Holy Week Reading and prayer: Tuesday

Luke 21:1-6

The Widow’s Offering

21 Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

This short reading, which is placed just before Jesus shares the Last Supper with his friends, gives us two important things to think about, as we look towards the events of Easter. One is about the importance of generosity, and the other is about the temporary nature of some of the things we hold to be sacred.

The story of the widow’s mite is one which is a challenge to us all. I have to say, that I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of those in our own community who have given to the Foodbank in recent days. It is a tribute to the strength of community here that so many have given when it is not an easy time to get everything we need even for ourselves. But although this short passage is a challenge to generosity, it is also an image of God’s generosity to us. In Jesus, God holds nothing of himself back, sacrificing everything to reconcile us to himself.

God’s generosity is bigger than we can imagine – bigger even than our Church buildings and our Church structures. Jesus is telling his disciples that losing their temple may feel like a catastrophe, but it will not change the unending love and presence of God. This year we are reminded of that in a very powerful way. Our worship is very different, but it is worship nevertheless. God is not confined to our buildings – his generous love is present in each of our hearts – and it is in our hearts that the truest worship takes place.

Let us pray…

Lord our God,

We thank you that in tiny acts of generosity your Kingdom is grown.

We thank you that your Spirit is not confined to a building

but is abroad in all of creation and especially within our hearts.

Bless us and whatever our present circumstances,

help us to worship you in spirit and in truth this Holy Week.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

Amen

 

Holy Week Reading and prayer: Monday

A Reading for the Monday of Holy Week

John 12:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Mary Anoints Jesus

12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The Plot to Kill Lazarus

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

I think we see Jesus at his most human at this house in Bethany. Here he is amongst friends, reminding us that in times of trouble, there is nothing more valuable than friendship. 

And even here, even at this time of turmoil and danger, Jesus is teaching us about the openness of his Kingdom. Because not for the first time, he allows Mary to sit at his feet – a position which would have been seen as incredibly inappropriate at the time. The tradition of his people was that Rabbis would choose only particularly intelligent and worthy disciples to sit at their feet and listen to their teachings…well Jesus had already broken that rule in choosing fishermen as his followers – but a woman? That would have been particularly shocking. 

He defends Mary too for wasting all that expensive perfume on him. Judas must have thought that Jesus was bound to agree with him that it ought to have been spent on the poor, but Jesus recognised an act of love and gratitude when he saw one, and he would not condemn her. 

Martha is busy making things straight and providing for everyone again, but this time we hear no complaints from her. Perhaps she is grateful to have him while she can, wants to serve while she may. 

And we can only imagine how Lazarus might have felt at that surreal meal. We picture in our mind’s eye the two men reclining at dinner: one of them brought back from the dead, the other talking about his imminent death. Perhaps Lazarus was aware that his life too was in danger from those who were plotting against Jesus. 

Certainly, I am sure that for Jesus to have a safe space with those who were some of his dearest friends, an oasis in the midst of the troubles that surrounded him, must have meant a great deal.

So today, we give thanks for friends – for all who are caring for us and walking with us in this difficult time.

We ask God to help us to be good friends to others, despite the present limitations.

We ask him to help us to reach out in friendship to those beyond out normal circle of friends – to check on our neighbour who we don’t know very well, to help to feed the hungry, to do our bit to ease the burdens of others.

And we ask Him to remind us that he is our ever present friend, and that he will walk with us all the days of our life.

​We pray….

Lord Jesus Christ,

Often Holy Week passes us by – we are so busy with our own concerns.

But this year many of us have time and space to sit at your feet like Mary.

Help us to learn about you and Mary did.

Help us to serve you as Martha did.

Help us to celebrate the life you give us as Lazarus did.

And give us the courage to walk into the unknown, with you as our constant friend and teacher.

Amen

Prayers and preparations for the weekend and Holy Week

Dear St Raphael friends,

I hope that you and those you love have been keeping well this week. You are of course, always in my prayers, and since it is Friday, I would like to ask you if any of you or those you love would like to be included in our written prayers for Sunday? If you could let me know any names by tomorrow morning that would be most helpful – thank you.

You will receive a written order of service and reflection this week as usual. Could I put out my usual plea for those of you who are able to leave your house to pop a paper copy through the door of any congregation members who are not on email please? It may be, that this week for those of you who wish to engage in this way, that there will also be a YouTube video up of me and the family participating in the service that you can join in with, with your orders of service at 10am on Sunday. I say “may be” because I am not making any promises that I can get it to work satisfactorily! I realise that YouTube is not going to suit everyone, so be assured that if you choose to read the order of service quietly in your home, you will still be joining in with the worship of the whole Church.

Plans for Holy Week.

Our Holy Week will look very different this year. Some will miss the regular round of services in Church that help us to walk with Jesus in the last week of his life. For others, the restrained circumstances in which we find ourselves may offer an opportunity to keep Holy Week more fully that we have previously managed.

DIY Holy Week Perhaps some of you would like to make an Easter Garden in your own gardens or homes this week, or create a piece of art? If you do this, it would be wonderful if you would like to send a photo through to share it with the congregation.

For those of you with children or grandchildren at home, you might like to act out some of the stories from Holy Week – I can send you the relevant stories from the Lion Storyteller Bible if you send me a message. You can also buy great Easter crafts from “Baker Ross” on line to help children to reflect on the stories.

Palm Sunday 10am we will be worshipping together as usual. This will be a slightly more “all age” feel to the worship. All being well, you may be able to also follow this on YouTube and join in with the songs – if not, then feel free to sing in your own homes! You might like to bring in a branch from the garden for this service or make a Palm cross for it to be blessed during the service.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you will receive a reading and prayer for the day.

Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane – John will provide some vigil material for you to use at home in the evening.

