30th August 2020
Weekly notices, Church at Home & watch live
(Scroll down for this week's service)
Eric Gill, Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross, 1917, Wood engraving on paper; Tate Britain
Sunday, 10.30am at St James'
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Reflection by The Revd Chris Minchin
Service led by The Revd Dominic Coad
or listen and read along here:
The service starts with some quiet music; please use this to clear your mind and acknowledge the presence of God.
First Loss by Robert Schumann.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ
to save us from our sins,
to be our advocate in heaven,
and to bring us to eternal life.
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith,
firmly resolved to keep God’s commandments
and to live in love and peace with all.
God be gracious to us and bless us,
and make your face shine upon us:
Lord, have mercy. (Lord, have mercy.)
May your ways be known on the earth,
your saving power among the nations:
Christ, have mercy. (Christ, have mercy.)
You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations:
Lord, have mercy. (Lord, have mercy.)
May the God of love and power
forgive us and free us from our sins,
heal and strengthen us by his Spirit,
and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.
God of constant mercy,
who sent your Son to save us:
remind us of your goodness,
increase your grace within us,
that our thankfulness may grow,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A reading from St Paul's letter to the Romans.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
I am the light of the world, says the Lord.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness
but will have the light of life.
Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
This is the gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ
by The Revd Chris Minchin
May I speak in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus’ words sound unusually harsh. Peter simply seems to not want Jesus to die. A fair enough wish. But Jesus’ blows up ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
It’s a bit of an overreaction surely? In a world that seeks success in honour and dominance, the idea of picking up a cross and walking to your own death is quite obviously failure, isn’t it? Yet that is what Jesus is here to do and he has no time for this distraction. It may look like failure to Peter but, Jesus will turn everything on its head. Because where does the way of the cross lead? To Jesus’ death? Yes, but that is not the final destination.
Jesus is the God who suffered, the one who died. To kill someone is the ultimate method of control. The cross is a symbol of dominance and control by earthly power, a Roman method of execution designed for maximum humiliation and pain. It looks like failure, but through Jesus it has been transformed into a symbol of hope and God’s ultimate triumph. Because the cross leads not to death, but to resurrection.
It is a sign that God knows the suffering you endure, God has known what it is to have been put down and feel worthless, to be made to feel like a failure, but there is hope beyond it. To walk the way of the cross is to walk the way to the resurrected life.
But what does that mean? How do we pick up our cross? Does that mean we are called to suffer needlessly in this life? What about when the cross is too much? ‘We all have our cross to bear’ is at best a phrase that suggests recognition of someone’s suffering but takes no responsibility to help, and at worst suggests ‘I don’t care, we’ve all got our problems’. This lack of sympathy and willingness to help, misses the point.
Some things in this life really are too much to bear on your own. The cross does lead to death, because it is too much for our own strength. But we do not carry it in our own strength. Even Jesus was helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross.
To pick up your cross is not a macho show of endurance, but an acceptance of your own weakness. We still live in a world obsessed with showing strength, politicians want to ‘Make America Great Again’ or pretend they know what they are doing in a pandemic, our churches feel the need to show that we’re growing and full, we feel we need to prove we are fine and never lonely. To pick up our cross is to declare our weakness and say God is here too! The Christian life should not declare how wonderful we are but declare that there is hope in all situations, and that none of us are strong enough on our own.
Our first reading can help us. It is another Paul passage telling us what we should and should not do. We’re probably used to his words being used judgmentally, describing how this or that type of person is wrong, and how we are much better than them. But I always find it so telling, that those who treat the Bible as such a rigid and harsh thing, are not quite so committed when it comes to the nicer, kinder demands of it. But here it is, in black and white a typical Paul list of right and wrong behaviour, in no uncertain terms:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
These are just as clear biblical demands on us, unequivocal, and as important as any other expectation of Christian behaviour.
What a wonderful world it would be, I think, if all those people who paid such attention to the letter of the Bible and used it to judge and control the behaviour of others, if all those people had been just as faithful in carrying out these rules as well. Bless those who hurt and disagree with you, do not be haughty, associate with the lowly, live in harmony, be peaceable, have empathy. Do not repeat the evil that is done to you, but bring goodness where there is none. Show love in the face of evil. Surely an enemy wants to have mutual hatred, so what could annoy them more than being kind to them? I think this is what Paul means when he talks about kindness heaping hot coals on your enemy’s head.
I have seen too much suffering over the last few months, I have seen people go hungry despite being ‘good people’ trying to do all they can, people dying because of those who care more about protecting wealth than people. Many of us have good reason to be bitter. But bitterness breeds bitterness, returning cruelty with cruelty does not bring an end to suffering, but keeps it alive. And we must stop the suffering and pain and help one another.
We are called not to be successful by any worldly standards, but to be wonderful failures, fools who see hope in suffering, and life in the face death. We are called to be kind even when it is futile. We are called to help those who would not help us. We are called to see the lowly as valuable, and even when we have little self-worth we are to be confident in the knowledge that we are worth something to God.
We are called to walk the way of the cross, the way to resurrection, the ultimate transformation of all that is bad into the glory and hope of God.