Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources
Sunday Before Lent (Green)
The picture this week shows the Transfiguration of Jesus as reported in the Bible reading from Matthew
|Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead :|
|Intercessions from our Sunday worship|
What does Lent mean to you? No biscuits? Giving up chocolate?
Resisting cream cakes for a few weeks? Why give something up? Why do
without? What is it for? What has it got to do with Lent anyway?
The word Lent comes from an Anglo-Saxon word: 'lencten', meaning 'spring'. In England we are in that time of year when in Saxon times people started to appreciate the lengthening daylight.
This period has traditionally led up to baptism, a period of repentance and instruction. A time when those who had formerly worshipped pagan gods could make a very definite break with the past. Just as Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days, so Christians have used this time to embark on a period of spiritual exploration and hopefully growth.
You may decide to fast, pray a bit more, perhaps read a book or attend a special course at a local church. Whatever you do, may you find yourself closer to God over the coming weeks, so that when Easter arrives you are really ready to proclaim the risen Lord.
Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 8:3-9
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the
stars, which you have set in place, what are we, that you are mindful of us,
humankind that that you care for us? You have made us a little than the
heavenly beings, and crowned us with glory and honour.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray
Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross: give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Common Worship
Holy God, you know the disorder of our sinful lives: set straight our crooked hearts, and bend our wills to love your goodness and your glory in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Common Worship Shorter Collect
God of life and light, your Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death on the cross. Give us grace to perceive his glory that we may be strengthened to follow him and be changed into his likeness , from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Methodist Worship
Lord God, whose glory shines upon us in the face of Jesus Christ, and whose nature is made known to us in the mystery of the cross: number us we pray, among his faithful followers for whom nothing matters but the doing of your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Methodist Worship
First Bible Reading Exodus 24: 12-18
The Lord said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction." Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, "Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them." When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Second Reading 2 Peter 1:16-21
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Gospel Reading Matthew 17: 1-9
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don't be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
Post Communion Prayer
Holy God, we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ: may we who are
partakers at his table reflect his life in word and deed, that all the world
may know his power to change and save. This we ask through Jesus Christ our
We are coming to the end of Epiphany and soon we will be in Lent. But just at the end of this season we have the passage today from the Gospel of Matthew where the episode occurs in Jesus ministry which we call the ‘Transfiguration’. The word Epiphany could be expressed as ‘manifestation’, ‘disclosure’, ‘unveiling’, or ‘appearance.’ Very appropriately therefore the Transfiguration has been described as the greatest Epiphany ever ! This is an occasion when the disciples, Peter, James and John see a vision in which they hear a heavenly voice and see appearances of Moses and Elijah.
The Transfiguration is important because it reminds us that Christianity is not about a set of beliefs, or ideas, it is about a person - Jesus. Jesus was not an ordinary man, he was special and the Transfiguration shows us this. Christians believe that through Jesus we see God. Jesus is so special that his followers said
‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ Matt 16:13
Jesus has been described as ‘God with skin on’ to put it in the traditional theological phrase, ‘God Incarnate’ or ‘God in flesh’.
Jesus lived in First Century in Palestine, he subsequently died by execution after he had seriously upset the Jewish leaders who handed him over to the hand of Pontius Pilate. There is no reason to doubt that he lived, his life was so significant that not only is it recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus at the time, our calendar is dated from his birth.
For an unbiased person it is not however about whether Jesus lived and died, it is more important to ask questions such as who Jesus was, what he said and did, and why he died. The fact that a first century Jew called Jesus died on a cross is a matter of historical record and it is hard to argue against. It is inconceivable that followers of Jesus would invent a story about their leader which involved crucifixion, a punishment reserved for the worst criminals, with all of its connotations of shame. These facts however are not the cause of serious dispute, the question is rather how we interpret those basic facts. Jesus died, but who was he and why did he die?
They followers of Jesus, his disciples, spoke about Jesus and put into writing in the Gospels their recollections of what he had said and done. They used the words and ideas of their time, ideas current in Judaism and paganism to express their view of who Jesus was. This makes some of what we read difficult to understand, such as when Jesus is referred to using a term current in Greek philosophy at the time ‘The Logos.’ or ‘Word’. In calling Jesus 'logos' it meant that Jesus was God's way of speaking to us. God chose to communicate with us in the person of Jesus. It means that if we look at Jesus then we can know what God is saying to us. When the Gospel writer John tells us that Jesus is the Logos, he means that Jesus shows us how God is thinking, he is the visible presence of the mind of God. This so important, when we look at Jesus we look deep into the being of God himself. We see his compassion on the poor, we see his love for all and his willingness to be born in human form and literally give his life for us.
