Harrow United Church Easter 2020 Worship Service

easter stained glass HUCThere is a link below to the video of this service. The video opens with a wonderful “virtual choir” singing Morning Has Broken. Our scripture lesson is read by the members of our confirmation class. I recorded a sermon in the sanctuary, which is followed by “Thine is the Glory”, with piano and vocals by Naomi Woods, and trumpet and vocals by Joel Woods. The sermon and pastoral prayers for today will be included in this post. After the pastoral prayer, I have included an Easter Treat. Nicole Wells, who was a member of the choir and congregation at Applewood United Church in Mississauga, made a video of her singing a song by John Legend which carries a good message for the time in which we are living. I liked it so much I asked her if we could have it as part of our worship for this Easter morning.

Link to Video of Easter Worship

Scripture Lesson:   John 20:1-18

Sermon

At the end of the verses the confirmation class just read, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to him, because he had not yet ascended to the Father.

In this season of social distancing, and self-isolation, we can relate to the awkward sadness of wanting to reach out and offer someone a hug, and it not being possible.

Things have changed, and we are living in a new normal, that we do not understand, and to which it will take some time to adjust. We are hearing that phrase a lot these days.

After the first Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples faced a new normal, without their beloved teacher.

They’d enjoyed an amazing three years of travelling with him from village to village, town to town. They met thousands of people. They shared intimate moments with their teacher and friend, and grew to love and trust him, and each other. They built a tight-knit community, a family of the heart, and they were learning, slowly, hesitantly to offer love to people beyond their cozy circle.

Great things were happening. Everywhere they went, crowds gathered to get a glimpse, hear a word, have the experience of being with Jesus. There was an aura of peace, of love around their teacher, in which they felt safe, and blessed. They may have come to believe that anything was possible, as long as they were with him, and he was with them.

But not everyone was so enthused about Jesus, and his message of God’s unlimited, unconditional love, that burst through barriers of class and privilege, race and religion. Jesus was shaking things up.

Powerful people, with much to lose, conspired to silence the persuasive, subversive voice, that threatened to topple the carefully balanced system of officially sanctioned religion, puppet kings, and Roman imperial control.

Jesus was arrested on phony charges, subjected to a mock trial, and sentenced to public execution on the cross. He was beaten, humiliated, stripped of his clothing, and crucified. His closest family and friends watched his body breathe its last, and the saw to the burial of his dead body.

Then Jesus’ followers went away, most of them, and hid. At least one of them even denied ever knowing Jesus. That part of their lives was over, behind them, and they were going to have to sort out what to do next, once they were no longer stuck behind closed doors. We can relate these days to being stuck behind closed doors.

Jesus’ companions were paralyzed by grief, by fear, by the shock that comes when you lose a loved one, when your hopes about how life was supposed to be are dashed.

Have you ever got so deep into the plot of a good book or movie, or tv show, that you kind of lose track of time? Ever feel like you just want to stay with story, and maybe hope it never ends? I remember when the Harry Potter books were first coming out, and at our house we all read them, and we could not get them fast enough.  I can remember wanting to go from one to the next, with as little break in between as possible- so the spell, the charm of that imaginary reality would be sustained.

I have friends who are ardent sports fans. They are sad these days, because so much of what they almost live for, is suspended. No games to watch, listen to, read about, talk about right now. In the old normal, I can remember how some of them would follow a favorite team all the way through regular season play, and then into play offs. If their team was eliminated, they’d choose another to cheer on, if only so they could remain a little longer in that charged up fan-space.

A friend told me once, at the end of a play-off series in which his team actually did come out the victor, that it was bitter-sweet for him. He was thrilled his team came out on top, but also sad, because the time of heightened excitement was over. There would be next year, or he could change his focus to another sport- but it wasn’t the same.

These things we love, all seem to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Our earthly lives are like that as well- we are being reminded of that on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis lately. The fact that there will be, at some point, an end to our earthly life can make it all seem more precious. Every moment counts!

