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.     

No fast food here

Reflecting on Jesus as the bread of life and the centrality of the table in the Christian community … a thought that may be used as a call to worship or in a communion service.

There’s no fast food here.

No dedicated drive-through lane
to ensure easy come and easy go.
No disembodied voice asking for your order,
urging you to repeat it
slower,
clearer,
louder.
No quick transaction with cash or card
furtively exchanged by fast hands
for a big, brown paper bag
with the top scrunched down for easy handling.
No super-efficient process, or processing,
that may leave you feeling full –
but not fulfilled.

This table belongs to the God
whose generosity never gives out:
the God of grace,
the God of love
who gives us this day
the real food of his flesh
the real drink of his blood
that we may live in him
and he in us.

There’s no fast food here;
just daily bread.

Where God dwells

Resources for Proper 11B

Part One: In Our Worship

1. Welcome and notices

2. Opening prayer

from The Celtic Psalter

My dear King, my own King,
without pride, without sin,
You created the whole world,
Eternal victorious King.

King of the mysteries,
You existed before the elements,
before the sun was set in the sky,
before the waters covered the ocean floor;
beautiful King,
You are without beginning
and without end.

High King,
You created the daylight,
and made the darkness;
You are not arrogant or boastful,
and yet strong and firm.

Eternal King,
You created land out of the shapeless mass,
You carved the mountains and chiselled the valleys,
and covered the earth with trees and grass.

King of all,
You created men and women
to be stewards of the earth,
always praising You for Your boundless love …

… which we do now as we sing …

a medley of hymns/choruses appropriate to worship

I used:
O Lord, my God
How great is our God
As the deer pants for the water.

Part Two: In the Word

Old Testament Reading – 2 Samuel 7:1-10 (NCV)

King David was living in his palace, and the Lord had given him peace from all his enemies around him. Then David said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I am living in a palace made of cedar wood, but the Ark of God is in a tent!”

Nathan said to the king, “Go and do what you really want to do, because the Lord is with you.”

But that night the Lord spoke his word to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Will you build a house for me to live in? From the time I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until now I have not lived in a house. I have been moving around all this time with a tent as my home. As I have moved with the Israelites, I have never said to the tribes, whom I commanded to take care of my people Israel, “Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?”’

“You must tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: I took you from the pasture and from tending the sheep and made you leader of my people Israel. I have been with you everywhere you have gone and have defeated your enemies for you. I will make you as famous as any of the great people on the earth. Also I will choose a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them so they can live in their own homes. They will not be bothered anymore. Wicked people will no longer bother them as they have in the past.”

New testament reading Ephesians 2:17-22 (TPT)

For the Messiah has come to preach this sweet message of peace to you, the ones who were distant, and to those who are near. And now, because we are united to Christ, we both have equal and direct access in the realm of the Holy Spirit to come before the
Father!

So, you are not foreigners or guests, but rather you are the children of the city of the holy ones, with all the rights as family members of the household of God. You are rising like the perfectly fitted stones of the temple; and your lives are being built up together upon the ideal foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and best of all, you are connected to the Head Cornerstone of the building, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ himself!

This entire building is under construction and is continually growing under his supervision until it rises up completed as the holy temple of the Lord himself. This means that God is transforming each one of you into the Holy of Holies, his dwelling place, through the power of the Holy Spirit living in you!

Reflection (with children)

Three symbols are placed around the sanctuary before the service – representing heaven, the ark of the covenant, and the temple of Jerusalem. Children are asked to look for the object that matches the question asked of them. When they have found the “correct” object for each question, the congregation will respond with whether or not that is a place where God dwells.

Where does God dwell?
In an unseen heaven far away
where we’ll meet Him on our judgment day?
No, no! God’s much nearer than that!

Where does God dwell?
In an oblong box of acacia wood
where She fits in snug as we think She should?
No, no! God’s much bigger than that!

Where does God dwell?
In a fancy temple made by human hands –
a holy place where few can stand?
No, no! God’s more loving than that!

Then where does God dwell?
What’s left to see?
Where has God gone?
Where could God be? 

An opportunity is given for the children (and congregation) to wonder about this. In our service, the children then gathered around a table to trace and colour in their hands which would be used later in the service in answer to the question.

Gospel reading – Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (NIV)

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

*** 

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Sermon/meditation: Where God dwells

Holy Communion

Great and glorious God,
we praise You for Your great love for us
which does not ever leave us alone –
not when we’re weak,
not when we’re hurting,
not even when we’re full of sin and shame.

