4th Sunday of Easter
Good morning and welcome to this written service on the 4th Sunday of Eastertide. This Sunday we have a reflection from Rev Clive Jones.
Welcome in the name of Christ. God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you.
and also with you.
Faithful one, whose word is life: come with saving power
to free our praise,
inspire our prayer
and shape our lives
for the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I have often wondered what it would be like to live as a hermit – many men and women have done this through the ages, and even Br. Ramon SSF did it from time to time, as he tried to grow closer to God, – however I never thought that I would be able to find out in a real way, and how I would react to it. In some ways we have all experienced this since our ‘lockdown’ particularly those of us who live on our own. The only difference being that hermits did not have mobiles, internet or television to keep them company – only God, and his love as seen in Jesus.
Our readings for this 4th. Sunday in Eastertide take us in a small way into this form of life, as we reflect on them and on the Pandemic that afflicts so many people in our societies today.
If you remember there seem to be three points that we would do well to think and pray about during this coming week – one in each of the readings.
St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles reminds us all that that the apostles concentrated on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. Surely the strength of the Christian faith comes from the fellowship that we participate in each time we come together for the ‘breaking of bread’ – our communion. This, after all, is the central act in Christianity for the followers of Christ, since Jesus instructed his followers to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ – as it is when we come together and pray with the priest that Christ, in a very real way, comes to us in the bread and wine – his body and blood – he is present with us, and gives us the spiritual food that sustains us as we try to imitate him in our daily lives. It is when we are unable to do this that we begin to realise what is really missing in our prayers and worship. Of course, Jesus is always with us in all that we do – but in our communion he conveys to us his real presence – he is the shepherd that leads us to God. So this year we have failed to receive that unique food on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day to name a few – and we are the poorer for it. Clearly the hermits experienced the same deprivation as well – except when they were able to join their fellow monks for the Eucharist. There was, of course, a hangover of this in the past when in some churches the Main Eucharist of the day – the High Mass, was a non communicating Eucharist – the service being normal, but for the fact that the only person to receive communion, on behalf of the people, was the priest, while everyone else made a spiritual communion. (I sang in the choir of such a church when a student in Cardiff) This of course, is what is happening at present, when we ‘take part’ in an ‘on line’ service relayed to us from, as in the case of the Archbishop of Canterbury, his kitchen!
Our problem of course is that as we have normally tried to join our fellow Christians each Sunday we begin to take it for granted, and fail to see the real significance of communion in our spiritual lives. Now that we are deprived of it, we begin to see how much poorer our spiritual lives can be.
Since Diane’s death, now two years ago, I have tried to develop a pattern to my day, and this has greatly helped me at this present time, because living on my own, I have had to be fairly strict in my daily routine otherwise things would go to pot. It is the same under lockdown – we all have to develop a daily ritual otherwise we would all start to fray at the edges. This is, of course, what the hermit did – he/she would have a daily ritual of prayer, bible reading, the daily offices, and meditation, because if we expect God to hear our prayers – then we must also be prepared to spend time waiting on him. The late Archbishop Anthony Bloom once told one of his parishioners when asked why her prayers never seemed to be answered, said that perhaps it was because she always bombarded God with requests, and never waited to hear what God had to say to her. Sadly this is true of most of us – lockdown gives us another opportunity of rectifying this problem! Archbishop Anthony gave his advice – stop, listen and reflect.
St. Peter in his General letter unknowingly for him, touches on this – our problem -when he talks about the suffering of Jesus on the cross, and our sufferings in today’s world. As we see the mounting numbers dying from this virus each day, we too can in a small measure, experience the suffering that so many people are going through at this time, with the death of a close relative or friend. We suffer, not only because we are deprived of our spiritual food, but also for the experience of our fellow men and women. As communities we all suffer, and in some way, like our Blessed Lord, we take on ourselves the sadness and suffering of others, as we pray for them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that ‘only a suffering God can help.’ Most of us at some time or other have sat by the bedside of a loved one as they came to the end of their lives, and suffered with and for them. The cross however, is the sign of victory as well as suffering – and we know as Christians, that whatever life throws at us – when our suffering ends, Christ will be waiting for us with his arms outstretched to enfold us, because as St. John says in our Gospel reading today – Jesus is the shepherd that leads us into eternal life – he is the doorway through which we pass into glory.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name – this is of course, what a priest should be able to claim of his/her parishioners, but as we all know, some of us have better memories than others! Nevertheless, the priest is always there for his people whenever they need him. At present we are deprived, as priests, from administering to our people in giving them the Sacraments but fortunately we can still speak with them on the telephone and make sure that they are keeping cheerful. The shepherd therefore suffers too – I feel that I am deprived of giving spiritual nourishment to those unable to get to church, and that saddens me greatly. As a member of the Society of St. Francis each day we read a daily principle – and for day twenty we read –
‘The chief form of service we have to offer is to reflect the love of Christ, who in his beauty and power, is the inspiration and joy of our lives.’ If I can but follow that principle then I will be reflecting Christ to others each day.
When will this lockdown end? The Netherlands may end it sooner than the UK, but whenever it happens, I pray that each one of us will have learnt something in our isolation. I do hope and pray however, that the world will change its attitude to many things in life – so that we can live in a more compassionate, caring society, where ‘me’ is not the most important word in our thoughts. May God bless us all.
And so a prayer to end :
Strengthen us, Lord
when we are weak and vulnerable.
Assure us of your presence
when the questions arise.
Lift us up
when we are down.
Give us faith
where there is fear.
Enfold us in your love
when courage fails. Amen.
Every blessing, Rev Clive Jones
Prayer for the 4th Sunday of Easter
Gracious God, in difficult and uncharted circumstances we come before you with our prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. Help us to reflect on the power of servant leadership, clearly outlined in the readings for today. Grant that we may react to Jesus’s call to his flock to come to Him, lay our burdens at his feet, and follow Him.
We thank you for the brightness and freshness of Spring with the renewal of life and sense of hope it engenders in our spirits. Help us to hold fast to that hope when the darkness of suffering, pain and loss clouds our moods and depresses our thoughts.
We thank you for the kindness, love and support of family, friend and stranger, in the face of uncertainty and isolation. We bless you for the skill, service, and sacrifices of medical staff, and of all who labour to keep our society operational when so many are rendered inactive by lockdown.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray earnestly to you for healing and comfort for every victim of this corona virus, and for those inflicted by other forms of ailment and disease. And we pray for deliverance for all whose economic lives have been destroyed or thrown into chaos by imposed isolation, through no fault of their own.
Comfort the bereaved, especially where the life of a loved one has been abruptly cut short. Bring the Easter hope that looks confidently to the message of Jesus’s resurrection to those who are left to mourn.
As we move through this valley towards the light of a new dawn, grant that we may act upon our reflections, contributing to a changed society. Help us to work towards more caring communities, for which the example shown by today’s reading in The Acts offers a challenging pattern.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Christ the good shepherd,
who laid down his life for the sheep,
draw you and all who hear his voice,
to be one flock within one fold;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.