Sunday 26th April 2020 – with thanks to The Village Church
Kia ora! Good morning!
We join together in our apart-ness again on this third Sunday after Easter
We are pausing to acknowledge and grow in the presence of God in our lives.
We are meeting as part of a church community, albeit a scattered one.
We are stilling ourselves, our fears, our anxieties, and all the distracting things around us, to seek and delight in God’s life with us.
Let us worship God!
Our words to focus this time of worship are some verses from Psalm 116, maybe appropriately titled, ‘Thanksgiving for recovery from illness’
I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I pray, save my life!”
What shall I return to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
O LORD, I am your servant;
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!
Our prayer on the way
Looking back, we recall a week where there was nowhere to go for coffee and chats,
no way to sneak a cuddle or even a handshake, with anyone who lives outside our bubbles,
no way to catch up, even from a distance, with anyone who lives outside our neighbourhoods,
no way to pop into a shop, other than the supermarket or pharmacy,
no way to walk on a beach, or hike over a hill.
BUT looking back, there was also:
that daily walk down Hamilton Ave, lined with Liquidambars in full Autumn colour,
warm sunlight to soak in and dry clothes on the line,
time to get lost in a book, jigsaw, knitting or Netflix,
a quiet so intense we could hear birds, occasionally a child laughing, a dog barking,
a world still enough to notice the piwakawakas flitting about so full of joy.
Looking back, we see now that it was a good week, God,
one where less people have been overtaken by the virus,
one where many more have recovered,
and it looks like through working together we are getting the better of this thing.
It was a week full of hope.
It was a week too where we remember that once two men walking down a dusty road were joined by a man they didn’t recognise.
They didn’t recognise him because their thinking couldn’t allow for the possibility that this could be the same man whose loss they were still mourning.
How easily we dismiss what we can’t understand,
how easily we miss what we are not open to
In this time now we hand over to you, the things that blind us,
the things that weigh us down and stop us being open to possibility,
the things that make us too weary to engage imagination,
the things that reveal our lack of faith.
These things are yours now Lord, yours to transform and make new in us.
We trust this to you because we have seen you transform
our sense of loss into gratitude for what we have,
our fear into peace,
our uncertainty into hope,
our swords into ploughshares,
the hungry into the fed,
the homeless into the sheltered.
May we learn to be agents of your work,
servants of one another in making this world a kinder fairer place for all.
In Jesus’ name we pray Amen
I think of the disciples locked up in the upper room, deflated and despairing, with fear and anxiety paralysing them. It was Jesus breaking into the room and breathing his Spirit on them that gave them propulsion. Similarly, on the road to Emmaus, it was the unfolding of the big story and the simple breaking of the bread that jolted belief and life back into them, and the boat, that we now know as the church, was able to get moving.
As we sit out this period of waiting and worldwide calamity, and wonder what ‘what next?’ looks like, we look for the breath and Spirit of Jesus to come upon us and provide us with the delight and oars to propel us forwards to where God’s kingdom coming meets us.
Bible Reading: Luke 24:13-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Today’s gospel reading is about a walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Although this walk was one of just seven miles (approximately 11km) it was one with profound significance for those who were present (Cleopas and his companion). The account of this walk has continued to provide great encouragement to Christians throughout the past 2000 years, and it is quite possible that Luke 24:13-35 may be a favourite Scripture passage for some of you.
It is certainly a passage that I have, over the years, enjoyed reading slowly, imagining myself walking alongside those discouraged disciples who met that wonderful stranger on the road.
Confusion to clarity; discouragement to hope
It is the third day after Jesus’ death. The tomb is open and Jesus’ body is missing. His followers are bewildered and distraught. They had hoped that Jesus – this man who “was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did” would “be the one who was going to set Israel free.” But things haven’t turned out the way they had hoped. They have already left Jerusalem. They are confused and deeply discouraged.
As many of us will have learned from painful experience, confusion and discouragement can be catalysts for growth in faith. An awareness of our own inadequate understanding can lead us to seek answers and be genuinely open to new insights. Discouragement can make us aware of our own limitations and prompt us to pray. It can stimulate us to strengthen the foundations of our relationship with God. But confusion and discouragement can also cause us to go round and round in circles in our thinking – which seems to be what was happening for these disciples in the early stages of their walk to Emmaus.