When I was little, and still sometimes as an old guy, there were, and are, the days when I resist going to sleep. My body may be tired, but I don’t want to let go. Eventually, my weary eyes and bones win the argument, and I do sink into slumber. I repeat the cycle of day, and night, and full day.

That’s the way of things. Day, night, new day. Spring and summer, autumn and winter, then spring again. Live, rest, wake up. Grow, blossom, wilt and fade. Life, death and new life. Sunrise, the glory of a new day, sunset, and then the new day.

There is no going backwards, and no staying still. The wheel keeps turning, the cycle continues. We see it at this time of year. Seeds planted in dark soil, in which they decay enough to break open with new growth, burst upward to find the light of day. Caterpillars that will cocoon themselves, and be transformed, and emerge as something new, that flies off into the warm wind.

Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb where his body had been laid out for burial. When she realized who he was, she was overjoyed, and wanted to reach out, and hold him tight. He warned her against clinging to him. Things were different. A new normal.

We don’t always feel ready for the new life, the new normal. We aren’t done grieving, aren’t ready to let go of the old. We don’t want to lay our head on the pillow and let go of the day we are in.

Left on our own, we might not. We might try to stay awake, and not let go of the day. We might try to hold on to the way things were, and deny that change, and death, are the way of things. We might be that way, left on our own, and if we were in charge.

But the Easter story reminds us that we are not left on our own, and that we are not in charge. God is in charge, of life, and death and new life. The new normal.

Jesus appeared again, in a new way, on that first Easter morning. He showed to Mary Magdalene, and then to a few more of his close friends, that there was more to come.

Resurrection is a weird word. It’s not the same as resuscitation, or restoration. It has nothing at all to do with a return to the way things were, before the pain, the death, the grief. There is no promise to freeze time, and keep everything the way it used to be.

When it sank in with Jesus’ friends that there was a new normal, it startled them out of their sad stuck place, and energized them. They moved beyond the closed, tight, hidden circle, and out from behind their closed doors, and shared the message of new life, and God’s love, with thousands and thousands more people. A whole new movement, bigger than anything that had happened during Jesus earthly life, began to grow, and spread. It was like nothing any of Jesus’ first friends and followers could have possibly imagined.

I’m thinking about the food drive we had here at the church last week for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. So many people responded to the call, and drove up, and dropped off food. They dropped off cash and cheque donations. So many people offering kindness, to help people they have never met, and may never meet.

Perhaps in this time when we are all being reminded of our shared vulnerability, there is an opportunity to embrace being more kind, more generous, more thoughtful. How wonderful it would be if these qualities became more evident in our new normal.

That’s the deal, with new life. It’s not the old life. It’s new. It’s what comes next, not what happened before.  The Easter story reminds us God is still with us, offering us the energy, and inspiration, and possibility of the new day, the new normal. God is in it with us.

That’s the hope and promise of our faith, as expressed in the New Creed of the United Church of Canada:

We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

Naomi and Joel sing “Thine is the Glory”

Pastoral Prayers

God of Love, and Hope, and New Life;

We pray for people we know who are especially challenged these days. Those who live alone. Those who are in isolation. Those who cannot visit loved ones. Those who are sick. Those who are dying. Those who are grieving. We remember the families of Delight Cracknell and Roberta McLean.

We pray for those who feel alone. Those who feel unsafe in their homes. Those who worry about their loved ones, whose work places them at risk.

We pray for our leaders, and all in positions of responsibility, authority, and duty. We pray for our communities, our county, province, nation, and all the nations. We pray for a spirit of cooperation and common cause to be at work in the conversations between levels of government, and between nations, that will nudge out the tendency towards rivalry and self-interest.

We pray for our church, and all other communities of faith who are discovering new ways to share hope and bring joy, and offer pastoral care and practical help to people in need. Bless the leaders of our church, and all other faith communities.

God who Creates, and is always at work in creation, in this season of new life, we remember that Jesus talked about ordinary things like mustard seeds and grains of wheat to encourage us to look closer at life, and the world around us, to see you at work.

