This weeks service has been prepared by Rev. Tony Parkinson
You may like to have a candle and a cross with you for this service. Alternatively, a piece of paper and a pencil could come in handy.
It all began in the dark.
And God separated the light from the darkness.
And it was good.
Several thousands of years later another event in the darkness.
A baby was born in a stable and amid a blaze of light, a group of social outcasts was told the amazing news.
And it was very good.
And then a third time – in the darkness –
An event of world-shattering magnitude discovered by a woman in a garden.
And it was very, very good.
Light your candle (or draw one) as a symbol of Christ, the Light of the World.
Prayers of praise, adoration, confession, absolution and thanksgiving
Risen and ascended Jesus,
we rejoice that we can celebrate this day
with joy in our hearts.
We praise you that you are with us,
and that your resurrection
gives us hope for eternity in your presence.
We acknowledge that life at the moment
is presenting us with challenges
that we are sometimes finding it hard to cope with,
even though we know you are with us
in and through these difficult times.
Sometimes we are finding it easy
to complain in our hearts
or to blame others for the problems we face.
We confess that even when alone
we aren’t doing too well.
(Pause for a moment to reflect on the past week.)
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways.
reclothe us in our rightful minds,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.
(John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-1892)
Into the darkness the darkness of this world,
into the shadows of the night;
into this loveless place you came,
lightened our burdens, eased our pain,
and made these hearts your home.
Into our darkness once again –
O come, Lord Jesus, come.
Come with your love to make us whole,
come with your light to lead us on,
driving the darkness far from our souls,
O come, Lord Jesus, come.
(Maggi Dawn ©1993 Thankyou Music. CCL 61615)
(Pause to take in God’s amazing grace)
Jesus comes, with all his grace,
comes to save a fallen race:
object of our glorious hope,
Jesus comes to lift us up.
(Charles Wesley 1707-1788)
Our sins are forgiven. Alleluia!
Thank you, gracious God,
that your arms are always long enough
to draw us close to you.
Thank you, risen Jesus,
that you have defeated death,
thank you, Holy Spirit,
that you fill us with new life and hope.
(For this you might like to have a cross in front of you or in your hand, or you could draw one.)
We pray for the needs of the world.
Holy God, your world – our world –
has been turned upside down
due to Covid 19
and its rapid spread around the globe.
Governments and people
are doing their best to understand it
and to put in place measures
to slow and limit infection rates.
Loving God, help us to do what we can to help,
to not whinge about what we can’t do
and to keep positive,
so that our examples
can help to shine your light on those around us.
We pray for those in authority
to use their power wisely,
for medical staff
to give and be given the best advice available,
for us all not to be careless or thoughtless
in our use of food and resources,
and for those who are sick
to find comfort in your love
by whom and in what ever way given.
We pray that this Easter
is a transformative experience
for a world that has been turned upside-down.
Loving Father of us all,
transcendent in glory,
may all people honour your holy name
and acknowledge your kingly rule,
that your purposes may be fulfilled on earth
as truly as they are in heaven.
Give us today all things that we need
for our material and bodily wants.
Forgive us the wrong we have done,
and make us ready to forgive others.
Save us from yielding to temptation
and falling into sin;
and rescue us from the forces of evil
at work around us and within us.
For you, O Lord, are sovereign over all things;
your power is sufficient for all our need;
to you be the glory now and for ever.
(Frank Colquhoun 1909-1997)
John 20: 1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’
‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’
She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Those of us of a certain age will remember Victor Meldrew’s catch-phrase ‘I don’t believe it! – and some of us might still say that to themselves on Easter Sunday. But we would be in good company – even some of the disciples couldn’t get their heads around what was going on. And when we read the story again, we get some idea of their feelings, from the depths of despair to the elation of finding the truth.
As we recap the events, we can see three key ideas – believing, seeing and knowing.
Mary believed that there would be resurrection for all when God’s Messiah came to judge all creation – but when she found the tomb of Jesus empty she could not appreciate what it meant. Instead she jumped to the wrong (but understandable) conclusion that someone had stolen his body. Even when she first saw Jesus, she believed he was just an ordinary guy; only when he spoke her name did she see clearly and know – really know – that he was alive again.
Peter and John also believed about a future resurrection, and saw the same evidence. Peter was just mystified. For John it was enough to trigger realisation of what might have happened – but even he had to see Jesus to know for certain.
We might well ask ‘Why didn’t they get the message? After all, Jesus had said he would rise from the dead. And hadn’t they seen him bring Lazarus back from the grave?’ But we must remember that they were still in a state of shock – the crucifixion was only a few days before, and that memory was all too fresh. Even though they saw the evidence that Jesus’ body had gone, they could not understand what it meant – much less know that Jesus really had risen. Until, that is, they were faced by Jesus himself. And then their abstract belief in a future resurrection suddenly became focused and personal!
The fact is that both believing and seeing have their limitations. We can believe something which is actually not true, sometimes because we don’t understand the implications of what we see. It took a long time for people to realise that the earth goes round the sun, because what they saw (sun-rise and sun-set) clearly showed the sun moving. Only when we know the underlying meaning of what we see, can we believe that it is true.
And that is the question that faces us at Easter – what do we believe? Do we feel that the empty tomb was ‘fake news’ concocted to make a prophecy come true? Are we like Peter, who knew something extraordinary had taken place, but could not get his head around what it was? Or do we, like John, believe that Jesus has been raised from death?
After a while, all the disciples saw Jesus, and then they were convinced that he was alive again. We can never see Jesus, or meet him as Mary did, except through the medium of the gospel accounts – but through the power of the Holy Spirit we can experience his presence, and we can be certain that we have been forgiven and offered new life. And then we can say with absolute confidence and faith, not just ‘I believe that Christ is risen’, but ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’- and that is the Easter joy which I pray we will all enjoy today.
I Know That My Redeemer Lives
I know that my Redeemer lives –
what joy the blest assurance gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
he lives, my everlasting Head!
He lives, to bless me with his love;
he lives, to plead for me above;
he lives, my hungry soul to feed;
he lives, to help in time of need.
He lives, and grants me daily breath;
he lives, and I shall conquer death;
he lives, my mansion to prepare;
he lives, to lead me safely there.
He lives, all glory to his name;
he lives, my Saviour still the same;
what joy the blest assurance gives,
I know that my Redeemer lives!
(Samuel Medley 1738-1799)
May the blessing of God be with us today –
the blessing of the Father, creator of all life;
the blessing of Jesus Christ, risen from death and alive for ever;
the blessing of the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all life.
May God bless, keep us, and hold us in his love
now and for ever. Amen.