We thank You for that love made visible in Your Son
who took on human form to be present with us,
to share our suffering,
to feel our pain,
to die our death,
and – through his resurrection –
to open up the intimacy of a face-to-face relationship with You again. 

He ascended into heaven
that we might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
dwelling with and within us;
offering counsel and comfort
and wisdom and strength.

Forgive us for the times when our focus on the church
has been at the expense of Your kingdom;
when our holding on to You
has gotten in the way of others touching the hem of Your garment;
when we have mistaken bricks and stone for Your dwelling place
rather than our hearts, our hands, our homes.

As we come to the sacred space of this table,
with its familiar gifts of bread and wine
reminding us of Your presence in the everyday and the ordinary,
may we bear before You the brokenness and the longing
of those who are unable to be here,
of those who do not yet know of Your great love for them,
of those for whom the church has become a place of rejection
or disappointment or abuse.

<Communion continues with the words of institution/consecration …>

Part Three: In our Witness

The children’s “handiwork” is held up for the congregation who respond:
God’s right here!
In hands big and small,
we hold the hand of the King of all. 

The peace is shared.

God’s right here!
In hands that hold
the sick, the lost, the poor, the old.

The people hold their hands open as they offer their prayers of intercession for the world.

God’s right here!
In hands stretched out
to share God’s love all about.

The offertory is taken and blessed. 

Words of Mission and Benediction

God is on the move!

May we move with God
as instruments of healing,
agents of reconciliation,
and bearers of the sweet peace of Christ Jesus
to all people – near and distant.

And may the peace, the love, the hope
of God with and within us
permeate our hearts, our hands, our homes –
this day and forever. Amen.

Closing hymn/chorus

I used Hear our praises.

Day Twenty Five: A Shared Life Taking Shape

Psalm 148
Exodus 33:18-23
1 John 1:1-9

Within the Christmas Mystery this year, I have been captivated by the wonder of the God-of-our-wide-universe
(the Maker of mountaintops and morning stars,
of sunshine and thunderstorms,
of apple orchards and cedar forests,
of fire and hail and snow and ice,
of ocean depths
and the fantastic beasts that dwell within them,
of animals, wild and tame,
of angel armies and intimate friends,
of old and young of different races and giftings;
praised by all created things as the
God-whose-radiance-exceeds-everything) – see Psalm 148 –
choosing
to enter into our lives
in the wrapped-up form of a human baby.

To borrow (and re-order) the words of the hymn-writer, Charles Wesley:

“He laid his glory by,
He wrapped him in our clay …
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.”

At the heart of my wonder is the realisation that though our Christmas celebrations centre around a historical act, it is one that spans the ages to offer me (and you), personally and intimately, the invitation to experience a shared life with God –

a life lived right beside God,
shielded by God’s own hand from the fullness of God’s glory which we cannot yet grasp or understand (Exodus 33:22),
yet fully welcome in the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
and present to the Infinite and Eternal taking shape and unfolding right before us
(1 John 1:2-3).

God not only knows you and I by name
but God longs to be known
by you and by me
in increasing intensity of understanding and intimacy …

… the God who holds everything known and unknown about the universe
in such mighty hands,
shielding us in such gentle hands,
entrusting Godself into our hands
made clean by the blood of God’s son …

… that our joy (and God’s) may be complete
as we walk and fellowship and grow in God’s truth and light.

For a moment, make your arms into the shape of a cradle waiting to receive a child. Feel the emptiness of space waiting to be filled.

Now imagine the Infinite God, wrapped in cloth, in human form, lying in your arms. Savour the weight of such presence,
the warmth of such intimacy.

Reflect on what Christ gave up in taking on such a fragile form. Wonder about some of the yearnings of God to share life with YOU. 

Such intimacy,
such trust,
such knowing
is not – as we saw in yesterday’s readings concerning Jeremiah and Stephen –
without implications or consequence:
if we long to share life with the One-in-whom-there-is-no-darkness,
that life needs to make place:
for God’s Word and Truth,
for fellowship with one another,
for confession of our sin, our need,
for God’s faithfulness and forgiveness,
for “Son-bathing” in God’s light and love
for us and for others (1 John 1:6-10).

As you think about the year that lies ahead, reflect on the space that you have created and might want to create to share life. Where and when and how will you find place to cradle and to be cradled?

In the deserted place: Proper 13

A communion liturgy for the 8th Sunday after Trinity Sunday, based on the lectionary readings:

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, writes of the necessary practice of askesis: a deliberate “exercise” or “discipline” of breaking with the ordinary routines of life in order to experience powerful growth in our personhood and perspective.

