Lifting the lockdown and coming out of exile!

At the time of writing this, it is Father’s day in the UK. A time to give thanks for our Fathers with us and not with us. For some this is a special day, for others a very difficult day for all sorts of reasons.

God’s people look to him as our Father, one who cares for each of us and takes a supreme interest in who we are, whether we acknowledge him, love him and praise him or not.

Restrictions on movement and lockdown are carefully being lifted, whilst we also examine how we treat one another through the #blacklivesmatter campaign. Life is different and challenging for many, whether you are elderly, middle aged, young or a baby. Our main aim is to reduce the chance of further infections by taking responsibility for our interaction with other people with continued social distancing, face coverings and masks and staying at home in an appropriate way. Many businesses and workplaces are trying to work out how they get up and running again with restrictions and cautions in place that ensure we are safe and cared for. Employment, economies, welfare and human interaction are all impacted. Week 13 of this pandemic is seeing us facing our mental wellbeing, planning to re-build lives and creating new opportunities. It has a feeling of coming out of exile.

God’s people, in exile in Babylon, around 540 BC, thought he had forgotten them and no longer knew them. Even the holy and sacred city Jerusalem (Zion) had been destroyed. Had God turned his face away from them because they had turned their face away from him? But he hadn’t, he is a faithful God who knows us beyond our comprehension. God spoke to his messenger, his prophet from the school of Isaiah.

“But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
Your builders outdo your destroyers,
and those who laid you waste go away from you.
Lift up your eyes all around and see;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, says the LORD,
you shall put all of them on like an ornament,
and like a bride you shall bind them on.

Do we think that God has turned his face away from us? Do we resent the challenges we face or do we grasp the opportunities? Do we want life to be as it once was, with all its normality and joys and issues, or do we want a life guided by and with God himself, which will be better for all? The people of Israel would come out of exile, they would return to their homeland and they would rebuild the holy city Jerusalem; life would be different and better, because God had their name written on the palm of his hands. So it is with us. Do we choose to turn to God and be faithful to him and know new life or turn away and know times of separation from him, even despair? Your name is inscribed on the palm of God’s hands, he knows you and cares for you. What does that mean to you?

Listen to the words of this hymn.

Jesus, sent by God his Father, came and lived with us and showed us God’s love for each one of us. In fact one of his closest friends wrote these words (John 20:30-31):

“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”.

Jesus told his followers, those who knew who he was and is and believed in him that

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Following and believing in Christ, brings us into a living relationship with God, our Father, however our journey with Christ is one of denying our ambitions, our plans, our self, in order to know who in Christ we are and what his plans for us are. Those plans will be one of serving others and being faithful to God, in Christ. It can be a road marked with suffering and challenges, but we know it is a road we travel in God’s presence towards a better world.

Maybe as we come out of a pandemic, we can know Christ afresh, so that lives become different and become fulfilled, because we know the Lord we are serving, as we let his plans, not our plans become reality. We deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Our prayer could be:

Father in heaven, we thank you that you would want to know who we are and that you would want to care for us. May we always remember this and turn to you.

Thank you that we can be part of your family, where you are our Father and we are your children. Thank you that you would send your son to die for us and bring us into your presence where our sins are hidden and forgiven in the death and new life of Jesus Christ.

Help us to deny our plans and ambitions and to seek to know your plans and to follow you in our lives. May our life be in you and be part of your plans for a better world. Strengthen us to do your will as we know your healing in this pandemic.

Thank you for all who are fighting this virus, all who use their expertise and skills to produce remedies and vaccines to save lives. Give guidance to all leaders, may they turn to you and seek your wisdom and discernment in prayer.

Forgive us Lord for living our way and in our strength. In Jesus name we pray. Amen

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

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Shaped by lockdown?

We are gradually seeing around the world that restrictions to limit the spread of Covid-19 are being relaxed as Governments try and open up their economies again and return our lives to something of normality, whilst maintaining social distancing and restricting more infections and deaths amongst us. Some, of course, have been impacted by the lockdown and do not want things to return to a pre-virus normality. The community spirit, different working practices, less travel, appreciation and stewardship of what we have and recognition of the amazing work of key people in caring for us is something that some would wish to remain. How are you feeling?

You may of course be impacted by the increasing recognition of justice for black people treated differently, whose lives are not able to prosper in our societies through racist behaviour and attitudes. Protest marches are taking place around the world, despite the Coronavirus restrictions, with people in large numbers campaigning against violence and racism towards black people, following the traumatic death of George Floyd. How is this making you feel?

During these protests, we have seen the defacing of monuments and statues that some would claim are representing values that are racist and there has been a resulting, often violent reaction from other groups on our streets, with police forces, tasked to keep peace, facing the outcomes. How does this make you feel?