If we open our hearts, and look around with loving eyes, there is much to see.

Like the persistent plants that somehow find their way to grow up through cracks in broken concrete, your love finds a way, to break through all that is weighing us down.

There is kindness in this world. People are buying groceries for their neighbours, to save them a trip to store.

There is generosity in this world. People are making donations of money, food, protective gear, to help where it is needed.

There is compassion in this world. Ordinary people with hearts of love are doing their jobs, many going beyond the call of duty, to make sure that the necessities of life are available. Brave souls with loved ones of their own, leave their homes each day to care for the sick.

There is humour, and lightness of heart in this world. Where we are still able to laugh, to make each other smile, we can live through almost anything.

There is ingenuity and curiousity at work in this world. People are setting aside the pursuit of profit and personal gain, to dedicate their efforts to make things that relieve suffering, protect the vulnerable, and make people who work on the front lines safer.

We are your people, and in this strange time in which we live, we give thanks for the glimpses of resurrection that are all around us. Let us use this time in which many of us are compelled by circumstances to lay low, sit still, and be safe, to be more watchful for those signs, more grateful when we notice them, and more bold in sharing the good news of what we see.

We make these prayer in the name of the Risen Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words Jesus gave us:

Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen

Lyrics to the John Legend song: If You’re Out There

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late

We’ve been looking for a song to sing
Searched for a melody
Searched for someone to lead
We’ve been looking for the world to change
If you feel the same
Then go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

No more broken promises
No more call to war
Unless it’s love and peace that we’re really fighting for
We can destroy hunger
We can conquer hate
Put down the arms and raise your voice
We’re joining hands today

Oh I was looking for a song to sing
I searched for a leader
But the leader was me
We were looking for the world to change
We can be heroes
Just go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

Oh now, now

If you’re ready we can shake the world
Believe again
It starts within
We don’t have to wait for destiny
We should be the change that we want to see

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
And you’re ready now
Say it loud
Scream it out

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
If you’re out there

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late

Songwriters: MARCUS JOHN BRYANT, DEVON HARRIS, KAWAN PRATHER, JOHN STEPHENS

Good Friday Worship

HUC logo color FINAL@2x

I enlisted the help of Larry Anderson, the musician at Harrow United Church, and Naomi Woods, to create a simple worship service for this Good Friday, April 10, 2020.

 

Here is a link to the audio file: audio file of Good Friday Worship

Naomi read the scripture for us:

John 19:17-30 (NIV)

Larry Anderson played a beautiful, meditative instrumental version of “Were You There” for us, which we are using as an interlude between the scripture reading and the Learning Time.

While everyone we love is living, and while some are dying under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic, what does it mean to place ourselves in the shadow of the cross?

Crucifixion was both a very public, and a very lonely way to die. The Romans deliberately made this form of execution a spectacle. They mounted crosses on a hill, for all to see, from any direction. People who loved Jesus, and the others executed that day, could look on from a distance, but do nothing to ease their agony, or change the outcome.

These days, many of us have people in our lives we can’t visit. If someone you love is in a nursing home, or hospital, you can’t be with them, face to face. If they have a smart phone, and the faculties to use it, you might be able to facetime.

Many of us are missing coming to the church building, for worship services like the one we wanted to have today. Afterwards, we were planning to have hot cross buns, and coffee and tea. We did that last Good Friday, and it was a lovely of warmth and fellowship, after dwelling on the chilling story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Stories of pain and death shake us, and send chills through us. We find comfort in huddling together, in the company of fellow mortals- except now, we can’t. We are still sorting out how to be a faith community when we can’t gather in the same physical space.

There is a moment in John’s story of the crucifixion, when Jesus cried out that he was thirsty. The story doesn’t say who proffered a sponge on a stick towards Jesus’ mouth- the sponge was soaked in cheap wine.  My guess is it was a guard.  Jesus’ friends would not be allowed that close. I marvel at this moment of human kindness, in the context of a story of terrible, violent cruelty. It says to me that is in our human nature- we are made, most of us, to be kind and as helpful as we can.

