We are still family even while we are apart, so while we are unable to gather because of the ongoing health crisis, I will be sharing material on the blog each Sunday morning, and posting notes to those unable to access the internet. During this Holy Week, I will also be sharing special services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Of course you are free to use this material at any time, but my hope is that as many of us as possible will be reading these words during the times that we would otherwise have met - 7:30pm on Maundy Thursday, 10am on Good Friday, and 10:30am every Sunday - gathering in time if not in space.
We would ordinarily share communion on Good Friday, so I have included a brief liturgy which I adapted some years ago from that found in the Didache, an early church manual. The closing prayer about the church being scattered and gathered seemed particularly appropriate at this time. The church has often had to get creative in times of great difficulty, and so while an unbroken loaf and non-alcoholic wine may be hard to come by, I believe it is perfectly acceptable that we use whatever we have, and it may help to set it aside before you start the service. If you are able to use this liturgy with others in your household, or share with another over the phone or online, you may wish to alternate reading the words in ordinary type and speak together the words in bold type.
Call to worship
Begin by holding in your mind all those you would have been worshipping with this evening, and others that you love and are currently distanced from, and say this prayer: Lord, thank you that though apart we are held together in love and prayer; draw especially close to us in this time and comfort us. Amen.
This feels like a time to invest deeply in prayer, so I offer again the suggested patterns for prayer we have using in our dispersed worship. I have also included a recorded prayer, which you might like to use. However you pray, I suggest that you end by praying the Lord’s Prayer.
PRAYING IN CONCENTRIC CIRCLES This is a way of praying in ever widening circles. Start by praying for yourself, so that you might lay down any distractions. Then pray for your loved ones, then your community, then our country, then finally the world.
IN-OUT-UP-DOWN Focus inwards to pray for yourself, then look outwards to pray for those in the communities around you, then up to think of heaven and pray for the church, then down to think of the earth and pray for all its people.
PRAYING WITH YOUR HANDS Open your hands to offer God all that pains and troubles you, then close your hands to take hold of the peace that God wants to give you. Or use your fingers to guide you through different forms of prayer - the little finger for confession, the ring finger for petition (asking help for yourself), the middle finger for intercession (asking help for others), the index finger for thanksgiving, and the thumb for praise.
IMAGINATIVE PRAYER WALKING Current advice is that we can go out for exercise once a day, which may be an opportunity to pray for our communities as we walk/run/cycle through them. But we can also engage in imaginative prayer walking, taking a ‘walk’ through our neighbourhoods in our minds, and praying for the homes and schools and businesses and so on that we ‘see’.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever.
Song: When I survey the wondrous cross
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.
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.
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?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts © Public Domain
Reading: abridged from John 18-19, read by Mark Burleigh
Reflection, by our minister Leigh Greenwood
Song: Lamb of God
(This is a new one even to me, but it is too beautiful not to share. I suggest you simply listen and reflect on the words, allowing them to lead you from the cross to communion.)
Christ, the victim Christ, the priest You give Your body for the feast Miracle of miracles
Fruit of the vine and humble bread Of all imaginings the end Miracle of miracles, Jesus
Lamb of God, Lamb of God, Jesus Lamb of God, Lamb of God
Holy wisdom and love most bright Source of uncreated light Beautiful, You're beautiful
Word of God, the fire of life Drawn to You our souls aspire You're beautiful, beautiful, Jesus
Lamb of God, Lamb of God, Jesus Lamb of God, Lamb of God
Holiest treasure Lord, You are Fairest pleasure of our hearts You will ever be our great desire
Miserere Nobis, Mercy
Jesus, Lamb of God Lamb of God Jesus, Lamb of God Lamb of God Jesus, You're the Lamb of God
© 2014 Audrey Assad
And so we are invited now to eat and to drink, in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made upon the cross. If you are able to use this liturgy with others in your household, or share with another over the phone or online, you may wish to alternate reading the words in ordinary type and speak together the words in bold type.
Almighty God who created all things, you gave us food and drink for our enjoyment, that we might ever praise you, but you also gave us spiritual food and drink, that we may have abundant and eternal life through your son. Before all things, we give you thanks that you are both powerful and loving. Yours is the glory and the power for ever and ever.
[lifting the cup] Father, we thank you for the salvation and blessing which you made known to us through your son Jesus, who shed his blood to write a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
[breaking the bread] Father, we thank you for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through your son Jesus, who came in flesh and gave that flesh to show us your great love. Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
[after the bread and wine have been consumed] Lord, we thank you for your holy name, which you have made to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and eternal life, which you have made known to us through your son Jesus. May the bread and cup be a sign and a reminder of these things. Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
Remember your world. Deliver it from all evil and perfect it in your love, that it may be sanctified into your kingdom which you have prepared for it. Yours is the glory for ever and ever.
And as the broken bread was scattered upon the mountains to feed the people and then gathered again to reveal your abundance, so may your church which is now scattered for the protection of all be gathered together again in safety and in celebration. Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.
Song: Here is love vast as the ocean
Here is love vast as the ocean, loving kindness as the flood,
when the Prince of life, our ransom, shed for us his precious blood.
Who his love will not remember? Who can cease to sing his praise?
He can never be forgotten throughout heaven's eternal days.
On the mount of crucifixion fountains opened deep and wide;
through the floodgates of God's mercy flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers, poured incessant from above;
and heaven's peace and perfect justice kissed a guilty world in love.
William Rees © Public Domain
Close your time of worship by again holding in your mind those you love and would be worshipping alongside, and use the words of the grace: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit remain with us all evermore. Amen.
The Hours of the Cross
In the reflection, I refer to marking the Hours of the Cross between 12pm and 3pm every Good Friday. I have not created a full set of material for use in this time, but I do invite you to set aside time for prayer and contemplation. If this is not something you have done before, here a few ideas of things you might do in that time.
Read the Easter story Choose a gospel, and read its account of the Easter story. You might want to stick to the crucifixion and save the rest for Sunday, or you may like to take this time to read the story in full. In Matthew, start at chapter 26; in Mark, start at chapter 14; in Luke, start at chapter 22; and in John, start at chapter 18. The story may be very familiar to you, so in order to engage with it in a new way, you may like to use a practice such as Lectio Divina or Imaginative Contemplation.
Watch the Easter story There are many different cinematic depictions of the Easter story, and what you watch may depend as much as anything on what you already have on your shelf or are able to access online. They range from the traditional ('Jesus of Nazareth') to the brutal ('The Passion of the Christ') to the musical ('Jesus Christ Superstar'). The BBC's mini series 'The Passion' was rather good as I remember, and for something to challenge you, there is the secular retelling known as 'The Gospel of Us'. Then there's this rather charming short film made by a group of children, and films of the Cheltenham Passion Play which now celebrates its 20th year.
Reflect on an Easter song or poem I return to David Gascoyne's 'Ecce Homo' every year, and Steve Turner's 'Christmas is Really for the Children' is also worth a read. Malcolm Guite's sonnet cycle 'Stations of the Cross' gives plenty of material for meditation, and there is a beautiful Spotify playlist here.
Simply pray The ideas above are particularly focused on the Easter story, but perhaps what you need most today is to simply sit with God and pray about whatever is on your heart. You may like to go back to any of the suggestions above, or take a look at some of the suggestions for prayer I added to the website of my previous church, or ignore it all and just let the words flow or the silence hold you.