Picture by Sky News

Perhaps you are feeling angry or confused, thankful for life or anxious at the complex situations we face. Maybe you are part of caring for others or left on your own. Perhaps you are worried for loved ones or overwhelmed by the pandemic. Perhaps you are seeking work, trying to work or attempting to open your business. You might be passionate about justice or frightened for your safety. You might be happy in your home or longing for contact with family and friends or even seeking a place to live and food to feed your family.

How has this lockdown impacted you and has God shaped you in these different times?

Perhaps your relationship with God has strengthened, perhaps you are new to faith exploring virtual Church services seeking meaning and hope, or perhaps God is not relevant to you and you have ignored him. Maybe your Church community is meeting virtually providing companionship and help, feeding you with the word of Christ, or maybe you can’t connect with your Church at all and are left to your own prayer. Perhaps you have become more alive to Christ in your life, seeing his work around you and within you or perhaps your faith has waned leaving you to your own devices. I am reminded of those words from Jeremiah 18:1-10.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.

During these times of anxiety, change, blessings and challenge, can we leave ourselves safe in the Potter’s hands as nations and lives are re-shaped and re-formed? When he was about to leave them, Jesus told his friends, his disciples, those who believed in him and know him as God’s son, that they were to prepare themselves to receive the Holy Spirit of God (John 16:12-15).

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you”.

The Spirit of the Living God changes our lives and our nations as we are held in God’s hands. Here is a sung prayer.

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me
Melt me, mould me
Fill me, use me

The people of Israel in Jesus’ day knew all about anxiety, anger, racism, persecution, changes and challenges in a society of brutal occupation with little respect. Life was very difficult.

In amongst this climate then, they come to one of the many festivals held in Jerusalem, the festival of the Tabernacles. A festival to remind them of the slavery suffered in Egypt, the deprivation they suffered in the desert and their rescue to better times by God. They would build shelters or booths to remind them of that deprivation and also celebrate the harvest by pinning fruit around their booth.

At its most celebratory, people would flood into Jerusalem to take part in 8 days of activities and the hope of a Messiah coming amongst them and saving them from Roman oppression. It was a huge festival and culminated with the ‘greatest day’ in the Temple, the place where they meet with God.

You can imagine the atmosphere and the intensity as more sacrifices are offered to God for the cleansing of the people and in the hope that the Messiah, promised by God through his prophets, will come and stand amongst them and save them. The priests gather around the sacred altar in the Temple and they dance and process around it seven times with water taken from the pool of Siloam.

The water is poured out around the altar in recognition of the gift of water that God had provided for the people in the desert so their thirst would be quenched. There was a hush in the crowd as they observed this ritual…. and then a man stands …. and shouts out…

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37-38)

Meaning the Holy Spirit. Jesus, their Messiah, was standing amongst them and calling them to himself. Many have found that ‘Living Water’, through and in Jesus Christ, that quenches our innermost anxieties and out of our hearts then flows the Spirit of God to point many to Jesus Christ, to save, to inspire, transform, bring peace and to know God’s presence and his hope amongst us in a changing world. We place ourselves then into the Potter’s hands and trust in his grace.

The breaking of the chains of oppression will mean much to some, the breaking of the chains of sin and the freedom to know God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the power of his Holy Spirit is available to all who seek Jesus Christ. This is how we know God’s kingdom amongst us. This is how we bring about and know a better world.

Our prayer could be:

Loving and Holy Lord, in this changing world full of hopes, anxieties, sickness and challenges; open our hearts afresh to receive you in our lives.

Fill us with your Spirit

Loving and Holy Lord, bring your healing amongst the pandemic, may the virus be eradicated, may those seeking a vaccination know your blessing. May we place ourselves into your transforming hands.

Fill us with your Spirit.

Loving and Holy Lord, may those who feel mistreated and oppressed, persecuted and downtrodden know your transforming presence amongst us in our nations and our lives. We bring all leaders to you, that they may know your presence in every decision.

Fill us with your Spirit.

Loving and Holy Lord, you desire that all should have the opportunities to thrive and be the person and peoples you made them to be. Bring us to know you more clearly and love you more dearly, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

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A season of change

Flame blows in the wind

There is a profound passage right at the beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, that has struck me at this time of continued crisis in week 11 of our Coronavirus lockdown, now gradually easing here in the UK and across the world. The passage from Genesis chapter 1 says:

“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”.

This week, in the UK, deaths from Covid-19 have exceeded 40,000 people. These are people who are more than statistics appearing on our screens every day, but are individuals with loved ones, families and lives and they each have an identity.