Often this experience is involuntary; the sudden intrusion of disaster or tragedy into our lives. And yet, when we look back at the experience, we are amazed at the deepening of our faith, our resilience, our love in such times. He writes,

We are familiar with the frequently beneficial consequences of involuntary askesis. How many times have we heard as we have visited a parishioner in the days following a heart attack, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me—I’ll never be the same again. It woke me up to the reality of my life, to God, to what is important.” Suddenly instead of mindlessly and compulsively pursuing an abstraction—success, or money, or happiness— the person is reduced to what is actually there, to the immediately personal—family, geography, body—and begins to live freshly in love and appreciation.

Through Sunday’s stories of Jacob wrestling with God in the dead of night and of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand out in the country comes the rare opportunity to create an intentional journey of askesis in our communal worship; a necessary break in the vibrant, upbeat mood that we are so often driven towards in our consumer-culture; an hour of quieter contemplation which culminates in meeting God face to face in the deserted place.

Music and prayer should flow gently, rhythmically interspersed with periods of silence or instrumental songs (suggested spaces for a hymn/chorus/silence are indicated in the order below by asterisks). Congregants should feel free to sit, stand, or kneel as they are comfortable throughout the service. Crafted congregational responses are limited, with pauses throughout the prayers providing opportunity for individual reflection and conversation with God.

Entering the deserted place

From time to time, our Lord Jesus Christ would retreat –
withdraw into the wilderness,
the deserted place –
to meet face to face
with his Father
in prayer and solitude.

Lord, listen to our prayers
as we seek you in the quiet place.

Search our hearts and surprise us
with answers full of truth and grace.

***

Wrestling in the deserted place – Genesis 32:22-32

The Old Testament reading is read one or more times as congregants are encouraged to find themselves in the story, face to face with God. 

A time of reflective prayer follows with brief pauses indicated by ellipses and longer pauses for personal prayer between paragraphs:

Lord, take hold of us.
Get a good grip.
Wrestler-strong, don’t let go;
~ though we may struggle,
~ though we may protest,
~ though we may cry out for mercy.

Hold us in the desolate place …
in the damp darkness
of our desires …
of our doubts …
of our disbelief ….

Constrain us though it may open old wounds
as we confront head on the pain of our past
and the agonies of our present …
our shortcomings …
our failures …
our broken relationships …
our family feuds …

our jealousies and resentments …
our insecurities and disappointments …
our unsatisfied yearnings …
our unanswered prayers …

our illnesses …
our losses …
our lonely longing to be loved just as we are ….

<As a candle is lit>

And as a new day dawns,
may we cling to you stubbornly still,
until we are altered …
until we are re-named …
until we have claimed the blessing that you long to bestow ….

***

Receiving in the deserted place: Matthew 14:13-21

This portion of the service can incorporate the Gospel reading and sermon/meditation, culminating in the communion liturgy as a symbolic expression of our sharing in the feeding of the five thousand and, more largely, in the covenant of grace. The sombre tone of the service begins to shift as we become aware of what the Psalmist (17:16) refers to as the satisfaction of beholding the likeness of God.

The Lord is here.
His Spirit is with us.
He has heard our honest prayers.
He knows our hearts,
our fears,
our needs.

Like the crowd upon the seashore,
we have followed him on foot,
to meet with him in the deserted place,
for teaching,
for healing,
for feeding.

The same Lord who prepared a feast for the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, welcomes us and invites us to his table.

<the table is set, in silence, or with singing >

We give thanks to our Creator for these gifts of earth: this bread, this wine which binds us into a new covenant, a new beginning, a new family.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

We give thanks to our Saviour, who washes our hearts clean by his love, for breaking bread even with those disciples who he knew would betray and deny.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

We give thanks to the Spirit for leading us out of places of darkness and desolation into the wide-open spaces of God’s loving-kindness and grace.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

And so, with gratitude, we recall how Jesus, at supper with his friends, took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying:
“This is my body, broken for you. Eat in remembrance of me.”
Broken for me, broken for you;
Christ’s body was broken for us.

In the same way, at the end of the meal, he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he shared it among them saying:
“This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Drink in remembrance of me.”
Poured out for me, poured out for you;
Christ’s blood was poured out for us.

As we eat of this bread and remember,
as we drink of this cup and recall, O Lord,
your compassionate healing,
your patient teaching,
your generous feeding,
we pray that through the power of your Spirit,
we might be united, nourished, strengthened, encouraged
and made whole.
Amen.

<the elements are shared among the body>

Transforming the deserted place

In the final portion of the service, opportunity is given for the community to take responsibility for transforming the desolate, deserted places in our world. A period of extemporary prayer is encouraged; the offertory (responsive giving) takes place, and the closing hymn/song and benediction speaks of our continued sharing of Christ’s shalom.

