Sunday Worship 7 April 2024

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 7 April 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Andy Braunston

 
 Welcome

Hello and welcome to worship.  In these joyful days of Eastertide we think of those early stories of disciples learning to form new communities; a scared community transformed by Jesus’ presence, a united community learning to share what they had to make a difference, a new community embodying ancient poetry about the fragrance of harmony.  We gather today, in churches and around screens as a dispersed but loving community.  United in our love of the Risen Lord and our desire to serve him all our days long.  My name is Andy Braunston and I’m delighted to lead worship for you today.  I am the United Reformed Church’s Minister for Digital Worship and I live up in Orkney, a close knit community of people with a wide range of jobs, backgrounds and attitudes.  As God’s people, united around the Empty Tomb let’s worship together:

Call To Worship

Christ is risen, alleluia!  Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour!
Christ has conquered! Jesus Christ our King is risen!
Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!

Rejoice, O Mother Church!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Hymn     Now the Green Blade Riseth
John Macleod Campbell 1872 – 1958  © Oxford University Press  Sung by the Beyond the Walls Choir.  OneLicence

Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love by hatred slain,
thinking that He never would awake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
 
Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He who for three days in the grave had lain;
Raised from the dead my living Lord is seen:
Love is come again like wheat that arising green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Your touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

Prayers of Approach, Confession, and Forgiveness

We bring you our prayers and praises, 
O Most High, in these days of joy;
nature springs to life, plants start to flower,
animals enjoy warmer and longer days,
and we remember your saving actions,
bringing life from death, light from gloom.

We praise you, Risen Lord Jesus,
for your love which overcame death,
for your life which shows us how to live,
for your touch which calls us back to life
when all seems wintry, desolate, and painful.

In these days of joy, Most Holy Spirit,
remind us always to turn around 
and follow where you call;
may your love remind us to build up and not tear down community,
to strengthen not weaken discipleship,
to serve and not to seek to be served.

For the times, O God, when we’ve turned away from you,
we repent, and ask for time to change;
for the times, O God, when we’ve denied the power of your love,
we repent and ask for time to change;
for the times, O God, when we’ve despaired,
we repent and ask for time to change.

pause

God, the Source of all mercy 
and has reconciled the world to Himself,
through the life, love, death, and new life of Jesus Christ.
God, the Holy Spirit has come amongst us for the forgiveness of sins.  
Through the ministry of the community of the Church,
we receive pardon and peace,
and become a place where forgiveness is key to our life together.
Accept, then the forgiveness you are offered, forgive others,
and find the courage to forgive yourself.  Amen.

Introduction

We think today about the different communities that are described in our readings: the exciting, unified and energetic early Church and the traumatised disciples who lock themselves away for fear of the authorities.  We think too of the short Psalm 133 which extols unity as a sign of God’s blessing.  Let’s pray as we listen for God’s word.  

Prayer for Illumination

Let us be, O Spirit, of one heart and mind,
that as we hear the Word read and proclaimed,
we may be words which tell of the Word,
Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen.

Reading     Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.  With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Hymn     Behold How Pleasant/ Miren qué buen (Psalm 133) 
Pablo Sosa ©1972  Sung by Christina Cichos, Bryn Nixon, instrumentation, Pacific Spirit United Church, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Behold how pleasant, how good it is!
Behold how pleasant, how good it is!

How pleasant and harmonious 
when God’s people are together:
fragrant as precious oil
when running fresh on Aaron’s beard

Behold how pleasant, how good it is!
Behold how pleasant, how good it is!

How pleasant and harmonious
when God’s people are together:
fresh like the morning dew
that falls on Zion’s holy hill.

Behold how pleasant, how good it is!
Behold how pleasant, how good it is!

How pleasant and harmonious 
when God’s people are together:
there is where God bestows 
the blessing, life forevermore.

Behold how pleasant, how good it is!
Behold how pleasant, how good it is!

(repeat) 

Reading     St John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Sermon

Our readings this week address trauma and joy; unity and giving, grace and mystery – and that odd Psalm about Aaron’s beard!  All our readings are about community and have much they can offer us.