Critically, also this week, we have seen the outpouring of protest about the way that black people are treated, compared to and by white people, in western societies. These protests have followed the terrible and traumatic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis where police officers have been dismissed and received criminal charges for his murder. Mainly peaceful protests around the world have seen thousands and thousands of people marching in cities and towns with the tag line #blacklivesmatter. An outpouring of protest on the behaviour of some towards others and a plea for a change in behaviour by many, despite the transmission threat that Covid-19 poses amongst crowds.

It seems that as a human race we have much to learn and the passage from Genesis 1 has been ringing in my heart and mind this week. Scripture gives us insights from God himself on how we should behave towards him and towards each other so that lives may be fulfilled and other Christian writers I have seen have also been led to this passage.

Our God full of holiness, goodness and love, beyond our comprehension, makes humankind in his image and gives them responsibility to take stewardship over the world he has created and delights in. Some will use passages in Genesis to enter into a debate of science versus religion, often to dispute the existence of God, but they miss the point of the Genesis passages. This is a relational God, who wants the best for humanity, made in his image and who gives them dominion over a world he delights in, including everything in it, which also includes the wonder of scientific theories and facts.

God trusts his friends and delights in us, so that we can delight in the gift of the world around us and we can manage it for the better, whilst knowing a relationship with God. God uses the word ‘us’ in the passage which scholars debate about. God could be talking to the angels or he could be in a relationship as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; but the point is that God is about relationships and right behaviour with humanity and humanity with God and with each other, if we are made in his likeness.

The oppression, persecution and destruction of others is not of God’s behaviour and shouldn’t be of ours. The breakdown of behaviour means that we are reliant on our law and police enforcement systems to protect us when things go wrong. Every life is precious and valued by God and should be by us. Breaking the commandments from Christ have consequences of destruction in our world, but we of course sometimes find keeping the commandments difficult and would be nowhere without God’s healing grace, bought dearly by his only son’s death on a cross, followed by his resurrection and ascension. Jesus summarised the commandments.

” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

We are asked to treat each other and behave towards each other as though they were ourselves. This is God’s kingdom of grace and forgiveness. Of course, many have experienced being treated badly, sadly this happens all too often. Remember how you felt and then consider how God feels when we behave badly towards him and each other, his heart breaks with the pain. It is, then, how we react to being treated badly that matters and makes a difference in bringing God’s grace and forgiveness into a broken world and fulfilling our role to make it a better place. God gave over his son Jesus Christ to death on a cross so that we may know grace and forgiveness from him and lead new lives.

Coronavirus Covid-19 and the wrongful traumatic death of George Floyd are just two examples of brokenness, out of many in our world, that drive humanity to do better and be more like Christ, the true image of God himself. Jesus’ friend John wrote these words

“(Jesus Christ), was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John the Baptist testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ “) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

Every Anglican service of Holy Communion will start with a time of bringing our own brokenness and sins to God with the intention of changing our heart and mind and receiving his grace and forgiveness. A time to examine our own intentions in front of God, so necessary in our world. The healing starts with us and our change in behaviour, in God’s presence, in order that we can be good stewards of his world.

We are in a season of change. We are in a season of God’s change as his Holy Spirit blows amongst us, changing us. Will we let the candle flame, the light of Christ in our lives and in our world, be blown out, or will we let the Spirit fan the flames of change, God’s change?

Our prayers could be:

Holy and loving God, we come to you in sorrow as we see around us those who have lost their lives in this time of Coronavirus and the pain and grief of loved ones. In the pain of grief may they know your healing.

Forgive us our sins and help us to live in you.

Holy and loving God, we come to you in sorrow as we see the anxiety of black people around the world at the way they are treated. Help us to care for those different to us and know that we are all made in your image and that you know us and you know who you made us to be.

Forgive us our sins and help us to live in you.

Holy and loving God, we come to you in sorrow as we see the plight of the world and its environment. Help us to be stewards of the world you gifted to us and to care for each other.

Forgive us our sins and help us to live in you.

Holy and loving God, may you pour out your Spirit upon your Church and your people that all may know you and may we do your will in this season of change, so that many more will know who you are and our world may change. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

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Life in the Spirit

UK Heat Wave at the end of May

The heat wave we are experiencing in many parts of the UK in week 10 of the lockdown due to the coronavirus, Covid-19, has brought out the crowds onto parks and beaches, all trying to adhere to the 2m separation rules for different households and enjoying the more relaxed rules allowing travel. The crowds however have caused consternation that the virus might start to spread rapidly amongst us again causing a second ‘spike’ of infections with the resulting deaths and the shutdown of all activities as we will be required to ‘Stay at Home’ again. All is still not well in the UK or the world.

