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Worship, prayer and Bible study resources for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Year C, Colour = White or Gold


Seventh Sunday of Easter

Introduction

This is the last Sunday of the Easter Season and we read the prayer which Jesus made before he is arrested. Soon he will end up being crucified and Jesus knows that this time has come. The last prayer of Jesus is that his disciples will be one, that their unity will be as great as that between him and God the Father. It is through this unity that the world will come to its senses and recognise who Jesus is.

The problem is of course that humanity does not easily become united, we are known by our divisions and differences. We are frightened by those who are different and we seek power and identity by belonging to one group or another. After 2,000 years the church of Jesus is as divided as it has ever been and the prayer of Christ is unanswered.

This is easily said and yet so hard to accomplish. People belong to churches and become familiar with the way things are done. They do not want to change and leave cherished habits, no matter if they are destructive and contrary to the wish of Jesus. Today we do well to rememeber to ask ourselves whether we are seeking with all our hearts to be part of the answer to that prayer of Jesus.

Are we willing to put aside what we like so that we can begin to recognise Christ in people who are different from us?

Are we willing to embrace unity and put aside our differences, so that the world may begin to see Jesus present in his church?

This importance of dependence and sharing with each other is a fundamental part of being, not just as Christian people, but human beings. We know the importance of sharing and intimate and supportive relationships. The concept of a Christian who is isolated from others is fundamentally flawed, we exist only in community - as a part of a body. Feeling lonely is painful is nature's way of telling us that this is not how we should be. So Jesus adrresses this in his prayer that we might be one, even as he and the Father are one - absolutely. We are made to share the joys and sorrows, the burdens and triumphs together.

“Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Opening Verse of Scripture    Ephesians Chapter 1:3

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Collect Prayer Before we read we pray

O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Common Worship

Risen, ascended Lord, as we rejoice at your triumph, fill your Church on earth with power and compassion, that all who are estranged by sin may find forgiveness and know your peace, to the glory of God the Father. Common Worship Shorter Collect

Risen Christ, you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: strengthen us to proclaim your risen life and fill us with your peace, to the glory of God the Father. Common Worship Additional Collect

First Bible Reading Acts 16:16-34

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Second Reading Revelation Chapter 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

12-14 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

 

Gospel Reading John 17:20-26

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Post Communion Prayer

Eternal God, giver of love and power, your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom: confirm us in this mission, and help us to live the good news we proclaim; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

A strange turn of events
Sometimes things don’t always turn out the way we would expect and it becomes necessary to adapt to the situation we find ourselves in and reflect on what God might be saying to us.  This is the situation which Paul finds himself in as we see from our readings from Acts both last week and again this week.  After leaving the Council in Jerusalem where a compromise was reached on how Gentiles and Jews should live as a people under God both of whose heritages are respected and acknowledged, Paul returns to Antioch where he stays for a while before setting off on his second missionary journey.  He’d originally planned to revisit some of the towns where he and Barnabas had previously travelled but things didn’t turn out quite as expected.  Perhaps frustrated at his attempts to spread the gospel in Bithynia in Asia Paul immediately leaves for Europe after he has a night-time vision, perhaps in a dream, of a man calling him over to Macedonia.  Paul and his companions leave from Troas and sail up the coast via Samothrace and Neapolis before arriving in Philippi his new intended destination.  Paul’s normal practice, once he’d arrived in a new location, was to go immediately to the synagogue, where he could meet with the men there and share the gospel with them. So we can imagine his initial bewilderment when rather than Jews he finds gentiles, and rather than men, he finds a group of women, one of which was Lydia.  Lydia was clearly a woman of some standing, arising from the fact that the purple cloth and dye in which she traded was a highly regarded and sought after commodity and therefore a source of significant wealth.  She was a worshipper of God, almost certainly not a Jewess but a gentile and, like many, probably the principles and morals of the Jewish law without converting to Judaism.  After the encounter she and her houseful were baptised and invited Paul and his friends to use her house as a base for their activity in the town. 

Whilst this may have seemed a little strange to Paul, who was probably intending to meet with Jewish man in their synagogue, he could perhaps understand what was happening in terms of the overall mission he had to the gentiles.  But then events took yet another turn which Paul certainly would not have predicted.  Whilst they were in the region of Philippi, presumably staying with Lydia in Thyatira, Paul and Silas went to daily prayer.  As they did so they were pestered on a regular basis by a slave girl, probably someone we would see as a stalker in today’s language and society.  She makes a great deal of money for her owners by her supposed clairvoyance.  One day this constant barrage of apparent but empty praise seems to exasperate Paul more than usual and he turns round and orders the Spirit to leave the woman in order that she can be free.  Seeing that their source of income has now disappeared the owners of the slave girl turn on Paul and Silas, engaging the power and influence of the Romans to do so.  The slave girl’s owners accuse Paul and Silas of causing a disturbance (always something the Romans were keen to take action to maintain their own steely rule and order) and accused them of practices that were unlawful for Romans (something else on which the Romans were keen to take a hard line), something akin to treason.  Not surprisingly then Paul and Silas were hauled before the magistrates, severely flogged and then thrown into prison.  We can imagine as Paul sits in jail, hurting all over from the beating he’d just received, his feet in stocks, thinking, ‘This is not how I thought things would turn out.  What is God doing?’  Later that night we read that Paul and Silas are singing and praying!  However surprising this may seem it appears to result in the whole place being shaken, the doors flying open and their chains falling off.  Rather than run away, Paul and Silas stay, an action which leads the jailer and his family to be converted and the magistrates releasing Paul and Silas.  Interestingly it’s only now that Paul and Silas seem to claim their rights as Roman citizens and demand an apology from the embarrassed authorities and magistrates.  In the verses that follow today’s reading the officials are entreated to come to the prison in person to see them, which they do.  As Roman citizens Paul and Silas should at least have had a fair trial and almost certainly should not been imprisoned. Not surprisingly, the authorities request that Paul and Silas leave quietly, which they do, returning to Lydia’s house before departing for Thessalonica, Berea and ultimately Athens. 