When speaking to Jews it was quite easy for the Gospel writers because the followers of Jesus saw him as the fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures. Jesus was the promised ‘Messiah.’ So the writer of the Gospel of Matthew spends a great deal of time showing how Jesus could be seen to fulfil Old Testament promises. Terms which were very current in the Greek world were also applied to Jesus such as ‘Saviour.’ This was a title which was commonly used for the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar was ’The Saviour of the World.’ It is little wonder that the Christians caused such offence to Rome, when they ascribed to their poor Jewish executed criminal the same title reserved for the divine presence which ruled Rome.
Jesus was clearly an ordinary man, he was flesh like us and had the same human senses and desires.
- He became tired (John 4:6)
- He experienced physical thirst (John 19:28)
- He knew physical hunger (Matthew 4:2)
- He experienced physical weakness (Matthew 8:23-25)
- He even allowed His body to cease functioning, as ours does when we die (Matthew 27:50)
However the stories of Jesus also seek to demonstrate that Jesus was extra ordinary. It is worth thinking how the fish came to be the symbol of faith for the early Christians - the five letters spelling out "fish" in Greek came to represent the slogan
"Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour"
- Iesus - Jesus
- Christus - Christ
- Theos - God
- Uios - Son
- Soter - Saviour
The earliest Christian writings were not the Gospels, which were written after 60AD, but rather the letters of the New Testament such as Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 we read that the earliest Christians didn’t just think of Jesus as a great man, they actually worshipped Jesus as God.
We don’t understand how Jesus can be human and yet have the fullness of God in him, however one episode from the life of Jesus is helpful in showing these two elements. In the account of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat (Matthew 23-27). Jesus is shown to be exhausted and asleep in the boat but his divinity is shown when he stills the wind and the waves.
When we see Jesus it is the closest we can ever be to knowing what God is like. When we listen to the words of Jesus recorded by those who were prepared to lay down their lives for him, that is as close as we can get to listening to God’s teaching. It is not that Christians believe that God does not disclose himself to other people in other religions, rather the fact that in Jesus God takes flesh brings us to the most amazing truth that God has stepped close to us in a unique way - personally not in the words of another, such as prophets like Moses and Elijah.
Jesus was a man, but he was not just a man, he was God and man. For Christians this is crucial, because Jesus becomes a unique and special bridge between God and humankind. The early Christian writers spoke of Jesus as a ‘Mediator’ (1 Timothy 2). The Apostle Paul said that God was in Jesus ’reconciling’ us to himself.
In Jesus we see God in sort of scaled down version, but that scaled down version is mind blowing, for we are told that God regards us as his friends. The love of God is like the love of a man who will lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
I remember some years ago we had a church outing to see the ‘Passion of Christ’ a gruelling film indeed. We all came out feeling shell shocked at the very literal depiction of a crucifixion, it was truly horrible, but what that story does is to very graphically show us that God’s love for us will go all the way. We might find it hard to put into words what God is like or what he thinks of us, but that is what Jesus does. Jesus gives us a walking talking picture of who God is and what he thinks of you and me, that out of love for us God will endure the cross.
Everything in the Gospels tell us that the life of Jesus was building up to the cross. When he is born we are told that Mary and Joseph are to call the baby Jesus - because that name means ‘God saves’. Jesus lives a remarkable life, gives amazing and inspiring teaching, but it is perfectly obvious that the climax of Jesus life is death on the cross. Jesus knows that his journey to Jerusalem will involve him paying the ultimate price - for his love, for God’s love for humankind. Jesus sacrifices his love for God’s friends, for us.