This week has seen controversy over the Prime Minister’s chief advisor who has appeared to break the rules that he was part of setting. In his personal life, with the aim of caring for his family, he has left his home and travelled large distances to be on his parent’s estate. This has happened whilst many others have sacrificed their family contacts for the greater good. People continue to die alone, the sick cannot be visited and family life and wellbeing has been disrupted. In the midst of all of this we have also observed with horror video coverage of the death of a black man in Minneapolis, as he was arrested handcuffed and pinned down by police. Crowds have also gathered in protest.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

In this week the Church has been called to prayer for our world, nation and community and friends to know the healing of Jesus Christ as we move to celebrate the birth of the Christian Church. God the Holy Spirit fell upon those who believed in Christ and moved amongst those who didn’t believe or even know about him. On the day of Pentecost the crowds gathered together from many towns, cities and countries into Jerusalem to give thanks for the first fruits of the harvest, almost like an outing on a bank holiday weekend. Here is the eyewitness account in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-13.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

God the Holy Spirit continues to come amongst believers today to equip them in living out their lives in the faith and belief of Jesus Christ and he moves amongst non believers guiding them to the truth of Christ in the world. It is the Holy Spirit who is the living presence of God in our world today, he points us to the light of the world, Jesus Christ, and brings us the gifts we need to spread the good news of Christ’s saving presence. We seem to have two competing forces that we see at work in our world, one of darkness and one of light, yet we know what will be victorious.

The crowds asked the Apostle Peter, himself filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking words from God, what they should do? Maybe we are asking the same question. What should we do? Peter replied (Acts 2:38-39)

“Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him”

Only Jesus Christ can forgive sins, only the repentant can turn to God and ask to be forgiven, only the forgiven and cleansed can give their life to Jesus Christ and be filled with his Holy Spirit. This then leads to lives transformed and this then leads to the light overcoming the darkness in our world.

Isaiah prophesied a time when those who walk in darkness will see the light. (Isaiah 9:2-7).

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness– on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

We live in the age of the Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit made available to those who respond to the good news of Jesus Christ, a transformational and healing force in the world and we need that transformational and healing force today. The person of the Holy Spirit will move amongst us, but he will bring unexpected change and cleansing like fire, and God’s kingdom, not ours.

Vertical Worship

Maybe, in our current restrictions, our prayers in the age of the person of the Holy Spirit could be this:

“Lord Jesus Christ, you died for me so that my sins may be forgiven. You rose to new life so that I may give my life to following you and know a new life in God. You ascended into heaven so that I may call upon the person of the Holy Spirit to fill my forgiven life and empower me to do your will.

So I wait…

So I wait...

So I wait…

Come Holy Spirit and fill me anew with the love and power of Christ. May I know that I belong to you. Inspire my prayers in these difficult times.

I pray for your justice in the world where all are valued by you.

I pray for healing in this world, where the darkness of virus infects many and restricts life.

I pray for those who would come to know you….

I pray for your Church, that we may know a new outpouring of your love and see you at work in the changes in the world. Help us to be faithful, positive and caring and active.

Come Holy Spirit and bring your light in the storm of life. Amen”

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5)

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Life Sustained

The Hand of Encouragement

No matter who we are; a doctor, a nurse, a cleaner, a parent, a worker or retiree, a multi billionaire or someone seeking to keep a roof over their head and to feed their family, the head of state, a leader of government or a leader of faith communities; we all need encouragement and support, especially in times of crisis. It sustains us in life and helps us focus on others.

Week 9 of our changed lives in the pandemic in the UK, has seen a move to live our lives under less restrictions whilst trying to avoid spreading and contracting the Covid-19 virus. It is more difficult and complicated to come out of lockdown, mitigating risks to lives, than it was to suddenly go into lockdown. We all need encouragement to live in lockdown and to move out of lockdown and to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ to sustain our lives.

This week is ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ encouraging us to be aware and take responsibility for our own mental health, to avoid slipping into the darkness of depression and anxiety which seeks to destroy, to be aware of what is happening to us and to talk about it to those we trust; to know the hand of encouragement which sustains us. The theme in Mental Health Awareness Week has been kindness. Kindness to one another gives a purpose to our lives, a helping hand of support, it encourages others and of course helps our own well being.

Our God, of course, was well ahead of us in giving us guidelines in scripture to live a happy and sustained life. The Father’s precious son, Jesus, was sent to show us the immense love, delight and encouragement that God has for us and to show us how to live a life intended by God for each of us and with each other. Jesus was asked (Matthew 22:36-40)

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Jesus didn’t put these statements in terms of options or choices, but actually commands to enable us to live a full life, no matter the stresses and strains and joys that we encounter. How we live this life of course needs a lot of unpacking and help from Jesus Christ. Advice is freely available in the Bible, the Book of Life.

I recall reading of the time when Prime Minister Churchill, in 1941, travelled from Britain to meet with President Roosevelt in the USA, when Japan entered World War II and the USA found itself entering the War with Britain and its allies.

