Intercessions for Here and Now

True Worship

I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34.1).
I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee (Psalm 22.22).
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God Col 3.16)
Lord, by your mercy reveal to us your gospel. Save us from the power of all untruths and release us from all that separates us from you.
O Lord let thy mercy lighten upon us
And grant us thy salvation
1. Lord, give us the grace you gave to all other generations of Christians. Let us proclaim your gospel with them and join our voices to theirs in your worship.
We tell you the good news
God has made Jesus, whom we crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36)

What God promised to our fathers
He has fulfilled for us by raising up Jesus (Acts 13.32-33)

We crucified him
But God raised from the dead (Acts 4.10)

We were buried with him through baptism
So that just as Christ was raised from the dead we will be raised too (Romans 6.4)

The Christ who descended
Is the same Christ who ascended above all heavens to fill the entire universe (Eph 4.10)

There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved
Thou only, O Christ, art most high in the glory of God the Father

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January – Epiphany

2018 is Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary. Year B is the year of the Gospel of Mark, interrupted and supplemented by the Gospel of John. Although the Church of England introduces its own idiosyncratic variations and so does not always follow the RCL, this is the Lectionary of the Church of England. Here are some notes on themes that arise from the four sets of readings for each month.  I have missed Advent, so I’ll start with January and Epiphany.

Epiphany of the Lord January 6, 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6            Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14   Ephesians 3:1-12    Matthew 2:1-12

When they saw that the star had stopped they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and they knelt down and paid him homage.

Baptism of the Lord  January 7, 2018  First Sunday after the Epiphany

Genesis 1:1-5           Psalm 29      Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11    When Jesus had been baptised he came up from the water. Suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God (and thus the army of the Lord, moving up and down the road) descending like a dove. ‘This is my Son, the beloved’. The first reading is Genesis 1 – the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. (The RCL gives us ‘a wind from God swept over the face of the waters’). The psalm is psalm 29 – ‘The Lord sits enthroned above the flood… The voice of the Lord is upon the waters’. The waters are those forces of creation that sometimes become unruly. When they surge up wildly and threaten us, a word from the Lord subdues them and they become peaceful again. The promise of the Lord is that they will never again threaten creation. Yet the unruliness of man, and hid failure to act as good lieutenant does result in creation becoming violent and chaotic.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany    January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)    Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18     1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51  You will see greater things you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man

Third Sunday after the Epiphany    January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10        Psalm 62:5-12          1 Corinthians 7:29-31              (RCL) Mark 1:14-20)

John 2.1-11    Wedding at Cana

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany   January 28, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20           Psalm 111           1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28  In the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. What have you to so with us, have you come to destroy us? It threw him into convulsions and crying with loud voice, came out of him… Who is this who commands even unclean spirits?

Candlemas – Presentation of the Lord in the Temple   February 2, 2018

Malachi 3:1-4           Psalm 84 or Psalm 24:7-10       Hebrews 2:14-18

Luke 2:22-40   Simeon and Anna


Epiphany means ‘revelation’. The revelation of the Lord goes on through the year. It starts at Advent at the beginning of the Church year, and then when the Lord appears at his nativity, in the manger in the stable. But first Epiphany is the moment when the Wise Men come to do him homage and so reveal his royal identity to us. This child is our King. The Epiphany continues in his presentation in the temple at Candlemas (2 Feb), and again when (in Luke 2) when the twelve year old boy is taken up to the temple for Passover, and is found among the teachers of the law are gathered around while the young Jesus is sitting in the middle.

The Lord is recognised, brought to the front and lifted up with his parents, by those waiting for him in the temple. Every Christian service is a presentation of our work before the Lord and before the world. There the Lord, and everyone else, will see it for what it is. There is a presentation in the temple, and it us who are being presented. Christ presents us to his Father, and the Father receives us from him. And we also lift each other up and present one another to the Lord. This is part of the process of our sanctification, and will be its climax too.

The Revelation – epiphany – of the Lord continues every Sunday when the Gospel is read. The Lord reveals himself, instalment by instalment. From Pentecost the Lord prepares and reveals his Body through the ministry of the Apostles and on through all subsequent generations of the Church, down to us.  The Epiphany continues through the ministry and increasingly through the passion of the Lord which we follow in Lent. It makes itself bright for a moment in the Transfiguration which we read in Lent and again in the summer. All these scenes appear because people cluster round the Lord, so we see the Lord at the centre and all the others, the Marys, the disciples, the sick, the teachers of the law, around him. As they look at him, they frame him for us, so we can identify him. Some of these scenes are displayed in the images in our church windows. We see the Lord at the centre in the last supper and the disciples around him. All these are epiphanies. All these people, though they did not intend to, reveal the identity of the Lord – even Judas and Herod and Pilate, even the two thieves on crosses on either side, and the guards on duty outside the tomb. When the stone is rolled back, and Jesus is gone, yet there are two angels sitting at either end of the tomb, framing the place that could not contain him.

