St Mary’s West Acklam
May 24th (7th Sunday of Easter)
(Holy Communion Service suspended Week 10)
O God, the king of glory, you have exalted your only son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send you Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
First Reading: Acts 1: 6-14
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Second Reading: Ezekiel 24-28
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Gospel Reading: John 17: 1-11
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Jesus rose from the dead.
He appeared again and again to various of His disciples. On the day 40, while they were again gathered together with Jesus amongst them, some asked whether the time had come to “restore the kingdom of Israel”. Possibly they expected Jesus would restore the throne of David, would tell them to march into Jerusalem, and would demonstrate His divine power by throwing the Romans out of the city, by rebuking the priests and scribes, and by appearing in triumph to the same crowds that had shouted “crucify him”, and had mocked Him on His way to Golgotha.
But instead the disciples heard Jesus telling them something they did not expect, something very different indeed, that is to say, that the disciples themselves would receive the Holy Spirit and must become the witness for Him on earth. After that Jesus ascended into Heaven and disappeared from their sight. Two angels spoke to them. What did the disciples feel? The Acts of the Apostles tells us the disciples together went back to where they were staying in order to await the Holy Spirit's descending upon them on the Day of Pentecost, that is ten days later. These ten days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost cannot have been easy for the disciples. Because this was the gap between the time Christ physically left the earth, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, it was almost a period of ‘the absence of God’.
After the Crucifixion, the disciples had been terrified and dejected because they had lost their Rabbi, who they thought was the Messiah. Now, they might wonder what would happen, how could they be witnesses, and what would happen when the promised Holy Spirit came? What was the Holy Spirit? How would they receive it? But however they felt at the time, the disciples remained together as a gathered community until the descent of the Holy Spirit.
At times we are stuck in a place not unlike the disciples', where we know God, believe Jesus’ promises, and experience divine grace in our personal lives, yet Jesus seems to be remote and hope is uncertain. During this 'God-absent’ period, their past experiences with Jesus, particularly with the risen Christ, their witness to His physical ascension, and His last commandment and promise sustained the disciples. They just got on with the life to which they had been called. They constantly devoted themselves to prayer and elected Matthias to replace Judas. Their actions imply that they meant to persevere in unity and remained well-organised in anticipation of the promised Holy Spirit.
Hebrews tells us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11: 1). These ten days between Ascension and Pentecost highlight that we from time to time live in a place where neither God nor hope seems certain. Yet, like the disciples, we have our own experience of God, and those of generations Christians before us who have witnessed the wonder of God’s work among humankind, and the promise that Salvation through Jesus Christ is never far from us. Here and now in this present time, our belief that God would send us a rainbow, as He gave it to Noah, and our hope in Salvation through Jesus Christ, motivates us to live with hope, to do good works, to pray and to witness, and to reflect that the moment will come when the Holy Spirit will touch us, enlighten us, and abide in us.
Faith becomes real life and life is enriched by faith.
Prayers of Intercession
Risen ascended Lord, come among us Deliver your church from the evil one. Destroy the works of darkness. And help us to walk as children of light, that we may proclaim you as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Deliver your creation from coronavirus and all corruption, free us from the powers of evil, bring us into the glorious liberty of the children of God, that the kingdom of the world may become the kingdom of God.
Give wisdom, courage, discernment and compassion to our leaders, may all decisions they make be good and just, compassionate and balanced, for the benefit of the nation.
Unite us with your Spirit in this prolonged lockdown. vanquish our uncertainty and frustration. Free us from the sense of isolation caused by social distancing, that the despairing and discouraged may find hope, the downcast may be lifted up, the downtrodden may rise to new freedom, the weak, the ill, and the dying may be given hope, courage and strength.
We bring before you our loved ones who need you blessing …
Risen ascended Lord, may we in heart and mind ascend and experience your power and your glory, that we rejoice with our loved ones who are in the fullness of your kingdom.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
As our Saviour taught us so we pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven…
Rejoice this day, for Christ has ascended into Heaven.
Christ has opened the gates of glory.
Christ ever prays for us at the right hand of the Father.
Christ descended to lift us up to be with Him.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
18th March 2020
Last Tuesday afternoon both Archbishops announced that all Church of England services are suspended. I don’t think this was an easy decision for them to make. It is certainly upsetting for us to receive the news. Many of us will have to let lapse a lifelong habit of regular corporate worship of God in the parish church, just for a while.
Let us be clear that this does not mean that the Church is closed, and it does not mean that the life of worship ceases. St. Mary’s Church is not closed.
I shall also distribute Sunday readings, prayers and a short weekly sermon. These will appear on St. Mary’s website. Paper copies will be circulated too. Last Sunday we heard Jesus tell the Samarian woman that true believers worship God in spirit and in truth. We can worship God within our own home with that same spirit and truth.
We are going to face some long, possibly frightening weeks or months. Most of us will have to stay at home, perhaps by ourselves, which is certain to cause much inconvenience and perhaps some loneliness. I pray and hope that social distancing and self-isolation, necessary though they are, will not separate us from one another in any important sense. With the aid of telecommunications technology, we can still contact each other and look out for each other. “No man is an island”, said John Donne, emphasising that we are parts of a whole. We are more than just that. We are a family, with Jesus Christ as our head.
Hear what the Psalmist says,
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence … (Psalm 91: 1-3)