Churchill and Roosevelt

Britain of course had, since 1939, stood alone, and then with her allies, against Hitler’s Nazi onslaught. In these very dark times, Churchill writes in his book ‘The Second World War’.

“He (Roosevelt) and I went to church together on Christmas Day, and I found peace in the simple service…Certainly there was much to fortify the faith of all who believe in the moral governance of the universe”.

Churchill, with all his enormous responsibilities in the darkness of War, when all was mounted against the nation, found peace and sustenance in Christ in Church.

I often wonder if our nation’s well being, that has been built on faith in Christ and its outworking, is directly related to our willing engagement with our God of love and his Church. Is the decline in our engagement with a living Jesus Christ and his Church related to the decline in our mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing? You may recognise this passage from Mark 4:35-41.

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them (his disciples), “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Here we have professional fishermen, who knew the Sea of Galilee so well, taking Jesus, probably trained as a carpenter by Joseph, across the sea to the other side. Here they had command of their own boats, they were masters of sailing and fishing on this sea. So Jesus went to sleep. Yet they found themselves in a crisis, they lost control in the storm, they did not know if they would survive or not, they were frightened and panicked, even though they had the son of God with them! No wonder they were accused of having no faith. Jesus might be journeying with them, but he was asleep, so they panicked. Jesus wants to journey with us in our crisis, but we have to believe in him, want him to be with us and not panic when, in our view, we see no action from God. After all isn’t the Church closed? Perhaps we may need to talk to Jesus, even cry out to him, perhaps we need to believe in who he is and pray.

Listen to these words written by Brian Doerksen.

“Faithful one, so unchanging
Ageless one, you’re my rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on you
I call out to you, again and again
I call out to you, again and again

You are my rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm
Your love is, the anchor
My hope is in You alone”

We are encouraged and sustained in our life by our faith in Jesus Christ, not by our circumstances. It is in our circumstances that Jesus Christ journeys with us to bring about his kingdom.

This week the Church has celebrated the ascension of Jesus after his resurrection to be at the right hand of God his Father, in heaven. (Acts 1:6-11).

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Jesus left his disciples again. The first time was at his crucifixion and now, after his amazing resurrection, he is ascending into heaven. I am not sure how they would have felt? Devastated, joyful, trusting, doubtful, alone? We too may have all these emotions. Luke’s account in his Gospel tells us that they were joyful and worshipped Jesus and continually blessed God. Yet their crisis hadn’t changed, it was to change through their faith and action in the power of the Holy Spirit. So our crisis will change and we will be sustained in our life by faith and action in Jesus Christ, in the power of the person of the Holy Spirit. We know that encouraging spiritual hand on our shoulder. Perhaps in this time when the Church is called to pray, our prayer could be:

Thank you Lord for your unfailing love and faithfulness. Help me to turn to you, to speak to you and to know your love and forgiveness and grace. In this crisis, dear Lord, may you encourage and sustain our Leaders and all those in the fight to eradicate the virus. May you show me the people who I should pray for and help me to work for your kingdom and your glory. Fill me afresh and anew with your Holy Spirit so that I may walk with you and be sustained by you.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

See the Churches call to prayer at http://www.thykingdomcome.global.

He’s got the whole world in his hands by Tim Hughes

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Stay Alert to the invisible.

In the 8th week of the Coronavirus lockdown in the UK, the Government has released new guidance for the way we conduct our lives, which are being used in England, in order that businesses and lives can start to come back to some normality without increasing the numbers of people who are being infected or losing their lives to Covid-19. The rate of infection, the ‘R’ number, is all important in guiding our lives and freedoms and must be kept below 1.

We are encouraged to continue to stay and work from home unless we need to work from our workplace. Those in construction and manufacturing are encouraged to return to work. We are asked not to use public transport unless absolutely necessary. We can exercise freely now during the day and even drive to a place of exercise. We can meet up with one person from another household, but grandchildren and grandparents cannot yet meet. A 2m gap should be maintained for people from different households as well as in the workplace and face coverings should be worn when in close proximity to others. We are asked to understand the risks of infection and to act accordingly and to ‘Stay Alert’ to the invisible virus.

For some people this loosening of restrictions hasn’t gone far enough, causing frustration. For some others it has gone too far and introduces risk and anxiety in contracting or passing on the virus. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland for instance have not yet loosened their guidance. Social media commentaries have all sorts of different opinions, some are condemnatory of the behaviour of others. Those who are bereaved with the death of family members are especially vigilant and alert, warning us of the consequences. How is this affecting you?

Church buildings of course are still closed, the Christian community, the body of Christ cannot gather together except virtually. Does this matter to us? Perhaps we were regular Church attenders or perhaps we never attended anyway. How does the Christian community ‘Stay Alert’ and live out its mission to our community and the world?