Where we see the Lord, we usually see three figures. We see the Lord and we see a figure on his right and on his left, looking inwards towards him. Their job is to frame the Lord, so we can see who he is. They are there for our benefit. There may be groups of witnesses framing him: the nativity scene fills up with Mary and Joseph, animals, shepherds, angels and kings, all looking in towards the Lord, leading our eyes inwards so that our gaze comes at last to him. They do this for us. And we do this for others. We stand on one side or the other, gazing and adoring, so that our orientation draws other people in to see Jesus and to realise who he is. We are witnesses because we frame the view with our bodies, and draw people toward him with our voices and songs. We do this whenever we worship together in church. But this becomes obvious, when we take that worship out with us into our public spaces, and stand before the Lord, by our bodies drawing the gaze of the world. We draw their gaze away from the grotesque spectacles displayed on screens and in shops, and towards the true spectacle, the true scene, the epiphany of the Lord with his people.

We are the body of Christ, and as Christ’s body, we are the present form of the revelation of the Lord. He shows us to them, in the hope that they will join us and become members of this body, and so become the Lord’s epiphany to the world. We are the body of Christ. We are the first instalment, the dark, still dirty, body but nonetheless the body that will be glorious, and is now being made glorified through all these confrontations and suffering.

The Epiphany we see before us

Anyone who comes into a church should be able to see the cross straightaway. The cross should always be in front of us when we worship the Lord, because it is the basic identifier of which lord it is that we are worshipping. We worship the Lord who was crucified. With this sign we indicate that we worship this Lord because, though he allowed us to do our utmost against him, we have not been able to break his commitment to us. We see the altar or table on which the bread and cup are set at Eucharist, and which have candles on either side of them. We should see may only see the screen on which the words of our worship songs are displayed. But at various times of the year we see a prepared scene. At Christmas we see the nativity scene of the stable, with the figures of the status, working in from the outside, we see, angels, ox and ass, and shepherds and a lamb, Joseph and Mary and at the centre the infant Jesus. But at various points of the year we also take these scenes outside with us so they become visible to our fellow townspeople. We take the nativity scene of stable and manger out into our town centre in the days running up to Christmas, and then take out the Wise men so it becomes the Epiphany scene. In the same way in Holy Week we will follow the stations of the cross, in church or in some public space, and so we follow the steps of the Lord’s passion publicly, so anyone in our town can see and follow too.  At Easter itself we may set up some form of Easter garden, which will frame the cross and the tomb before which the action takes place. This passion and crucifixion are all signs and demonstrations that he is a king, and is our King, and they are demonstrations that we cannot break his power, that he will exercise his power for us, for our salvation, in order to make us his, so that we may be the people of his kingdom.

Worship 6 The Whole People of God

Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory

In these talks we have seen that the Christian people is gathered and that it hears the Word of God. It asks for judgment and it receives it, and it receives mercy and it asks for it. It sings and it prays. This particular community is, for our sake, part of the communion of God. It is given this identity and the task that come with it, by God. It is that part of the communion of God that is visible to the world, and which is therefore witness to God for the world. This is a huge claim. It does not make us comfortable to make it, but we cannot not make it. If this community does not make it, this claim does not go away but hangs around with destructive consequences for our society.

1. Unbroken procession
Let us take another look at the service as a whole. The people arrived and were greeted by the gospel. They were brought up the aisle of the Church to the altar where they received Christ from God. They were led by Christ down the aisle and out into the world to travel through the world.

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Worship 1 Gathering

The Lord be with you
Every Sunday morning Christians gather together in worship. What are they doing in these worship services? What is this meeting and praying and singing all about? I am going to look at what is going on in Church in six talks. I am calling them ‘Gathering’, ‘Hearing’, ‘Singing’, ‘Praying’, and then ‘Eucharist’ and ‘The People of God’. These titles loosely correspond to the stages in any service, and allow us to talk about the Church and the Christian life.

1. The Church gathers
I think the best way to talk about the Church is by talking about one particular church, so I have chosen one – mine. My church is St Mary’s, Stoke Newington, here in London.

We leave our homes and offices to gather as this church. Every week we are roused out of our everyday existence, dragged away from our computer or our sofa, to join these many other people. On Sunday morning we leave the house, and cross the borough of Hackney, to join all the others at St Mary’s. And we once we get up the steps and into the church we go down the aisle and take our places next to each other. We are called together, so we come together.

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Worship 2 Hearing

This second talk on Christian worship is about what Christians hear when they worship. Last time we said that the Church is this people gathered together, and that they are the people gathered by God. We ourselves confess that we are this people gathered by God, and we confess that we are surprised to find ourselves here and saying this. Now we have to say that we have been summoned together in order to hear the Word of God.

1. Scripture as address
When we are together in Church the bible is read out, loud and clear so we all hear it. God has promised to speak to us through Holy Scripture, so the Scriptures are read. As often as we meet, the bible is opened, and read out loud and so the gospel is heard by those who have gathered to receive it, and what we hear we receive as the speech of God to us.