These days most of us are observers, while a brave few leave their homes every day, to try to help the very sick. Our hearts are with them, and our prayers.

How does it feel for those folks who are on the wrong side of the hospital doors, when someone they love, and can’t be with, is on the other side? They can’t even do what the guard did, and offer the sponge on a stick.

What was it like for Jesus’ loved ones, to watch his slow, agonizing death?

How was it for God, to watch Jesus die? Did God feel helpless?

For centuries, people have tried to save God’s reputation by saying that everything happens for a reason, according to a divine plan. They say that about the crucifixion, but I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t think Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s idea. God’s ideas are all about love, not about causing pain.

Jesus was crucified because powerful people with evil intentions made it happen. Best as I can tell, God doesn’t stop people, weak or strong, from making their own choices. God always offers us better options, but does not prevent us from doing the wrong thing.

God’s response to what we do, or don’t do, for good or for bad, is always love. I suspect God gets frustrated with us, even so, because we do so many regrettable things.

Could God have stopped the crucifixion? I don’t think that’s the right question. I think the question is actually, when will humans stop hurting each other? We have the power of choice, and we make really terrible choices, to act, or do nothing, and there are consequences.

So what was God doing, while Jesus’ friends watched him die, and prayed for him, wishing for things to be different, and crying their eyes out?

I think God was crying too. I think that God hates seeing us hurt each other, and sorrows when we act so poorly, and wishes we would do better.

We might ask, “What is God doing right now, while our world is in such a mess?” Well, what we are going through is terrible, but honestly, for a lot of people who don’t live with our level of privilege and comfort, the world must always seem likes it’s a mess.

God has always been with all the people who have been hungry and homeless and sick, those living in war zones and disaster areas and in abject poverty long before this new crisis came along, to touch our lives. There is a lot from which most of us have been insulated. There is a lot more we should have, could have been doing, all along, to alleviate suffering, to improve living conditions, and allow more people access to proper nutrition, shelter, sanitation, education, equal rights, fair pay, and many other things we have taken for granted.

I looked it up yesterday. The numbers are changing, but worldwide, around 108,000 people have died of the Coronavirus. That is horrible. But another number is much worse. Each day, 21,000 people die of starvation. We don’t have a cure for COVID-19, but we have always had a cure for hunger. The harsh reality is that every day, under circumstances we have accepted as normal, far more people die because of things we can do something about, like poverty, war, domestic violence, hate crimes, and neglect. God cries for all of them

God has always been there, quietly pointing us in the right direction, giving us the tools and abilities we can use to make things better, kinder and more fair and just for everyone.

I think God is as frustrated as you and I are about how these things go, and how it takes humans so long to get our collective act together. So many of the efforts to clean up the messes in the world are slowed down by politics, and greed, and pride, and ego. We can be grateful in our county, province, nation, to have leaders who are doing the best they can, with this current crisis. It is remarkable to see partisan politics taking a back seat.

I think these days God is cheering on the folks who are working so bravely, and diligently to help others right now, and applying their God-given intellect and ingenuity to find the ways to bring us out from underneath the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is also incredibly inspiring to see how ordinary people like you and I are reaching out to help others as we can. When I have trouble settling down to sleep at night I think about the over 500 pounds of food we gathered a week ago, in our Food Drive for the Downtown Mission, and I remember that God really is at work in the world, in big ways and small ways. Maybe like the Roman guard daring to hold the sponge up so that Jesus could wet his parched throat. We should so what we can- even if our part is to stay in isolation.

God is love, and God has always loved us, and always will. God will never abandon us. God has big hopes for us, that we will use the gifts we have been given, to do better.

Today we reflect on Jesus being crucified, knowing that it is not anywhere near the end of the story. There is sorrow now, and death, and grief and tears, but Easter is coming, and new life is on the way.

Thanks be to God. Amen

This worship resource concludes with the full recording of “Were You There”.