Our Gospel reading has the disciples gathered in fear and despondency.  They’d lost their Lord to political manoeuvres, an unjust hurried trial, dreadful torture, and an excruciating death.  The men had all run off but now, together they were locked in together for fear of the authorities.  I wonder if they felt guilt for not standing up for Jesus.  I wonder if they felt despair not knowing what was to happen next.  I wonder how they felt about Judas, once at the centre of their community as treasurer, no longer with them after his own despair led to suicide.  I wonder how they felt about Peter denying even knowing Jesus – I wonder how Peter felt.  Did they bicker?  Did they stick together as there was nowhere else to go?  The Gospel writer lets us wonder about the state they were in but without much ado Jesus appears, standing among them, bidding them peace.  I expect peace was the last reaction that was had as they realised who was with them.  Excitement, joy, denial, tears, confession maybe but probably not peace!  In fact, Jesus has to tell them “peace” twice and has to show them his hands and his side – I think they probably didn’t believe it was him.  After a bit of peace descending Jesus commissioned then to forgive by breathing the Holy Spirit upon them.  Then we’re taken to poor Thomas who hadn’t been present for this peaceful commissioning.  A bit more trauma for Thomas feeling excluded and so another appearance is given.  

We can relate to this shattered community.  We know what trauma is; we know what fear is.  Over Covid so much was lost in our society and in our churches; the tender bonds that hold us were strained with not being able to meet; those who managed to provide worship by Zoom, recordings, phone messages and printed orders did so much to help a community navigate national traumas – the anger felt at parties in Downing Street is a sign of the depth of the trauma we experienced.  We remember funerals being pared down to the minimum, missed hospital check-ups leading to problems later, infections out of control in nursing homes. It’s a trauma that’s still fresh in our minds and our experience.  We have, however, other traumas too.  In our lifetimes we’ve seen the decline of the Church from being a significant institution in our society to something marginal and ignored.  We realise that social trends have engulfed us, and whilst society wonders about spirituality we’ve squandered a lot of our time debating things that society has already made its mind up about.  Many congregations struggle to keep their numbers stable (a form of church growth) in the face of decline and death.  There’s a trauma here in seeing a church we love decline and a puzzle at why people are less interested in religion than they used to be.  We need Jesus giving us peace just as those first disciples did.

Then there’s the reading from Acts; oddly being read first in the Lectionary order in place of the usual Old Testament text.  It relays what’s happened to the community of the Church after Pentecost.  We don’t know how much time has passed since the events in John’s Gospel but here is a community which is no longer afraid.  Here is a community that knows what it’s about.  Here is a community of “one heart and soul” where goods and lives were shared. Here is a community where people could testify to the power of Jesus’ resurrection.  Here is a community where the weaker members in need were helped.  Here is a community where the peace of Christ has both taken root and energised them in unity, proclamation, and compassion.  Here is a community which is growing.  Here is a community which lives out the words of the short Psalm 133 which sees how good and pleasant it is for kindred to live together in unity.  

Can we relate to this vision of community?  Can we see the joy that comes from unity?  Of course, unity is part of our DNA in the URC with differing traditions coming together and with our commitment now to ecumenical relationships.  We know how good it feels when a congregation agree on and deliver a project – helping at the foodbank, providing an after-school club, welcoming asylum seekers (and getting castigated in the press for it!)  When projects work well they can unleash energy and even draw people into the life of the Church.  We may not have images of oil on beards as a sign of joy, but we can certainly appreciate the gift of unity – especially after a period of discord.   

I wonder if our local congregations tend more to the first community we thought about – the fearful traumatised disciples or the second, the mission centred confident early Church.  Of course, these were not essentially different communities; the first leads to the second.  That mysterious encounter with the Risen Lord led the traumatised, bickering, guilt ridden disciples into the unified, confident, community of proclamation that changed the world.

In our congregations we have choices arising from our mysterious encounters with the Risen Jesus.