This is such a wonderful story that not just theologians but writers of music, poetry and hymns have written and composed pieces of text and music ever since. God is not a distant judge who criticises and condemns us, but has humbled himself to meet with us on our terms and offers us forgiveness. Jesus told a story about a child who was really rude to his father, who went off and behaved horribly and squandered away an inheritance that his father had worked hard for all of his life. When in poverty the son comes crawling back offering to do lowly work we might expect the father to send him away or put him to hard labour to earn his keep. Instead Jesus spoke of the Father running to greet the foul creature and welcoming him back with open arms and a slap up feast. There is something which makes us question the logic of God’s love that can fail to hold a grudge. The message is clear, God is not like us - he is like Jesus. On very good days we may be able to show what God is like in small ways, but it is Jesus in his extraordinary willingness to lay down his life for us who really shows us what God is like.
In Jesus God has entered our humanity and made divinity understandable and if we are honest it beggars belief. It looks at times weak and very unlike the concepts of human power and authority which we live by every day. Jesus spoke about the blessings for the poor and the weak ones, he saved his kindest acts for the sick and the despised ones. He attacked those who lived well off lives whilst others suffered and he led by an example of selflessness which has never been seen since.
The outcome of who Jesus was and what Jesus did is that we should feel a sense of thankfulness. We can see that just like the father who welcomed the prodigal son, God forgives our foolish ways. When we look at the world around us we can easily lose faith in humanity and question our belief in God. Our world is clearly broken in many ways, we have damaged human relationships and we create wars and suffering on a global scale. We use world economies and trade to exploit those who are weaker than ourselves and we are resentful in sharing from our great wealth with those who do not even have bread to eat.
Jesus shows God offering us forgiveness and seeking to reconcile the broken world. The overpowering love of God for the world is self evident in the cross, for Jesus died for sinners. Not for those who had improved themselves, or who had really made a good effort, but for sinners. The fact that Jesus died, that God died, for our world is important. It shows the seriousness of the condition in which we find ourselves. The forgiveness which God gives is not cheap it is painful and costly and demands from God a great sacrifice.
The followers of Jesus were overwhelmed with him, their lives were turned upside down and they were prepared to go to tortured deaths rather than disown Jesus. Moreover they were more committed and animated in their discipleship after Jesus died than before! Until Jesus died they were somewhat clueless followers, constantly making mistakes and not catching on to his teaching. Jesus gave up everything and behaved like a servant whilst they jostled for first place among his followers. When Jesus was arrested they ran away, suddenly terrified by the authority held by the Jewish leaders and the occupying Roman forces. However after Jesus died they changed. The claimed that Jesus had been raised from death as he had promised and they claimed that Jesus had appeared among them and spoken with them.
This is an amazing claim and one which we cannot either prove or disprove. However ever since the followers of Jesus have proclaimed Jesus risen life and have witnessed that by placing faith and trust in Jesus, God’s presence can literally be known in our own lives today. This is a claim which has continued for over two thousand years. Christians do not claim that they no longer experience doubts and fears, however even those who have really struggled, often through difficult circumstances, continue to hold this faith. Indeed throughout history Christians have often spoken of their faith in Jesus with most commitment at times of extreme persecution.
The same Jesus, who walked around teaching and challenging our ideas about God, who died on the cross and proclaimed that God loved the world, that same Jesus, Christians worship and follow today. He shows to us what God is like, offers us God’s forgiveness and he still changes lives as he did then. It is as we take Jesus to our hearts that God’s presence is truly with us, making sense of this strange world and showing us that our seemingly worthless and transient lives really are important to God. It is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which gives meaning to our own lives and reassures us that all life is created by God and is sacred and precious. At the Transfiguration Jesus made an appearance or ‘Epiphany’ to his disciples. It is the same Jesus who still reveals, discloses or manifests himself to those who seek him today.
Lord Jesus, who revealed yourself to the disciples on the mountain of Transfiguration.
Reveal to me your glory that I may know your risen presence
and by your mighty power reflect the almighty love of God
that others may know his power to change and save
Lent has crept up on is this year! It seems only a few days since the children went back to school after Christmas, and we were still hoovering pine needles out of the carpets! With Ash Wednesday on 9th February, this is the last Sunday before Lent. We should be settling our hearts and minds on the days to follow, as we move towards Easter. The ministers will look different as we wear the purple stoles to signify mourning and humility. As a church, we will be preparing ourselves by studying St Paul during our Lent course. Various heroic people will be giving up chocolate and alcohol. I am of the school of thought which believes that taking up an extra activity in Lent is a good thing, too. In the next few weeks, we could read the last section of St Matthew’s Gospel, starting at Chapter 17, and gain a sense of the drama and pace of Jesus’ last days on earth. We can live with Him through His courageous self-giving. I pray that this Lent may be a time of growth for all of us as individuals and as churches.