The doors of the Church building are closed

Jesus said to his followers when he was about to go to the cross (John 14:15-21)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me“.

The Holy Spirit is given to the forgiven follower and believer in Jesus Christ, he points the believer to Christ, he is the Spirit of truth and guides the believer if we allow him to. He is the force for goodness and truth in our world and his work his evident and clear, yet he is invisible. The fruits for the believer of the Spirit in their lives are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) and his gifts are numerous,

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1Corinthians 12:7-11).

It is to the invisible Holy Spirit that the forgiven followers of Jesus Christ look for guidance in this pandemic, for our actions in each of our individual lives, knowing that these actions are focused on the other person. For some this may well mean remaining at home in order to prevent the spread of the virus amongst others or protecting our health services. For others it may well mean serving in the workplace in a way that models the Christian sense of working for the common good. For some it may be serving their neighbours by delivering food and picking up prescriptions. For others it may be home schooling their children. For some it may well mean to be part of the healing of the sick or to know grace and faithfulness in sickness. For some it may be a burden to pray. Whatever it is for you, the Holy Spirit moves us out of the building into our communities to show the love of Christ. We are driven not by our own purposes, but by the love of God for the other person.

Paul met with the elders of Ephesus and told them this (Acts 20:32-35), as he was about to leave them.

“And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.”

Paul’s actions were led by the person of the Holy Spirit and so our actions should be led by that same Spirit in this pandemic, outside of the Church building, sometimes on our own, sometimes with others. In it all we recognise God’s grace to us and show that grace to others.

The invisible Coronavirus is encountered and overcome by the invisible presence of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of the forgiven followers of Jesus Christ. It is the person of the Holy Spirit who guides us in our watchfulness, our alertness and our actions for the common good, for the other person. What does this mean to you?

Perhaps our prayer could be with the following lyrics

Breathe on me breath of God

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

Stay Alert to the invisible power of God’s Holy Spirit.

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Hope Prevails

Drawings and paintings of a rainbow have been widely displayed, around the UK and the world, as a symbol of hope and encouragement in these times. The rainbow in all its beauty and mystery is being used to bring a moment of joy and happiness to those who are finding this pandemic hard. The fact that many of these drawings have been produced by children, who naturally desire to see happiness around them, brings an added poignancy as the nation resolutely focuses on another week of battling the Covid-19 virus until we are delivered from its effects.

We are now in our 7th week in the UK of lockdown and seeing the virus take its toll in our care homes, with deaths tragically rising amongst the elderly although reducing in the country as a whole. This week we have celebrated the ending of World War II in Europe with the 75th anniversary of VE day and, although the war had not finished and still raged in the Far East, we heard of the incredible joyful release amongst people that the war in Europe was over.

King George VI’s speech on VE day started with these words “Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance. Speaking from our Empire’s oldest capital city, war-battered but never for one moment daunted or dismayed – speaking from London, I ask you to join with me in that act of thanksgiving”.

It is in those times that the nation recognised that hope and eventual deliverance from evil came from God himself. In the most stark terms – goodness will always overcome evil and light will always overcome the darkness. Christians know this in their hearts because Christ bought this for us on the cross, giving his life so that God’s goodness and hope will prevail and we never forget to be faithful to him in our prayers and our praise and our petitions, no matter the circumstances. Paul in his letter to the Church in Colossae (Colossians 1:15-23) explains who Jesus Christ is and the hope and deliverance he brings to our world.

“Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”

The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ coming to live with us and die for us and be resurrected for us; so that wrongs can be forgiven, deliverance from evil and reconciliation back to God can be known and people can be saved, and joy and hope prevails. This is why we are called as all people to be faithful to God in Jesus Christ and why King George VI’s speech starts by giving thanks to God for deliverance from pure evil. Listen to the words written by Brian Doerksen in ‘Jesus, hope of the nations’.

The cross of Jesus Christ draws us to it as a powerful reminder of deliverance and hope and goodness overcoming evil. The rainbow, however, is seen by many as a sign of nature which we can see across the world. We don’t put our hope in a rainbow of course, but it is a symbol of hope and goodness and comes as a promise from God himself to Noah and his descendants, after he delivered them from a great flood that destroyed their world in times that were evil.

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The rainbow becomes a sign of hope that floods will not be allowed to destroy the whole world, but Jesus warns us not to be complacent about the evils in the world that would seek to destroy and to ensure that we look to him and know he is our hope, our light, our saviour and our deliverer and will come amongst us again, (Matthew 24:36-44). He shows his faithfulness to us, can we be faithful to him?