Like Paul we’re perhaps left thinking, ‘So what did all this achieve, what was God up to?’  The central theme of Acts is the message of salvation to the Gentiles.  This may have been because the Jews are often portrayed as rejecting this same message.  Gentile Christians were legitimate heirs of the promises of God.  This message is seen as one of the underpinning themes of Luke’s gospel, where we see Jesus rejected by his own (country) people, (Lk 4 v 24) and the praise of a Gentile’s faith in contrast to that of the Jews (Lk 7 v 9).   But one of the other themes that permeates Acts is that of the innocence of Christians.  In both Luke and Acts we see various Christians being tried before the Roman (and Jewish) courts and proclamations of innocence.  In Jesus’ own trial Pilate pronounces Jesus innocent (Lk 23 v 4), and later a centurion pronounces Jesus innocent too (Lk 23 v 47).  After Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem the King himself says to Festus, the procurator, that Paul could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.  So perhaps the meaning of the story in today’s reading in Acts is threefold.  Firstly Luke is showing that whatever it may seem, Christianity is not subversive to the Roman rule and government, but at the same time is clear about who the true Lord is and where He is to be found.  Secondly he shows Roman officials (even if somewhat reluctantly) acting reasonably and in some cases even favourably towards Christianity and its proponents and supporters.  Perhaps a message to others that Christianity should not be persecuted.  And thirdly, Luke shows a God who is in control of everything, irrespective of how things may appear.  However black things look, however much things are not turning out as we might expect, God is in control. Jesus has overcome death itself and His believers have His Spirit with them wherever they may go.  We are as united with the Father though Christ as Christ was Himself.  It’s a new world which has been inaugurated.

John, the writer of Revelation speaks about the end of time.  He looks down on the Holy City and sees that there is no Temple.  For years the Temple, and before that the Tent of the Tabernacle, had been signs of God’s presence with His people.  But in the New Jerusalem John sees that God Almighty and Jesus, the Lamb of God are present themselves.  The signs of God’s presence have given way to the reality.  God is present Himself, there is no longer any need for the Temple.  Throughout the book of Revelation we see a God who is involved in human affairs, a God who is involved in creating and recreating a New World in which there will be no evil of suffering and in which all will be united with each other and with God.  A New World in which God will be there, exercising His gentle and ultimate control, with us in person as a living reality as the Messiah who has come takes His rightful place in creation and the cosmos. The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation

Singing the Lord’s Song in a strange land (Ps 137 v 4)

Pete Askew of the Northumbria Community has asked, ‘Who do we seek?  How shall we live?  How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’  It’s easy to imagine Paul and the early believers having thoughts similar to these as they started out on their journey of faith and commitment to communicate the gospel message, a message and mission which was to change the known world.  Many of the early believers came from and would continue to encounter a very mixed background of religious beliefs and practice.  Some of them would feel a very Jewish, or Greek influence on their faith.  In addition to this there would also be the religious and ritualistic practices of the Romans, much of them centred on the worship of the Emperor.  How could the early believers communicate the clear message of the gospel of Christ against the cacophony of practices, customs and beliefs that many of them encountered?  How could they communicate the gospel to those people who had become so tired of religion that they just turned a deaf ear to anything that was said on the subject?  And yet communicate they did.  What made the early believers stand out was not so much what they said, but the way they lived.  A life characterised by love, unity and the care and concern for others in their society, irrespective of their beliefs.  As they went about their daily business, however mundane it may have seemed at times, others looked on at these early believers and were attracted to the genuineness of their lives, their generosity of spirit, and their willing to share all they had, and all they had discovered with anyone who came along or would listen.  They had truly found how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.  We are called to do the same.