An illustration I’m leaving out of my Good Friday sermon

toilet-plungerI had a moment this week when I needed to unclog a toilet, and couldn’t a find a plunger. We haven’t needed one since we moved to our new home. I don’t remember unpacking it.

Rather than being thankful we haven’t needed one for that long, or that this was the biggest problem in our house that night- I became very frustrated, because I couldn’t find a plunger.

I pondered how onerous a task it would be to order one online, and pick it up at the hardware. I found myself resenting how so much has changed in such a short time.

I get it that we have to keep each other safe, but right then, it felt like too much. Why couldn’t I just go buy a plunger?

All my stored up worry and anxiety, and concern for people I love, and for my kid’s futures, and the well-being of our communities, and my long term job prospects, and the amount in our bank account, and where I am going to get more toilet paper anyway, if I can even get the toilet unclogged, all came roiling up, overflowing. I was very crabby to my wife.

I was just frustrated, exasperated, scared.

When I paused, caught my breath, and settled down, I was able to unclog the toilet. (I used the long cleaning brush to get that back and forth suction action going.) It felt lovely to watch that water swirl away.

If only we could flush away the actual problems in the world so easily. I hate feeling powerless. I hate feeling unable to protect the people I love from terrible things. I hate when things change and nobody’s checked with me.

Are you running in circles yet?

seabrook drive imageI once had to miss a half marathon for which I’d trained hard, so I ran it as 20 laps of the street we used to live on, which was actually part of a rectangle pieced together around a little park.

Advantages of a run in my neighbourhood included not worrying about traffic, and not having to wear my hydration belt- I left water bottles on a lawn chair on our front yard.

 

The disadvantages included wondering if my neighbours thought I was losing it, and getting very bored, running the same very short route, over and over.

james campbell in his back garden 2This morning I read about James Campbell, an athlete in Cheltenham, England, who celebrated his 32nd birthday, and also raised over 18,000 pounds for the National Health Service efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, by running a full marathon in his back garden.

Campbell worked out he’d need to do 7000 laps, because his yard is just 6 metres, or about 20 feet deep. (A full marathon is 42.1 kilometres.) He did it, over the course of five hours, while thousands watched, and cheered him on, via livestream.

james campbell in his back gardenIf I’d read this yesterday I would have assumed it was an April Fools joke, but it’s been reported by a number of credible sites, including the BBC.

I woke this morning with an urge to go outside, and work off some of the nervous energy that’s been gathering within me. I also want to hear birdsong, and breathe fresh air. My wife and I get out for evening walks, and I have also made good use of the treadmill in our basement, but I think I will be getting out later, on my bike. I probably won’t go 42 km. I am grateful that I can out, and move, and sweat.

I spoke this morning with someone from my church, who lives in a senior’s residence. She told me that residents are now confined to their rooms, and will have their meals brought to them. She hopes she will be allowed to use the hallway outside her door for her exercises.

I chatted with another person, who is an active farmer. He said while some folks he knows are doing jig-saws, he’s been working on the big puzzle of how to get all his spring work done.

What are you doing, with your nervous energy? How are you coping with your current circumstances? I’d love to hear.

I’d also like to know if there are things happening in your life, and in the lives of those you love, for which you’d like prayer. I will keep your requests confidential.

 

Signs of Hope and New Life

sidewalk chalk

My wife and I were out for a walk one evening this week, and I began to take pictures with my phone, of the signs of hope and new life I saw. The image above is one of my favourites. The concrete driveway in front of this house was covered with messages and pictures. We talked (at a safe distance) to one of the homeowners, who said his daughter was having great fun putting happy things on their driveway. I asked him to tell her that she had made my evening.

I think the little girl has it right. It is important to put to positive images and words out there. Not to block out the bad news, but to keep it context.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countless signs of hope and new life. I believe that, and I see it everyday.

I want your help in spreading the Good News. Please send me your photos, of things you encounter in your life, that are signs of hope and new life. I’d like to put them into a slide show that could be part of our Worship for Easter morning.

Please send your photos to me at:

darrow@revdarrow.com