  • We can choose to be dominated by the traumas of our age or choose to proclaim the new life in Christ that brings peace.
  • We can choose to bicker, give into guilt and recrimination when things go wrong, or to be united in our purpose.
  • We can hoard what we have for the rainy day that never comes or share with those in need.
  • We can tear down our communities with arguments about inconsequential stuff or build them up with a focus on the needs around us.
  • We can stay fearful in the face of decline, or become confident in our unity and our belief that God hasn’t finished with us yet.
  • We can have a false unity where we’re only focused on the needs of our members, or use that God-give unity to serve those outside of the Church.

As we meet the Lord in the proclaimed word, the quiet places, the hymns and songs we sing, in each other and in the bread and wine where we’re fed by His own had, let’s not only breath in His peace but share it.  

This Eastertide let’s decide to change; to turn away from the understandable fears and traumas that beset our congregations, and our common life together in society, and, instead, choose to serve.

This Eastertide let’s welcome the peace that Jesus brings to us in our fears and insecurities and reach out to heal the wounded.

This Eastertide let’s set aside our petty divisions and unite in a common purpose to proclaim the good news of the Risen Jesus who heals, brings peace, and reminds us that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Let’s pray

Risen Lord Jesus,
bring us your peace as we touch you in this place;
open our eyes to see you in each other,
our ears to hear you in the proclaimed Word,
our hearts as we taste you in bread and wine,
and fill our senses as we smell you in the poor and forsaken,
that your peace will both unite and disturb us,
that like the disciples of old 
we might proclaim and embody your saving love.  Amen.

Hymn     Christ Has Risen While Earth Slumbers  
John L Bell and Graham Maule © 1988, WGRG c/o Iona Community, GIA Publication Sung by the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church (Michigan) Virtual Choir and used with their kind permission.  OneLicence

Christ has risen while earth slumbers, 
Christ has risen where hope died,
as he said and as he promised, 
as we doubted and denied.
Let the Moon embrace the blessing; 
let the Sun sustain the cheer;
let the world confirm the rumour: 
Christ is risen, God is here!

Christ has risen for the people 
whom he died to love and save;
Christ has risen for the women 
bringing flowers to grace his grave.
Christ has risen for disciples 
huddled in an upstairs room.
He whose word inspired creation 
can’t be silenced by the tomb.

Christ has risen and forever 
lives to challenge and to change  
all whose lives are messed or mangled, 
all who find religion strange.  
Christ is risen, Christ is present 
making us what he has been  – 
evidence of transformation 
in which God is known and seen. 

Affirmation of Faith     (based on 1 John 1: 1-2:2)

We declare what was known from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own hearts: Jesus is risen!

We declare that abundant life is revealed, and we have seen it, experienced it, and lived it for: Jesus is risen!

We declare that we have fellowship with God, the Source of all life, the risen Lord, and the Holy Spirit who calls us to unity for: Jesus is risen!

We declare that in this fellowship with God there is no obscurity, and we are called to live in the light for: Jesus is risen!

We declare that, when we wander back into the gloom, the One who loved, lived and died for us and for the world, forgives and calls us home for: Jesus is risen!  
Amen!

Intercessions

O Holy Trinity,  the dance of Your love 
gives a pattern for our lives and communities.
In the love that flows within You and out to all creation,
we find our dignity, explore our unity, and proclaim abundant life.
Listen to us now as we bring our prayers for our world to You.

We pray for communities devastated by war, division, and conflict,
where bombs are heard more than laughter,
where evil preys on women and children,
where men find hope in hatred,
and where blood, not oil, flows from beards.

pause

We pray for communities living with trauma,
where the pandemic still bites,
where religious and ethnic diversity is used as a weapon,
where fear divides and conquers,
where poverty kills and where lies attack truth.

pause

We pray for peace, the peace that the Risen Lord brings,
the peace which disturbs as much as it comforts,
the peace which makes us look out from our own pain,
to the mission fields before us.

pause

In the silence of our hearts we bring to You, O Trinity of love, 
those we love and worry about and who are in any kind of need…

longer pause

We join our prayers together, O God, as we pray as Jesus taught saying

Our Father…

Offertory

Many things are needed to build communities and to allow them to flourish – open hearts, time, love, forbearance, honesty, and an attitude of generous giving.  We give of our time, talents, and treasure to build communities and, sometimes, we must give without counting the cost. The charities and causes we wish to support suffer from the cost of living crisis as do our congregations.  Jesus’ peace allows us to relax and not worry but doesn’t absolve us of the need to give.  So now, in this service we give thanks for all that is given to build up our churches.  