- I want to walk
- We really want to thank you Lord.
- Abba father, let me be
- Father hear the prayer we offer (Gotts will machen)
- Great is thy faithfulness
- All my hope on God is founded
- Come let us sing of a wonderful love
- Rock of ages (Tune Toplady)
- Judge eternal
Glorious God, give me grace to amend my life and to have an eye to mine end
without grudge of death, which to them that die in thee, good Lord, is the
fate of a wealthy life. Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope and a
fervent charity, a love to thee incomparable above the love to myself. Give
me, good Lord, a longing to be with thee, not for the avoiding of the
calamities of this world, nor so much for the attaining of the joys of
heaven, as for the very love of thee. (Sir Thomas More 1478 - 1535)
Father you never forget us or turn away from us even when we fail you, You sent your Son Jesus who gave his life for us, cured those who were sick, cared for those who were poor and cried for those who were sad. He forgave sinners and taught us to forgive each other. For all your love we give you thanks. We open our hearts to him; we remember how he died and rose again to live now in us. Amen (Scottish liturgy)
Opening Verse of Scripture—1 Corinthians Chapter 2:9
As it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"
Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray
Lord God, whose glory shines upon us in the face of Jesus Christ, and whose nature is made known to us in the mystery of the cross: number us we pray, among his faithful followers for whom nothing matters but the doing of your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There is so much we which just do not understand, life is full of questions and it is the wise who see answers in differing shades of grey rather than blacks and whites. However in the episode today there is a remarkable moment of clarity for the disciples. The veil is drawn back and the disciples catch a glimpse of who Jesus is.
This vision is important because the time is coming when the disciples will wonder who on earth Jesus really is, when he is crucified. Listen to Jesus - listen to him now and remember to still trust his words when he is being crucified and is seemingly powerless.
There is a lot going on in the Church lectionary over the next few weeks.
We have had the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple
(called Candlemas), next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday and Lent begins on
Wednesday. The wise people who put together
the readings for churches, week by week, have chosen to put the story of
Jesus’ Transfiguration in the sequence in which it occurred during His life,
at the start of the Passion story.
While the supernatural event witnessed by Peter, James and John was both wonderful and awe-inspiring, the event gathers real meaning from its position in the last few days before Jesus began His fateful journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. Matthew places the Transfiguration account in chapter 17, and after only four more chapters recounting Jesus’ healing and teaching, the Disciples are gathered outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Jesus’ status as the only human to be fully part of God is difficult for us to understand. It must have been hard for his friends to understand too. In the Transfiguration they were privileged to see Jesus in His Heavenly setting, both Himself but Transfigured, to catch a glimpse of his destiny outside their time. The presence of great prophets of the past, Moses and Elijah, shows us that in God’s space, Heaven, the barriers of time do not exist. The limitations of this world and its physical laws and logic do not matter either. In Heaven there is only love and one-ness with God. This glorious revelation was granted to these three men, as they watched their friend on the mountain top. They didn’t know what to make of it. Peter was reduced to babbling absurdities, shown most forcibly in the account in Mark's Gospel. (as I expect we all would). But the Transfiguration, which linked Jesus to His Heavenly destination must have sustained Jesus in His last painful, humiliating hours as a man, and it must have given his loving friends hope in the darkness of their disillusion and despair. So should this glimpse of the Reality beyond ours give us hope and sustain us through the dark times.
- See also Mark 9:2-9, Luke 9:28-36
- There are many allusions to Moses and Sinai
- After six days - this must have reminded the readers of the Exodus 24:16 when God spoke to Moses from his cloud, six days of creation,
- Jewish people expected the return of Elijah and Moses at the end of time.
- Both Elijah and Moses heard God at Mt Sinai, which is also called Horeb Ex24:15-16, 1 Kings 19:8
- Jewish people also believed that Elijah would return before the end of time Malachi 4:5-6
- This is called a 'Vision' - which involves an inward or subjective experience
- The story follows the confession, commission, and prediction of Jesus death and resurrection- it compensates for the shock of what will happen to Jesus. For this reason it is good news for the disciples
- Elijah and Moses speak to Jesus, reassurance for him
- The same words are spoken as at Jesus baptism, now confirming what had been to Jesus also to the disciples.
