Sunday 5th April, 2020 – Turning Towards Our Difficulties with Love

by Rev. Duncan Voice

A warm welcome to friends and visitors. Spring it seems is starting to breakthrough here in Sussex which I hope lifts your spirits as it does mine. As before, if you wish to join in with our customary chalice lighting to begin this Service, please have something to hand. As ever I welcome your comments.

Chalice Lighting

As you light a candle or chalice you may wish to say the following words:

I light this candle/chalice
as a symbol of community
and togetherness.
It’s light is the light of love.
May this always guide us,
helping us to share
hope, compassion and peace
in the lives we touch.

Prayer

Spirit of Life and Love
We gather this morning in separate places
but in oneness of spirit.
May we be fully present,
with open minds and hearts.

We pause to think of those
who face difficulties and pain
connected with the pandemic affecting our lives.
Those unwell, and those that care for them.
Those that have died, and those that grieve.
Those that face uncertainty, and those trying to help.
We bring them all into our circle of compassion

Ours is a tradition of religious freedom,
where we worship in accordance with
our own heartfelt feelings.
But we recognise that we need
one anther too.
To share in the spirit, to find inspiration,
to care for each other.

Help us to be an inclusive and welcoming community.
Help us to be a loving community.
Help us to be a peaceful community.
Help us to be – in community.

Amen

Please join in singing this morning’s hymn which is called True Simplicity.

True Simplicity, traditional Shaker song and traditional melody arranged by David Dawson, from Hymns for Living, published by the Lindsey Press, used by permission

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to know just where we want to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to share our common destiny;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

Story

There is a story told of a king who had three sons. The first was handsome and very popular. When he was twenty-one, his father built him a palace in the city in which to live. The second son was intelligent and also very popular. When he became twenty-one, his father built a second palace in the city for him. The third son, however, was neither handsome or intelligent, and was unfriendly and unpopular. When he was twenty-one, the king’s counsellors said: “There is no further room in the city. Have a palace built outside the city for your son. You can have it built so it will be strong. You can send some of your guards to prevent it from being attacked by the ruffians who live outside the city walls.” So, the king built such a palace and sent some of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, the son sent a message to his father: “I cannot live here. The ruffians are too strong.” So, the counsellors said: “Build another palace, bigger, stronger and twenty miles away from the city and the ruffians. With more soldiers, it will easily withstand attacks from the nomadic tribes that way.” So, the king built such a palace, and sent one hundred of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, a message came from the son: “I cannot live here. The tribes are too strong.” So, the counsellors said: Build a castle, a large castle, one hundred miles away. It will be big enough to house five hundred soldiers, and strong enough to withstand attacks from the peoples that live over the border.” So, the king built such a castle, and sent five hundred of his soldiers to protect it.
But a year later, the son sent another message to the king: “Father, the attacks of the neighbouring peoples are too strong. They have attacked twice, and if they attack a third time I fear for my life and those of your soldiers.

And the king said to his counsellors: “Let him come home and he can live in the palace with me. For it is better that I learn to love my son than I should spend all the energy and resources of the kingdom keeping him at a distance.”

The story of the king holds an important lesson: it’s often far easier and more effective in the long run to live with our difficulties than to pour resources into battling and suppressing them.

Meditation

I now invite you to spend a little time in quietness. If you wish, you may like to listen to this short meditation which is about dealing with difficulty.

Address

You can either read or listen to this address.

“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden: untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some bystanders said to them, “What are you doing untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in
the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of
our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

“Then he entered Jerusalem….”
Mark 11: 1-11

Today is Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and in Christian tradition marks the beginning of the Passion, the final period of his life. The story is told, in broadly similar form, in the three so-called synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and is mentioned more briefly in John. Although, it is John that introduces the idea that the “leafy branches” laid on the road were palm branches, adding an additional layer of symbolism as the palm was associated with, among other things, victory and peace; as well as being the symbol of Judea in the Roman world.

The photograph above, taken by me on a visit to Israel in 2018, shows a view of the old city of Jerusalem viewed across the Kidron valley from the Mount of Olives. The view, of course, is much changed from the time of Jesus. The old city is surrounded by the new city today and the striking golden Dome of the Rock is now located on the temple mount, where the Jewish temple once stood; destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a significant event in the Gospels of the New Testament, and his brutal death shortly afterwards, another episode of violence meted out in the “holy” city, but it wasn’t the first or last shocking event to have happened there.