Eternal God,
before the ages You yearned with love
and brought creation into being.
You gave of Yourself,
eventually giving Yourself to die for us.
You give us Your peace
a disturbing peace which drives us to mission.
Bless now these gifts, 
small tokens of our gratitude,
that all we give will build your Realm. Amen. 

Hymn     Eat This Bread and Never Hunger  
Daniel Charles Damon © 1993 Hope Publishing Company performed by the Chancel Choir of Trinity United Church, Kitchener, Ontario Canada and used with their kind permission.  OneLicence

Eat this bread and never hunger,
drink this cup and never thirst;
Christ invites us to the table 
where the last become the first.

Asking for a cup of water, 
Jesus touched forbidden ground;
and the woman, with a question, 
told the world what she had found.

Walking down a desert highway, 
Jesus healed a man born blind;
soon the man became a witness 
to the truth we seek and find.

Weeping for his friend at graveside,
Jesus felt the pain of death;
yet he knew God’s power to waken: 
living water, living breath.
 
Holy Communion

God is here!            God’s Spirit is with us!
Lift up your hearts   we lift them up to God!
Let us give God our thanks and praise!    
It is our duty and our joy to worship God!

Living God, out of chaos and darkness
your creative word called light into being and life in all its fulness.
Though in the garden we chose to disobey you
and death entered our world
you are the bringer of life from the places of death.
You saved Noah and his family from the Flood
and passed over the children of Israel
when death struck the firstborn of Egypt.
You led your people out from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon.
You saved Jonah from the belly of the whale 
and Daniel from the lions’ den.
By your power Sarah and Hannah brought forth sons
and Ruth the stranger became the mother of kings.

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour!
Christ has conquered! Jesus Christ our King is risen!
Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, O Mother Church!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Therefore, with all your people in heaven and on earth
we sing the triumphant hymn of your glory:

Sanctus
From the St Anne Mass by James MacMillan
Sung by Moira Docherty of Queen’s Cross Church, Aberdeen.

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory. 
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 
Hosanna in the highest.

Born on a dark night,  during his life on earth
the light of your Son’s presence brought hope to the lost
and healing to the sick.
He preached good news to the poor and ate with sinners.
For this he was pursued to the death.
For this, the Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed
took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said:

‘This is my body which is broken for you.
Do this is remembrance of me.’

In the same way he took the cup also after supper, saying:
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’

Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

We praise you that the darkness could not hold him
for he was raised at dawn to bring new life to the world.
By his power sin is purged,
innocence restored to the fallen, joy to the mourners;
hatred is vanquished, tyranny laid low;
harmony reigns, heaven and earth are united
and humanity is reconciled with God.

The Morning Star has risen, never again to set.
His light is become our light; his Spirit is ours;
may our lives shine with the radiance of his glory
and this bread and wine lead us to the feasting of the Kingdom,
where we shall be raised up to see him face to face,
in the glory of the blessed Trinity, through all ages. Amen.

Music for Communion     Holy Gifts for Holy People  
Stephen Dean © 1994 OCP Publications OneLicence.

Post Communion Prayer

God of all hope,
We bless and thank You for nourishing us with Christ, the bread of life.
Help us to live free from all desires 
for anything else that promises to satisfy.
Strengthen us now to offer this bread to all who hunger.
Through Jesus Christ, the Living Bread, we pray, Amen.

Hymn     The Day of Resurrection
St. John of Damascus (675-754)  Translator: J. M. Neale Public Domain.  Sung by The Cathedral Choir, Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York, Samuel Kuffuor-Afriyie, organ
 
The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;
the Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright
the Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light;
and listening to his accents, may hear, so calm and plain,
his own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.

Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth the song begin!
The round world keep high triumph, and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord is risen, our joy that hath no end.

Blessing

May the One who calls us to unity,
the One who brings us disturbing peace,
the One who drives us serve
enable you to build community, heal wounds, 
and show love in action,
and the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
be with you, and all whom you love
now and always, Amen.
 

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