Offertory prayer
When you fed the five thousand Lord, you started with a few loaves and fish
and not only did everyone eat their fill, but there were even leftovers.
We offer these gifts today as an expression of our gratitude
for the love and the care with which you fill our lives.
But we also offer them in faith that through them you can do miracles
and transform the deserted place into one of blessing and abundance.
Amen.

***

Benediction (based on the reading from Romans)

Gracious God, we have everything going for us –
family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises,
to say nothing of Christ with and within us.
As we have received,
teach us to give;

As we have been blessed,
inspire us to bless;
As we have been loved,
move us to love.

Amen.

***

 

 

Lent: Feast or fast?

A Service for Ash Wednesday based on Isaiah 58:1-9 (1-14) and John 6:30-41

images

Call to worship (based on Isaiah 58:1-9 – The Message)

Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
    face my family Jacob with their sins!

We’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about You.
To all appearances we’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.

We ask You,
‘What’s the right thing to do?’

    and love having You on our side.
But we also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

Well, here’s why:

The bottom line on our ‘fast days’ is profit.
    We drive our employees much too hard.
We fast, but at the same time we bicker and fight.
    We fast, but we swing a mean fist.

God says,
“The kind of fasting you do

    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?


This is the kind of fast day God’s after:

    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What God’s interested in seeing us do is:
    sharing our food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into our homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to our own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and our lives will turn around at once.
Our righteousness will pave our way.
    The God of glory will secure our passage.
Then when we pray, God will answer.
   We’ll call out for help and God will say, ‘Here I am.’

Prayer of Confession

O God who sees through our pretty words and religious rituals,
our fancy dress and false smiles,
our huge egos and hurried excuses …

to the poverty of our faith,
the hardness of our hearts,
the emptiness of our lives;

we humble ourselves before You
at the beginning of this season of Lent,
longing to journey closely with You
but not entirely sure how …

to enter the way of suffering
with hearts so full of pride and resentment and ambition,
with hands so clenched against mercy and compassion and generosity,
with minds so set on our worries and opinions and plans,
with voices so silent on peace and justice and hospitality.

Forgive us for the brokenness that separates us from You and from one another:
we have followed our pride,
given in to our pleasures,
ignored truth,
neglected love,
abandoned righteousness.

Seat us in the desert place
where we may be starved of self-conceit and sin,
deprived of extravagance and comfort,
and reminded once again that from dust we were made
and to dust we shall return.

The ashing commences with the words:
“Fast from sin and feast on Christ”

The Absolution

As Christ fasted for forty days and forty nights within the wilderness, attended only by wild animals and angels, yet triumphed over temptation, may we know that we do not live by bread alone but feast in the forgiving, redeeming, transforming power of his love.

Amen.

unknown

Scripture reading: John 6:30-35, 41

So the people asked, “What miracle will you do? If we see a miracle, we will believe you. What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the desert. This is written in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven; it is my Father who is giving you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

The people said, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Then Jesus said, “I am the bread that gives life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

***

Some people began to complain about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven.”

Holy Communion

The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

the peace is shared ….

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Everliving, ever-loving God, it is indeed right to give You thanks and praise
for the feast You have set before us –
the bread and the fruit of the vine which the earth has given
and human hands have made;
and for the eternal Feast which awaits us –
made possible through Your Son, Jesus Christ,
who came to heal and bring wholeness by the forgiveness of sins.

And so we remember how on the night that he was betrayed,
he took bread and broke it and gave it
to those who would follow, to those who would fail,
to those who felt empty that they might be full.
This is Your body – broken for me.
I feast in remembrance of You.

In the same way He took the cup, gave thanks and gave it
to those who would follow, to those who would fail,
to those who felt empty that they might be full.
This is Your blood – poured out for me, for the forgiveness of my sin.
I will feast in remembrance of You.

And so, in the memory of your great love, we call upon the Holy Spirit
to bless the holy bread of life and the cup of eternal blessing
that they may be for us the food of heaven
and the assurance of eternity.

the elements are shared with those serving communion …

Here, at the start of this season of Lent, we come to the Lord’s table,
to weep, to fast, to mourn, to pray.
Marked by the ashes of your grace,
nourished by the feast of Your love,
may we be broken like bread and poured out like wine
in a world longing for peace and for justice.
Amen.

Benediction

God does not want pious faces or solemn parades
but hearts full of justice and mercy.
In the name of the One who gives us our daily bread,
and forgives us our sins,
may we bear the fruit of holiness and love in this season of Lent.
Amen.