For a provincial town in the Judean hills, Jerusalem had experienced much violence up until the time of Jesus. Fought over by Jewish groups and caught up in the power struggles of empires such as the Egyptians, Persians and Macedonians, to name a few. The temple had also been catastrophically destroyed before, back in 587 BCE by the Babylonians. After which, much of the population had been led away into exile; causing Jewish scholars of the time to pour the despair of their people into books such as Lamentations.

“For these things I weep:
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.”
Lamentations 1: 16

After the time of Jesus, Jerusalem continued to be fought over and ruled by different empires, from the Byzantines to the British, an object of desire, and fervour, for adherents of the Abrahamic faiths. Destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt; so much pain, death and destruction. Perhaps this is what prompted Benjamin Disraeli to say, “The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of heaven and earth.”

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, says in his book “Jerusalem: The Biography” that,
“Jerusalem has a way of disappointing and tormenting both conquerors and visitors. The contrast between real and heavenly cities is so excruciating that a hundred patients a year are committed to the city’s asylum, suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome, a madness of anticipation, disappointment and delusion.” He continues, “No other place evokes such a desire for exclusive possession.”

During my visit I certainly experienced the strange tension that ongoing conflict has brought to Jerusalem. Streets inhabited by tourists, pilgrims, and different ethnic groups trying to live their everyday lives, existing alongside layers of history and religion. Places where the ancient meets the modern, sometimes in quietness and sometimes in chaos. Where there are holy shrines and tourist trinkets, and where the mood can change from area to area, and street to street. A metaphor perhaps for the turmoil of the human heart. The shades of light and darkness that we all experience. A representation of our potential, perhaps, for living in peace or violence, in holiness or profanity, in generosity or self-serving greed. A lesson, an object of reflection for us all.

In the midst of a global pandemic, however, we may ask of what help is reflection? But in times of greatest difficulty it is most important that we connect with, and live, the values that we espouse in “normal” times. We can start by considering how we feel and what our concerns are; to try and understand ourselves a little better. So, if we are scared and worried about, for example, health or financial issues, or even grieving over the loss of someone close, we can acknowledge that. We are human. Being positive can be helpful, but we need to leave room to acknowledge and accept our pain and suffering.

Palm Sunday and the Easter story will have varying degrees of meaning and significance for each of us. However, the beginning of the Christian holy week is another reminder to us, in our isolation, to take stock and remember that we are not the first people to face difficulties. How we respond to the challenges is what becomes important. Nurses, doctors and carers are working on the “front line” caring for the sick. Others are keeping our vital services and food supply chains working. We can play our small, but important part, by preventing the spread of the virus, by observing the social distancing rules. If we need help, we can receive it with gratitude; if we can provide help, we can do so with love and generosity.

Today in old Jerusalem there are still many disputes over the possession of certain areas, and places, between different faith groups and within faith groups. But the pandemic has shown us in a terrible way how connected we really are, however we identify or try to distinguish ourselves. Perhaps as we spend time in isolation we can think about the time when we can interact more closely once again. How we will do so? Can we discover a fresh perspective, a new way of being? Can we turn towards our difficulties with love?

May it be so.

Closing words: Jerusalem, Jerusalem by Rev. Cliff Reed

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
if only you had known
the Way that leads to peace, to peace,
and peace the world has shown.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where once the Temple stood,
where now a Dome of gleaming gold
marks where the prophet trod.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where David’s line once ruled,
where still his people pray today
beneath their holy wall.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where Jesus preached God’s word;
where he was praised, betrayed, reviled,
and nailed upon the rood.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where Mary brought the news
that she had seen her risen Lord
amid the morning dew.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
if only you could know
the way that leads to peace today
and God’s true Spirit show.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
a city and a dream,
God grant us all a healing hope
and peace, your crystal stream.

  • From “Carnival of Lamps: Words for Prayer and Reflection” by Rev. Cliff Reed

Benediction

As we draw to the end of our time together in spirit, let us do so in hope and in peace. May the God of our hearts be with us as we face the difficulties and fears of the coming days, and may love always guide us. Amen

Please join in singing our closing blessing, “May the Road Rise With You”

Arranged by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

May the road rise with you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
may rain fall soft upon your field,
and until we meet again,
may God hold you
in the hollow of his/her hand.

3 thoughts on “Sunday 5th April, 2020 – Turning Towards Our Difficulties with Love

  1. Thank you Duncan. I feel very connected to our community in these services. A great help in difficult times. Janet

    Like

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