- In Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples to tell no one of the "vision"--horama,
Post Communion Prayer
Holy God, we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ: may we who are partakers at his table reflect his life in word and deed, that all the world may know his power to change and save. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
New Covenant, New Commitment
‘not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished’
So when did Jesus envisage that the day of the accomplishment would take place? We know that after his death the disciples realised that the old covenant had very surely passed away and a new way had been opened up for people to come to God, apart from the Jewish Law. This was a painful process, so much so that even Peter and Paul and James fell out over it and argued about whether Gentiles could be saved apart from such things as obedience to the old Jewish food laws. You will probably remember the trouble reported in Galatians over whether a person had to be circumcised. It got so heated that the writer (Paul) in Galatians 5:12 says that he wishes his opponents would clear off and castrate themselves. Not the sort of ecclesiastical debate which we are used to hearing.
The difference of course is that these Apostles actually believed something and that is rare these days. Often we are left wondering exactly who would dare to die for anything anymore. For those early Christians life was not worth living unless Christ was worth dying for. Jesus had offered something radical and new, so new that the writer to the Hebrews recognised that ‘By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.’ Hebrews Chapter 8:12. With the death of Jesus there was nothing short of a new road opened up to God. It was not a narrow one anymore, restricted to certain people who called themselves Jews. Now it was for all people, whether they were slave or free, Jew or Gentile.
That was the good news, but of course whilst circumcision, obedience to all those funny laws in Leviticus (including of course the ten commandments) passed away, now came a whole new depth of commitment which went much further than the old covenant. Now the Christian had to give everything to God, just as Jesus freely offered his own life. No wonder so many of those first Christian ended up dead. Charles Royden
Beside the head of the Queen on British coins appear the letters “F.D.”. They are an abbreviation in Latin for the words “Defender of the Faith.” This was a title given by the Pope to King Henry VIII, (the eighth) recalling how, in his first years as king, Henry had written a book about the Sacraments, “defending” what Catholics believe. Some years later he would be executing Catholics.
Sir Thomas More 1478, became a man of great learning, a lawyer, and the father of four children. King Henry VIII valued his friendship, appointing him Lord Chancellor, the main government minister of the time. The king knew that Thomas More was above corruption; he was a person of integrity and honesty at a time when money bought what was thought of as ‘justice’.
The king wanted to divorce his queen (Catherine of Aragon) and marry Anne Boleyn instead. When the Pope proclaimed that that was wrong, the English parliament passed an Act declaring the king to be “Supreme Head of the Church in England”, and Henry decided he could do as he wished in many things. This action also led to the destruction (“Dissolution”) of many monasteries and cathedrals in England as the king confiscated and sold their lands and possessions.
Thomas More knew that he could not agree with what the king was doing and, even though many bishops supported the actions of the king, Thomas remarked that “their consciences must speak for them; mine must speak for me.” Thomas still considered himself loyal to the king and, when he was condemned to death, he said: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Let us pray: God our Father, teach us to distinguish clearly between right and wrong, that we may grow in character and develop a true sense of values through following Jesus, your Son and our Brother. We pray, too, for all who are in positions of leadership in our country that they may be inspired by the values of the gospel. We pray that they may live as people of integrity and honesty, growing in a sense of duty and responsibility, always being aware of the needy, and ready to be of service to others. Amen.
Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead.
Lord, there are times when we are so concerned about ourselves that we don’t think of others. We ask for the gift of your Spirit that we may grow in awareness of others: - noticing when someone is unhappy, - sensing when there’s something wrong for somebody, - seeing when someone feels cut off or isolated, - knowing when to say the right word, - expressing thanks and compliments, - being thoughtful when someone is ill, - giving words of encouragement, - helping someone to feel welcome, - realising when someone needs the opportunity to talk. May we grow in sensitivity towards others. Amen.
Lord, in times of large opportunity and fast-changing circumstances
give us the big vision. May your work not be curtailed by past ways of
ministry; give us clean, focused aims and the grace to leave the outcome to
you. Amen. Thomas Kingston, Superintendent, Dublin District