Perhaps our prayer could be:

We thank you and praise you Lord for your faithfulness to us. Help us to come afresh to you this week and know your grace and your mercy upon us. You are our great deliverer, the one who rescues us and saves us from our own sin and the sins of our world. We pray for those who are suffering at this time, that they will know your love, strength and healing as you walk with them.

We pray for your wisdom and discernment upon our leaders who have so many decisions to make and so many responsibilities on their shoulders, may they know your mercy and your grace.

We thank you for the witnesses of previous generations from both World Wars, may we be open to learn your lessons from those times, to know you as our God.

May you give us patience and resilience and strength in whatever path you are leading us as we commit to be faithful to you, our Lord and our deliverer. In Jesus name we pray. Amen

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

May we all know that hope in Christ always prevails.

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Gratitude in Lockdown

We are now in week 6 of the lockdown in the UK as the whole country confronts the virus Covid-19. At the time of writing our Prime Minister, himself a recovered victim of the virus, has announced that we have passed the peak of the virus, meaning that less people are becoming infected and less people are dying each day, although our care homes have been critically affected and many illnesses and deaths have occurred in them. This week we held a minute’s silence for those NHS and care staff who have tragically lost their lives from Coronavirus whilst helping those who are sick. Consequently our lockdown will continue until the rate of infection from one person with the virus is reduced to below one, although there are questions about how and when we might come out of this situation.

How are you managing and what are your priorities? Have they changed during the virus pandemic?

It is clear that our food supplies and our food sources have changed. Food and provisions are not so easily available as they were before. Supermarkets are still struggling to cope with the demand for food deliveries, even after employing more people. They are prioritising, rightly so, those in most need. In addition, supermarkets are rationing the amount of food and provisions we can purchase in one shopping outing or delivery. People’s habits of shopping every couple of days have now changed to every week, to reduce the exposure to other people and those who have had a main shopping every month are now shopping more frequently because of the rationing on the number of items. Some food of course is still in very short supply.

Perhaps obtaining food and provisions is one of your changed priorities. Pubs and catering companies are now offering to sell food themselves, sometimes it is those provisions that are in short supply, sometimes it is cooked meals or vegetable and fruit boxes; these are other sources for food and provisions that are emerging as volunteer groups deliver much needed food to those in isolation. Financial hardship is also hitting some people and the demand for supplies from Food Banks, mainly run by Churches and other faith groups, has increased and many are looking at non traditional ways of obtaining provisions, including Amazon, who have vastly increased their delivery organisation. Even our habits at home have changed to more home cooking and baking and growing our own food and of course we cannot go out to restaurants and pubs.

Have your priorities changed and is there some anxiety around these changes? The virus has brought upon us changes in our lifestyles that are beyond our control and Jesus reminds us to keep the priorities of our lives in proportion and with a sense of perspective in Matthew 6:19-24.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”

Jesus reminds us that it is the kingdom of heaven and its values that are important. We put God first and everything flows from our belief and faith in God the Father, through Jesus Christ his son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Hear the words of that famous hymn ‘Be thou my vision’ sung by Audrey Assad.

Putting God first in our lives, our prayer and our praise, brings about an outpouring of thankfulness to him. During this time, many of us will be experiencing the loss of old ways of life, maybe financial loss, maybe the loss of seeing loved ones face to face, or hug to hug, the loss of community groups, the loss of outings and even holidays. This may be short term of course, but it feels as though there will be a ‘new normal’ as the media are describing our lives in the future. But for those who put God first in our lives and in our relationships, there is a constant, a reassurance, a thankfulness for what we have and a thankfulness for the ‘heavenly’ treasures we enjoy on earth, like God’s provision for us, the chance to walk out each day, the availability of technology like the TV, the telephone or the video conference to keep us in contact and thankfulness for the work still available for us to carry out and do. Our treasures in heaven become the relationship with God that we enjoy, the delight he has in us, the relationships with friends and strangers and the chance to help others and thankfulness for those who help us. Coming together as a community, society and country under God. It is a life of thankfulness as we learn to appreciate what we have been gifted with from God. recognising that these gifts come from him, that bring to us a sense of perspective, priority and thankfulness.

Perhaps you are in the habit of having a time of prayer each day with our Lord and giving thanks to God before each meal for the provision he has given to us and for those who have provided it. Perhaps you are not and this is a habit to be developed. But maybe at this time of the pandemic when lives are changing, we can put God first in our lives and give him thanks for what we have.

Heavenly Father, you are the creator of all good things and delight in us. Help us to recommit our lives to you and put you first. May we live our lives in you and through you and with you. May we turn away from the priorities of our lives and make you our priority in word, in prayer, in praise, in service and in faith. Thank you for all your provision to us and for those who have provided them for us. May they know your presence and your blessings. Help us to seek you first before all other things. In the holy name of Jesus we pray. Amen

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen
.