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Worship 3 Singing

In my first talk I said that that the Christian community is gathered. The Lord God brings us here before all these other people and holds us together, making us one. This community is an entity of love, and our identity is hidden somewhere in it. In the second talk I said that this community is brought into being as it reads Scripture and hears the Word of God. This community may hear God as God. In this, the third of these talks, I am going to talk about Christian worship and in particular why Christians sing.

1. Singing
Christians sing. We sing because we can. We have been freed to do so. We may address God because he has addressed us and so opened the lines of communication. Like calves let out of their stalls after a long winter’s confinement we kick up and frolic about, enjoying our new freedom. The whole body feels it.

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Worship 4 Praying

We have been looking at the Christian service of worship. So far we have said that Christians gather, that they hear the readings from Scripture and they sing.

The next thing is that they also pray and intercede. The Church comes together in order to pray. This gathering of people has been spoken to and the result is that it may now speak, and purposefully. God is expecting us to say something. We may say what we like and ask for what we want. The Church gives thanks, it acknowledges its neediness and it discovers how to intercede on behalf of others. Christian worship makes us an articulate people, who pray and speak up for one another.

1. Jesus prays
Jesus prays.
He ‘withdrew to deserted places to pray’ (Luke 5). His disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.’ (Luke 11.1-2)

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Worship 5 Eucharist

Christians are gathered together, they hear God’s Word, they pray, and they worship God. These four elements are part of every Christian service.

Traditionally, each service has two parts to it – the ministry of the Word and of the Sacrament. Each service has the Word, since Scripture is always read, but we tend to refer to some services, ‘worship services’ or ‘healing services’. But not every service is a eucharist. But in another sense, every service in which Christians gather and worship God, is part of the one eucharist of God for man, so every Christian service is eucharistic from beginning to end, even when we don’t get as far as the bread and cup.

1. Thanksgiving
He took bread and gave you thanks
Eucharist means thanksgiving. God is with man, and from him we receive our life, and when we are able to acknowledge this we give thanks.

The eucharist is the whole Christian worship service with nothing left out. Every part of this service is a giving thanks. In Christ we are able to see that God is our God. But every act of worship is Christ’s act for us: in each service Christ ministers to us, so we express our surprise and our delight at finding ourselves served by him. And the eucharist is fellowship with the Lord, and so it is a holy communion. It is the fellowship in particular for those who found no room in any other fellowship.

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Holy Week 4 Maundy Thursday Having given all things into his hands…

4 Maundy Thursday Having given all things into his hands…

Exodus 12, 1 Corinthians 11, John 13

1. Upper Room
The readings for today, Maundy Thursday, are from Exodus 12, the Passover, 1 Corinthians 11, the Lord’s instruction to break read in his name until he comes, and from John 13. On Maundy Thursday the clergy of the diocese gather with the bishop to receive the oil of chrism that they will use for the coming year.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. John 13

Jesus Christ is free, for God is free. He is so free, he is free even to do the things that we most associate with loss of freedom. Our Lord did not regard divinity as something that has to be clung on to, but taking the inconspicuous form of a servant, made himself nothing (Philippians 2).

This servant-status, this priestly deaconate, is for those who in Christ have had ‘all things given into their hands’. This weight of glory is yours. It releases you. Now you do not need to busy yourself first with your own affairs before turning with whatever energy you have left, to help others. You do not need to look for glory or confirmation, for you have it, and need never concern yourself about it again. You have been released from concern about your own identity.

You have been forgiven. Just as your life is no longer yours to live alone, so your problems and your sin is not your own any longer. You are free to seek more and more of that forgiveness, and to do so with greater and great abandon, more and more publicly. You are free to confess your sins and to lead the rest of us in letting go of our own sins. You may be the most care-free of people.

This means that you are free – for others. You are servants, deacons, waiters-at-table, fetchers and carriers. You will wait at hospital beds, anoint the dying, find words of comfort for the frightened and anguished. You will baptize and teach, you will hear confession, you will marry and bury. You will explain the inexplicable to the baffled, the bored and resentful.

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Holy Week 3 Wednesday After receiving the bread…

3 Wednesday After receiving the bread…

Isaiah 50, Psalm 70, Hebrews 12, John 13.21-32

We have been following the readings for each of the days of Holy Week. We said that every day of Holy Week is a revealing of the risen Son of God. The passion is the unfurling of the resurrection, and the resurrection is our glimpse of the ascent of man to God. On Monday we said that all creation is filled with glory of God. This glory does not impose itself on us, but one sign of it is the presence of the Christian people. They are here to pray for the world and to speak back on its behalf to God; together they make up the Church, the house that is filled with the glory of God.

Yesterday we said that the Son of God has entered the creation. He has handed himself over to us. He has been dropped into the earth like a single seed, and we are there soil he has been dropped into. What will we make of him? Will this seed survive our handling, will it germinate and produce a crop and a harvest?

Today, we hear again from the Gospel of John, and from Isaiah and the Book of Hebrews. We will learn that what we have received we also pass on, so we must investigate some of the giving and taking and passing on of which the gospel consists. Christ has given himself, and he has taken us. Now we are able to give ourselves away, and take one another. We can now do this because we are given by God to one another, and given through time into one another’s hands.

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