Jesus joins them but they do not recognise him. They continue to thrash out their concerns and their doubts about the validity of the women’s report of a vision of angels who had told them that Jesus was alive. As they walk, Jesus responds to their confusion and discouragement with great patience. He explains what is said about himself in all the Scriptures “beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets”. Deepening (though partial) clarity supplants the disciples’ confusion; hope displaces discouragement.
When Jesus breaks bread with the disciples, praying for God’s blessing, they finally understand and believe that he has risen from the dead. It is through a familiar action that “their eyes are opened” and they recognise Jesus. This marks the beginning of another journey – both literally (the disciples immediately return to Jerusalem) and figuratively (as they begin to learn what it means be disciples of the risen Lord). Can you imagine how different their conversation must have been on the walk back?!
- Do any of the images included in today’s service reflect your experience at the moment? Do you feel that you are at a border or crossroads? Do you find yourself in a place of refuge? Are you struggling because of external factors over which you have no control? Why not talk with God about these things?
- Can you think of a time in the past when you felt confused or discouraged about your faith? What helped you to find hope or greater clarity? How might recalling that experience be helpful to you at the moment?
- Perhaps you are feeling discouraged or have doubts about your faith right now. If so, it may help to remember that even the disciples who were closest to Jesus had their moments. Hang in there. If it is helpful, perhaps you might phone and talk to someone who may offer you a fresh perspective?
- After recognising that Jesus had risen from the dead Cleopas and his companion immediately walked 11 kilometres back to Jerusalem (presumably at night) to share the good news with the other disciples. How might you share the good news about Jesus that others have shared with you?
Offering & Prayer for the Road
In this part of the service, we dedicate these gifts and indeed our entire lives once again to the service of God in the week ahead. We do this all, in response to the ongoing Generosity of God of which we are all receivers and to remind ourselves that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24:1).
Collectively now at this moment as we turn our hearts and minds outwards let us be grateful for God’s ongoing gifts, grateful that many of us can still give to the ongoing life and work of this parish and dedicate ourselves to the presence of God in our ‘bubbles’, in our phone conversations and in our waving across the street.
Like the disciples at Emmaus, we offer what we have.
They offered their company, their table, their bread.
We sense you are with us, Jesus, as we offer you our love,
our devotion, our gifts.
May our eyes be opened to your holy presence among us,
now and always.
As we gather while apart, we remember all churches across the world,
Who today are meeting as we are:
Walking this unknown road of pandemic uncertainty.
Open our eyes, open our ears, open our hearts,
To see you as the one who walks this road beside us.
We think of our leaders, local and national,
And don’t envy their positions at this time!
Our prayer is that they remember their call to the common good.
And serve with resilience, wisdom, and kindness.
We notice our planet,
In many places breathing a sigh of relief,
As our assault on it is subdued.
We pray that as the earth speaks at this moment,
We collectively would listen,
And not simply take up arms against our global home once again, as soon as we are able.
We bring to mind those who are almost always forgotten.
Yes, we are in lockdown but we are also privileged surrounded by our comforts of home.
We think of the poor, the refugee, the victims of domestic violence;
And in gratitude for where we find ourselves,
We ask, God, may your grace and mercy lift up and hold those who struggle at this time.
And as we begin to slowly emerge from lockdown over the coming months,
May we know how and when we can offer hospitality of all kinds to those in need.
We hold too at this moment,
Those who are wracked with fear, anxiety and worry,
Those for whom their imaginations turn to unhelpful places.
We pray for your peace, your deep peace, to make its way into their minds and hearts,
Becoming for them an endless resource of calm and of capacity to live, freely.
You, God, are the beginning and end of all creation,
In this we trust,
For you are good,
And your love never fails,
Despite all uncertainty and adversity.
In your Spirit,
Lifted with Christ we pray,
As we “stay home and save lives” during this time of global pandemic we are all restricted in our physical movements, but we are still “pilgrim people.” The lectionary readings for today place our gospel reading alongside Psalm 116. This Psalm includes the following lovely words: “And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth.” (Ps 116:9) Let us remember these words of encouragement and give thanks for the presence of God with us today.