This hymn came to mind, sung by Stuart Townend.

Give Thanks

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son (repeat)

And now let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us” (repeat)

The Apostle Paul wrote to his student Timothy to encourage him in his faith and he gave him these words in 1Timothy 6:17-19.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.’

May we too remember to set our hopes on God.

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Clap your hands, all you peoples.

We are at the end of our 5th week, in the UK, of our Coronavirus lockdown and the Government has announced a further three weeks of restrictions to try and manage the devastation caused by the virus Convid-19. Life has changed radically, especially for the Church, as new ways of being Church in isolation is emerging. One might perhaps assume, mistakenly, that the Church, the body of Jesus Christ, will not survive; yet it is re-imaging itself in all sorts of virtual forms; because God as Father, Jesus Christ his son and Holy Spirit, living amongst Christian people and in the world, matters to us and to our lives in lockdown. God is our saviour and is the one we come to love and to serve.

I have been struck this week by the hand clapping for key workers, who are keeping us going on the front line. Every Thursday at 8pm and at different times around the world, we come out of our houses and applaud the hospital and medical staff and teams, care workers, emergency services and those vital to our lives. During these times we get to see our neighbours in the flesh. Yes they do exist, they are not just in a virtual world and we can wave to one another, chat across the fence and across the street and exchange a smile and a joke as we share in our appreciation of those on the front line. The clapping is a sign of something far bigger, a mass demonstration of appreciation for something good and hopeful that will save us in the end.

Many people of course will be living in anxious times as the future is uncertain. Businesses and work may have unsure and different futures, pensions and savings may be impacted by the economic uncertainty and those who are ill are fighting the battle. Others of course will be seeing a different way of life and living in the now with the beauty that is surrounding them.

Whatever our situation though, we need someone, in the flesh and not virtual, who we can turn to and depend upon and know their love and concern for us. Two people went for their exercise on a 7 mile walk, in the heat of the day, keeping themselves to themselves, making sure they were social distancing and talking to one another about their anxieties in the current situation. They felt threatened, they felt very sad, they felt that all was lost and they needed to seek a new life somehow. Then a 3rd person joins them, in the flesh, and asks them why they are so sad. He almost seemed to be part of the family walking with the couple. Here is what happened.

‘Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This scripture from Luke 24:13-35 is one of the recorded events of Jesus Christ, God on earth, the son of God our Father, appearing as a new creation, a new person in the flesh, as well as virtual. His crucifixion on a cross cleared the way for evil and sin and death to be defeated and then, with his resurrection to a new life, all who believed in him would know new life in Jesus Christ. We live in the resurrected age and presence of Jesus Christ; he is alive, and he brings the promise of salvation and hope in him. The two on the road to Emmaus saw a sign of his presence as he broke bread in front of them. If you connect with most virtual services in the current climate, you too will see that reminder of the resurrected presence of Christ amongst us, through his Holy Spirit, in broken bread and wine outpoured.

You see, if we let him and believe in him, and sometimes even when we don’t, Jesus Christ will come alongside us in our anxiety and sadness and walk with us, leaving us with joy and ‘our hearts burning within us’. You see we encounter the Holy in the sadness and the crisis and we want to lift up his name and give him praise.

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come
I lift up His name with the sound of sing
Lift up His name with all the earth
Lift up your voice and give Him glory
For He is worthy to be praised

It is often at different and hard times, or times of suffering, that the follower and believer of Jesus Christ, will have new and deep revelations of the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. It is the mercy and grace of God that comes to us and brings us joy even though we might in wordly terms suffer. It is the Christian’s ability to rise above the circumstances in front of us, to see God at work in our lives and the lives of others, that shows ‘He is Alive’. It is our calling to reveal God’s mercy and grace to others in how we react during these times as a witness to the world around us. We pray that we do not become obstacles to God’s mercy and grace, but are his light to the world.

The two on the road to Emmaus ran back to Jerusalem, the place of their anxieties, worries and sadness, to proclaim that Jesus is alive and they had seen him and they knew his joy and the world changed and it will change again!

Perhaps our prayer could be:

Thank you Lord that in all circumstances we can turn to you and know that you are alive. Help us to recommit ourselves to you, so that our hearts burn with your love and your presence. Come and bless those amongst us who are suffering that they may know a deeper revelation of how much you love them and wish to save and heal. Come into our own lives and help us to be witnesses to your mercy and your grace, and to see you working in this world to bring us all closer to you, reconciled and living life in all its fullness and purpose as you intended, not as we intend. Help us to know your will and to fight this virus.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

As we gather together on a Thursday evening, or whatever time it is in our part of the world, to clap for our medical and care services, maybe we could also clap for the living God who is present with us and active with us in this crisis.

Psalm 47 has these words.

Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm

God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted.

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