Worship for February 21, 2021

Worship for February 21, 2021

You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.

Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.

You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.

First Sunday of Lent
Scripture: Mark 1: 9-15
Music: Creator God You Gave Us Life; Gigue in E major
Musician: Terri Croft

The old practice was to give up meat, where fasting was a practice meant to foster spiritual strength. The newer practice of fasting might include foregoing certain foods, like chocolate or snacks, or might involve foregoing things that have become habits, like scrolling Facebook or watching TV.

These days, in place of a fast, many people are opting to engage in intentional activities, like meditation, or writing letters to friends and family. For decades now, with other churches the United Church has offered Lenten calendars that raise money for aid organizations, or remind us of environmental conservation.

The spirit of these Lenten practices is similar: to engage in a deliberate observance, set apart from our normal routine, in order to do two things: to become more aware of what we do and don’t do, and to build a kind of spiritual strength, or resilience. Traditionally, Lent is a time in the church year when we try to slow down by taking more time for prayer and reflection, or when we become more aware of our lives and trajectory – as individuals and as a community – by focusing our attention on bigger-picture questions.

In addition to deeper reflection, Lent is also typically a time of vision, or setting priorities by reviewing questions like: is everything as it should be and, if not, what is missing, or how else might we live; who do we not see among us, and how might we make room for them; what do we see happening to our neighbours and our community, and how might we respond?

These are things we ask during the rest of the year, too; but on the heels of Epiphany’s call to discipleship, our scripture readings during Lent draw us more deeply into the life of discipleship: what is required of us in relation to others; and, a renewal of our sense of covenantal relationship with God.

For our Ash Wednesday service this year, Steve and I considered together what this past year has been like and, therefore, how this year’s season of Lent might be different. I suspect that many of you, like me, have already been more regularly reflective about your lives and relationships. Partly, this is because of how much blessed time we’ve had on our hands, at home, by ourselves, without the delightful distraction that being out and about provides. We’ve all experienced distances of time and space from those whom we love, which have made us more keenly aware of what is most important to us.

So, this Lent may be different than in other years in the sense that we have already engaged, even if forcibly or unintentionally, in the kind of reflection that we normally bring into sharper focus during this season. Which makes me wonder: what might we do differently in response this year?

The reading from Mark for this week includes three important moments that, together, inaugurate Jesus’ ministry: he is baptized by John in the Jordan; he lives in the desert for 40 days and faces temptation; and, to all of Galilee, he proclaims that the kingdom of God is near. During Advent, we considered what it means for Jesus to be baptized by John; namely, that God is revealed to us as one of us, who lives and loves.

In recent weeks, we’ve considered what it means for Jesus to preach that the kingdom is at hand; namely, that his mission is reveal how things on earth can be as they are in heaven, if we seek justice, peace and compassion for each other.

What is unique to the reading this week is Jesus’ temptation, which is handled slightly differently by the different Gospels. In Mark, there is no elaborate set of questions, or tests, that Satan puts Jesus through. Instead, we are told simply that he was tempted, that he was with the wild beasts, and that angels waited on him. For the author of Mark’s Gospel, it’s important that we see that Jesus was human: that he could suffer, be afraid for his life, and be weakened to the point of needing significant help.

This is the same point that is made at the end of Jesus’ ministry as well, in all four Gospels, as Jesus suffers on the cross. Jesus’ humanity is, in fact, essential to the entire story of redemption. Without it, we could be led to think that Jesus somehow floated above human suffering, or avoid death. And yet, the Gospel turns entirely on our grasping the fact that God’s love is not revealed as an alternative to suffering and death, but is revealed precisely in their midst. In the desert, we face wild beasts, but we are also ministered to by angels.

The world often encourages us to put a brave face on our wounds, our mistakes and our fear of death, and carry it on the inside: be brave, be strong, turn that frown upside down. During COVID, we have championed those who find the silver linings, who seem to defy suffering and even rise above it. The world needs champions like this.

But we should be clear that it’s also brave to admit when we’re flagging; it’s also strong to confess our failings; and it’s important for us to be honest about what we face and how we’re doing as we face it. There is no prize for denying who we are, and no sin in being honest. There is no weakness in seeking help. Jesus did it, as have saints throughout the ages and even now.

This Lent, instead of giving something up at a time when we’ve already given up so much, or taking something on when we all have so much to bear, let us practice being human. Let’s be clear about when we are in a desert; let us see the beasts we face as wild, as beyond our control; and let us minister to each other as angels, as messengers of hope; not a hope we can somehow conjure when we have nothing left, but hope that comes from knowing that we are loved and that we are not alone.

As it happens, this is what Lent was always for. Amen.

Communion Prayer

May the Lord be with you!
And also with you!
Lift up your hearts!
We lift them up to God!
Then let us give thanks.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

We do give you our thanks, Loving God, for you have made the world out of dust and created life. You have given us an abundance of good things. Yet you have also given us the capacity for dark choices and anxiety. You have provided us with paths leading to wisdom through difficulty and suffering. And you have shown us, through Jesus, the way of reconciliation through letting go of self and material concerns, seeking instead compassion and healing.

Therefore we praise you, with the faithful of every time and place, as we join in a hymn of praise and thanksgiving and proclaim your name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of life and love. 
Heaven and earth are full of your glory! 
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!   
Hosanna in the highest!

Ever Living God, you are present throughout all time; in the light and the darkness and have given us the ability to choose between good and evil. You formed your people through wanderings in the desert and exile in foreign lands. You called forth your prophets from among the faithful and unfaithful alike.

In your desire to be known to us, you entered into our struggles, coming among us in Jesus. He was conceived amid scandal, born in want, fled as a refugee and raised in obscurity. With us he embraces hunger and thirst, temptation, rejection, doubt, grief, suffering and death.

On the night before he died, he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take, eat: This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

After supper he took the cup of wine and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is the cup of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

We remember all with whom you would have us share this feast especially in these days when we are apart:

We pray for all those who are in sorrow or pain…
All who are ill or suffering…
All who live with fear or oppression…
All who hunger for food and for peace with justice…
            All who are isolated and alone…
            All who place themselves at risk for our safety…
            All who have encountered hardship because of the pandemic.

We pray too for the nations,
            and for peace among peoples,                                                                       
and for a just and equitable sharing of resources…
We pray also for our families and friends and all who we love…

Spirit of Compassion, we offer these gifts of bread and wine, breathe upon them now, making them for us the very body and blood of your incarnate love, Jesus the Christ. And breathe your Spirit into us so that, having partaken of this meal in faith, we may serve you in unity, compassion and peace, and may dwell forever in the joy of communion with you.

All this we ask through the Christ, who is the incarnation of your Love.

Through Christ,
with Christ,
and in Christ,
in the unity of your Holy Spirit
all honor and glory are yours,
now and forever. AMEN.

Breaking of the Bread and Pouring of the Cup.
Sharing the Bread and Cup.