Saturday, 31 March 2012

Palm Sunday

Apologies that there have been no thoughts here - and now no sermon: you could of course look at the one I wrote in April 2009 (same readings!).
We have the Bishop coming to lead worship & to preach so my preparation has been of an order of service, getting readers lined up, etc.

Also this week we had (for the first time) a 'Quietly into Easter' service - we tried something similar at Christmas for those who had been bereaved, based on 'Blue Christmas' services which I had seen.
We had about 35 people come & they seemed to find the simplicity & directness of the service helpful. I feel stupid for never thinking before that the message of Easter is exactly the message you need to hear when someone dies - those present certainly listened very intently.

So here's what we did:

Quietly into Easter

Welcome to this service.
Easter is a time of celebrating new birth – but it is also a time of recognising pain and grief. We will reflect quietly tonight on what Easter means, what happened to Jesus, and how God can help us. We will be invited to offer up the pain, the loneliness, the sad and dark memories, and the anxiety and fear to the one knows what pain is and who overcame it to live again… Jesus Christ. We pray that you will find hope and peace in this service and comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, we come to you this evening to acknowledge the more difficult feelings we are having at this Easter time. Sometimes we even feel guilty because we have these feelings. The world tells us that Spring is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration and yet it can be some of the darkest times for us. We offer up to you all those things we are feeling and all the situations that worry us and ask that you heal our pains and remove the loneliness. Help us to recognize everything that drags us into the darkness and turn them over to you. May your light, hope and new life come to our hearts & bring us peace. Amen.

Sing: 237 ‘God came in Jesus’

Mark 15: 25-39 ‘The Message’
They nailed him up at nine o'clock in the morning. The charge against him—the king of the Jews—was printed on a poster. Along with him, they crucified two criminals, one to his right, the other to his left. People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: "You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days—so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you're really God's Son, come down from that cross!". The high priests, along with the religion scholars, were right there mixing it up with the rest of them, having a great time poking fun at him: "He saved others—but he can't save himself! Messiah, is he? King of Israel? Then let him climb down from that cross. We'll all become believers then!" Even the men crucified alongside him joined in the mockery. At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o'clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?". Some of the bystanders who heard him said, "Listen, he's calling for Elijah." Someone ran off, soaked a sponge in sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down.". But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, "This has to be the Son of God!"

Reflection
Perhaps the hardest pains in life are when we feel no-one understands what we are going through: when we worry that we are utterly alone.
On the cross, Jesus calls out in pain and desolation. It may be that he was deliberately using the words of a Psalm – psalm 22. It starts with those words
My God, my God why have you forsaken me..
But then the psalm goes on
‘Yet you are holy
In you our fathers trusted;

they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued’.

There is no doubt that Jesus went through real pain & real death, but it seems that he trusted God, his Father, to rescue him. I see no reason why God the Father couldn’t have swooped down and saved him there and then: but he didn’t. Jesus died, and was buried, and only having gone through death was he brought back to new life.
God knows what our suffering feels like – so we are never alone. But only God knows why sometimes the only way out of suffering is to keep going until we come out at the other end.

Hymn 217 When I survey

John 20:11-16 - Easter Sunday morning – 2 nights have passed since Jesus died & the tomb has been found empty – there is no body there.

Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus' body had been laid. They said to her, "Woman, why do you weep?". "They took my Master," she said, "and I don't know where they put him." After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn't recognize him. Jesus spoke to her, "Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?". She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, "Sir, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.". Jesus said, "Mary."

Reflection
With one word, Jesus shows he knows who Mary is, and she recognises him. Jesus appears for a while to tell his followers that he is really alive, that death is not the end – not the end of Jesus and not the end of any of us.
We can’t imagine how it’s going to be, this new life, the life of heaven, but the Easter story gives us the hope that God’s love is strong enough to take away everything that makes our lives painful and to make us alive again.
That is true for the ones we’ve loved and lost – they are safe with God – and it will be true for us one day. And in the meantime, the hope of God’s new life in Jesus can be a light in our darkness.

Lighting of candles
We light this candle to remind us of the presence of Jesus Christ – the one who passed through death and is now living. Jesus promises ‘where I am, you will be also’.
If you would like to come forward and to light your own candle, for your own memories, your own loss,, your own prayer, please do.
Soft music playing.

Closing Prayer
Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we offer all of our needs up to you.
You are holy. In you your people trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.To you they cried and were rescued’.

Compassionate God, we cry to you fro rescue. Free us from the darkness that traps us in our sadness. Help us to see the signs of new life around us and to know that you offer that life to us.
We know that in Jesus Christ you felt our pain and grief and desolation.
But we also know that Jesus was risen from death by you, assuring us of hope and promise. Hold our loved ones in your arms, we pray. And hold us,too. Please be near us this night & always. Amen.

Hymn 243 ‘Now the green blade rises’

If you would like to take a small candle home with you tonight, please do – and light it whenever you need a sign of hope in your life.
Please also feel free to stay for refreshments & to chat if you’d like to.

And may the blessing of God, Father Son Holy Spirit
Be with you and alongside you this Easter and always. Amen.

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