 

Hymns

  • All hail the power of Jesus name
  • Alleluia sing to Jesus
  • The head that once was crowned with thorns
  • Rejoice ! The Lord is king
  • Crown him with many crowns
  • Christ triumphant
  • O for a heart to praise my God
  • Hail the day that sees him rise (Llanfair)
  • Would you walk by on the other side?
  • Ascended Christ, who gained (Darwell’s 148th)
  • Alleluia sing to Jesus (Hyfrydol)
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    Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

    representation of prayer as seed growing

    "Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian. If it is well
    cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

    God of glory, as you made yourself present in the person of Your Son, grant that we, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, may be your presence and glory in the world, that through you and obedience to your precepts all nations would know your lasting peace and hope.  Amen

    All shall be Amen and Alleluia.  We shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall know, we shall know and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise.  Behold our end which is no end.  Amen       St Augustine

    At Easter we rejoice in the salvation of the world.  Christ is risen; let us arise in him!  Christ enters new life; let us live in him!  Christ has come forth from the tomb; Let us shake off the fetters of evil!  The gates of hell are open, the powers of evil are overcome!  In Christ a new creation is coming to birth, Alleluia! Lord make us new, Alleluia!  Amen

    Living God, you have given us an eternal and living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: grant that we, being risen with Him, may fix our hearts on heavenly things and share in your eternal life, worshipping you for ever at your throne in heaven.  Amen

    The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight; and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.  Amen

     

    Additional Resources

    Have you ever entered one of those competitions on cereal packets or some other commodity from the supermarket. They ask you simple questions and then conclude with a final challenge to write a slogan. It will say something like ‘now describe in less than 10 words why Shreddies are the best cereal.’ It focuses the mind to try and make a simple and easy to understand slogan which encapsulates the goodness of Shreddies. When we have to boil things down in this way it helps us to get rid of the unimportant stuff and go to the heart of the matter. This is what marketing is all about, getting to the core of the product and then explaining it in a few words so that it captures the imagination and sells!

    I suspect that if the church employed marketing consultants, they would pronounce the verdict that we are failing to get our message across. Most people 'in the street' have very little clue what the church is really about. Ask the typical man on the bus what Methodists are about and he is more likely to say something like ‘they don’t drink’ than any theological understanding about grace. If he was asked the same question about Anglicans he would probably start thinking about internal divisions.

    There is an urgent need for Christians to eradicate the negative and accentuate the positive. We have to recognise our shared common goals, the things which really matter, and then find ways of getting our core message across. Too much of our time is wasted on internal struggle and strife, vociferous debates in which we condemn particular things, or people or ideas. The stuff that we hate we make sure everybody knows about!

    This is not very profound, but the church has found it very difficult. It is no surprise that because Christian people have failed to put into an understandable way what we are about, others have failed to catch on. This might seem like sound bite religion, and perhaps it is, but we need to recognise that Jesus was excellent at sound bites! Jesus deliberately took very complicated messages and reduced them to a few words, a simple picture or even a short story. People instantly knew the things he was about, love, forgiveness and living a better life, he made them understandable.

    In the passage from the Gospel of John today Jesus draws attention to one of these core principles of being a Christian. Jesus gives the same simple treatment to the complicated idea of unity, but like all of his teaching it is simple, not simplistic.

    Somebody asked me recently ‘what does it mean to be a ecumenical.’ I suppose I could have gone to great lengths to explain the development of the ecumenical message but I simply drew attention to the words of Jesus from the reading in John’s Gospel today. Jesus makes it clear that he expects his followers to be drawn together in unity. He captures this principle with the wonderful catch phrase ‘that they may be one as we are one’. If this had been a contest to find a slogan, it would have been a surefire winner. This is what it means to be ecumenical, it is obedience to the deep desire of Jesus that his followers should be united. It is not a suggestion, it is not a complicated theological idea, it is just the straightforward prayer of Christ. When we read these words we might wonder what all the fuss has been about with different denominations and Christian churches. To be faithful to Christ our divisions must fall and we must learn to be as one.

    This importance of dependence and sharing with each other is a fundamental part of being, not just as Christian people, but human beings. We know the importance of sharing and intimate and supportive relationship. The concept of a Christian who is isolated from others is fundamentally flawed, we exist only in community - as a part of a body. Feeling lonely is painful, but is it nature's way of telling us that this is not how we should be. So  Jesus takes this on in his prayer that we might be one, even as he and the father are one - absolutely. We are made to share the joys and sorrows, the burdens and triumphs together. As individuals we need to recognise the importance of being a part of others and we have to grow into mature adults so that we are able to know ourselves and others well enough to be able to get along without falling out. Immature Christians and churches need to grow up sufficiently that they will be able to get on with other Christians and churches whose only failure may be that they think or act differently. We are living some kind of fiction if we fail to realise that the fracturing of the church of Christ owes more to immaturity, tantrums and a determination by those seeking power to get their own way, than to any pursuit of godly truth.   Charles Royden

     

    Hymns

    Would you walk by on the other side
    when someone called for aid?
    Would you walk by on the other side
    and would you be a-fraid?

    Cross over the road my friend
    ask the Lord his strength to lend
    his compassion has no end.
    Cross over the road

    Would you walk by on the other side
    when you saw a loved one stray?
    Would you walk by on the other side
    or would you watch and pray?

    Would you walk by on the other side
    when starving children cried?
    Would you walk by on the other side
    and would you not provide?