harm
as you walk among the poorest and weakest
feeling completely at home.

Thank you for the voice of your love
that keeps singing of the power in weakness,
the wealth in simplicity,
and the freedom and safety that is found
in walking your humble, serving way.

Amen.