Good Friday  I will be directing you to listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Good Friday address and sending you a link to some music to help you reflect.

Easter Sunday We will join together in worship at 10am as is becoming usual. You will receive an order of service and reflection, and hopefully a link to our YouTube video from home. Normally this service would, of course, be a communion service. This is something we are all missing, and we look forwards to the day when we can share the bread and wine together again. Although in theory I could consecrate bread and wine and share it with my family, I want to let you know that, like many Priests and Bishops (including Bishop Nick), we will be keeping a “eucharistic fast” with you until we can all join together again. Our Easter service will be instead what is called a “spiritual communion” where we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and remember that we are one with all those other members of Christ’s body – those who celebrate now in either their own homes or in Churches around the world, and those Christian Saints who have worshipped down the ages. We look forwards to the time when we can share in the holy meal together again, but in the meantime we rejoice that we are in communion with God and with one another right now by his Spirit.

I will be in touch about Palm Sunday tomorrow – in the meantime, please do send me your prayer requests.

With love,

Karen

Compline

Dear friends,

Rev Alison, from Kirby Hill has kindly recorded Compline from the porch of the Church and has made this available to us all. Compline is a quiet, contemplative service of night prayer, to be said just before going to bed and is often used particularly in lent. I do commend it to you – you can find it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVuQjCTH23M&feature=youtu.be . Please do keep in your prayers Alison and the people of Kirby Hill Churches.

Warmest wishes,

Karen

Wild Worship Field Guide

Dear St Raphael members,

Good afternoon! I hope you have had a good weekend and are keeping well.

Today I am sending you a link to a worship page to give you ideas for worshipping outside – either in your garden or on your daily walk, for those of you who are able to do that. The “Wild Worship Field Guide” is designed to help us appreciate the beauty of creation – it can be used alone, or in family groups. Those of you who are looking for activities to entertain children may also find it useful! Here is the link:

http://thesanctuarycentre.org/resources/creative_prayer_idea_wild_worship_field_guide.pdf

With love and prayers,

Karen

Reflection for Passion Sunday from Karen

In these days where our homes have become our world, our Gospel reading takes us back to a home we know well – the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We know them well because their little household pops up in the gospels again and again. We know that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet whilst Martha fretted about the housework. We know that Mary poured perfume on Jesus’ feet to worship him and mourn him in the days before his death. And we know the story that we have just heard too – the miraculous raising of the brother of Mary and Martha, who has, up until this point, been a bit on the side-lines of this family’s story.

As three adult siblings living together, they are an unusual group. Lazarus, we might have already guessed, has never been too well – otherwise why would he still be living with his sisters and be unmarried? And here we meet the three of them, together with Jesus, at their most vulnerable and broken. Their brother has finally lost his life, Jesus weeps at Lazarus’s tomb, Mary admonishes Jesus, saying, “He wouldn’t have died if you were here!”, and Martha, clinging to one last hope (one ridiculous hope, onlookers must have felt) insists that she believes that even now, Jesus can do anything. We read about Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb, like a precursor to his own resurrection, and we imagine the joy and disbelief that must have followed; the celebration – the awe – the wonder about what this could possibly mean. We imagine the effect on Lazarus, to be given a second chance at life. How do you think it would have changed him? We imagine the sisters too – how would this miracle have changed their lives? How would it have shifted their priorities? They say that a near-death experience changes forever our perceptions of what’s important. We refocus. We’re more aware of beauty, of love, of our responsibilities. We live every day as if it counts.
And this, of course, is where we are – it is where the whole world is. We are Mary, lost in grief. We are Martha, clinging to hope. We are Lazarus, waiting to be redeemed. We are Jesus – grieving and yet called to bring light, hope and life into the world.

And we are more than all of these, because unlike Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus himself, we live in the knowledge and light of Christ’s own resurrection, and so we hold with confidence the truth in the most difficult times, that death is not the end and that love will always triumph in this world and the next.

So now, at this time of change and limitations, there are, strangely, new opportunities. As we refocus on what is important, we can learn from these changes rather than fighting them or resenting them, asking God to support and help us by his spirit, and choosing to pour our energies into loving our neighbours and our world. In the tending of a garden, or the painting of our house, or the knitting of another scarf, let us beautify the world, and celebrate what we have. In our reading and in our watching habits, let us focus and spend time on what is life giving and joy giving. For those of us who are able to leave our houses, let us do our shopping and our exercising and our giving with gratitude and generous hearts. In our prayers, let us not forget one another, but hold up to God the suffering of the world for his redemption.

This time will pass, just as Lazarus’ time in the tomb passed, and he was brought once more into the light. We will look back, and recognise God was with us all along. We will find surprising glimmers of his glory in the most unexpected places and situations. Christ is the pattern for our lives. We will, just as Jesus did, grieve. And we will, just like Jesus did, overcome.

May God bless you and keep you safe, comforted and blessed this Passiontide.

Asking for our Prayers

Dear St Raphael’s folk,

In our services, we normally mention by name people who have asked for our prayers – and it would be good to be able to continue to do this.

If you would like prayer for yourself, then please e-mail both Karen and me – that would seem the easiest. You don’t have to go into detail, but it does help to know a little about why you would like prayer at this time. If you would like prayer for someone else, then before you e-mail please ensure the person involved has given their permission. At times, it is also difficult to discern when we should stop mentioning someone by name in our prayers – so please do say as and when the need changes. Feel free to e-mail at any time, although the intention is to finalise and circulate any orders of service to the St Raphael’s congregation at least a day in advance.

Please note that this arrangement is for prayers which would normally be spoken aloud as part of our Sunday worship. Both Karen and I are both contactable for a confidential chat if required – and as both involve prayer it is important to distinguish between the two arrangements.

With love,

John