The Spirit of Hope

By Rev. Duncan Voice

Welcome

A very warm welcome to our Sunday Service. As it is Easter I look to a traditional theme of hope this morning. And I “hope” you will find something among the words and music here that sustains you and perhaps gives you something to reflect upon. If you wish to light a chalice or candle during the Service please have something available before you start.

A very Happy Easter to you all.

Opening words

Every blade of grass, each leaf, each floret and petal, is an inscription of hope. Consider the grasses and the oaks, the swallows, the sweet blue butterfly – they are one and all a sign and token showing before our eyes earth made into life…my hope becomes as broad as the horizon afar, reiterated by every leaf, sung on every bough, reflected in the gleam of every flower. There is so much for us yet to come, as much to be gathered, and enjoyed. Not just for you or me, now, but for humanity, who will ultimately use this magic secret for their happiness. by Richard Jeffries, from The Pageant of Summer (adapted)

Chalice Lighting

As you light your chalice or candle, at home, to begin this service, you may like to say the following words:

As I kindle this chalice, symbol of loving community,
let there be light.
As the flame of this chalice reminds us of our deepest values,
let there be light.
As the glow of this chalice encourages us to hope,
let there be light.
Let there be light.

Prayer

Spirit of Love and Life,
we gather this Easter time in isolation,
but in a spirit of goodwill and togetherness.

We pause to hold in our hearts,
those whose passing comes to our mind at this time,
and those who cannot be with us because of illness,
or because they care for another.
May peace be with them.

We think of those in our community
who maybe feeling lonely, afraid or suffering;
may we reach out to them in any way we can,
and may caring and kindness
always be the expression of our faith.

May this season of new life, warmth, and colour
inspire in us a spirit of hope:
Hope in our living,
Hope in our caring,
Hope in our being,
Hope in our sharing.

I invite those of you that may wish to, to join in saying the prayer that Jesus taught.

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 those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

Please join in singing our first hymn, We Light the Flame

Words by David Andrew Usher, Music by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

We light the flame

We light the flame that kindles our devotions.
We lift our hearts in blessed community.
The mind has thoughts, the heart its true emotions,
we celebrate in worship, full and free.
Our faith transcends the boundaries of oceans.
All shall be granted worth and dignity.

So many ways to witness the wonder.
So many dreams by day for us to dare.
Yet, reaching out, each way is made the grander,
and love made bold for dreamers everywhere.
Diversity will never cast asunder
our common weal, our bonds of mutual care.

Infinite Spirit, dwell with us, we pray thee,
that we may share in life abundantly.
Forgive our sins, feed us with good bread daily,
with strength resist temptation steadfastly.
O God of life, sustain us now, and may we
with mindful hearts, be thankful constantly.

Reading: Mark 16: 1- 8

“When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Reading: “Hope” is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I invite you now to enjoy a musical reflection provided by Elizabeth Hornby, who is currently training as a Unitarian Minister. After this you may like to enjoy a time of quietness before reading or listening to the address.

You are welcome to read or listen to this address.

Address

During the run up to Easter Sunday I had planned a special reading of the Gospel of Mark at The Old Meeting House. Sadly, restrictions put in place to control the coronavirus pandemic, put a stop to that; but we will do something later, when we can meet together once again. The idea of reading it aloud was to experience it as a whole, rather than in small bite sized pieces as we might do in a Service. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but listening to the whole story would be a different kind of experience. This was how it was originally communicated.

As well as being the shortest of the gospels, the Gospel of Mark is generally considered somewhat abrupt in its style, perhaps even crude in comparison to the more eloquent and flowing prose in Matthew. However, as the oldest of the gospels, it is generally agreed to be part of the source material used by Matthew and Luke. It conveys a very human image of Jesus, which I must say I like. At times he loses his temper, more than once he expresses despair and at one point his family and friends think he must have lost his mind. But he continues his journey and his ministry until he is cruelly crucified at a place called Golgotha. We, the reader or listener, accompany him on his journey with Mark as our narrator. As we do so perhaps we undertake a spiritual journey of our own, as the questions posed are as much for us as for Mark’s original audience.

Unitarians, and those that attend Unitarian meeting houses or churches but don’t identify in this way, will have a variety of thoughts and feelings about the Biblical resurrection story. Indeed, all the Biblical narratives. Even those who would call themselves Unitarian Christians, tend to interpret scripture liberally, not very literally, and have a universalist outlook. That is to say, they value sources of truth and wisdom from different faith traditions, or other sources as well. But our Unitarian tradition has Christian roots and so I feel, whatever our outlook, it is worth reflecting on this source material to see if we can gain fresh perspective. Although we don’t all think alike, we are perhaps all trying to live spiritually in some sense of the word and therefore trying to be open minded, aware and reflective.

Last Wednesday I listened to the keynote speaker at the General Assembly Meetings (our annual national meeting), Alistair Mackintosh. Alistair is honorary senior research fellow (professor) in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and a Quaker by faith. The meeting didn’t take place in Birmingham as usual however, but was conducted online. So I joined him, along with about 150 other people via the now ubiquitous meeting app called Zoom. I’m glad I did, as he delivered a very interesting talk entitled, “The Revolution will be Spiritual.”

I was very taken by his approach to spirituality, which he calls, “life as love made manifest”, and also his accessible interpretation and use of scripture during his talk. Early on he quoted the Gospel of John (1: 38) when Jesus gathered his first two disciples,
“When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
Or “What seek ye?” if you prefer the King James version. It’s near the beginning of the gospel and it’s a fundamental question for us all isn’t it, what are we seeking?

As spiritual seekers, if that’s how we think of ourselves, then we do need to have these kinds of questions posed to us. Although we need words, ideas that inspire us and comfort us at times, we do, I think, need to visit or even re-visit these types of questions. How would we answer? It might take us some time to contemplate this, and perhaps that’s part of the point. After listening to Alistair’s talk I certainly felt I would like to re-evaluate my approach to reading Bible scripture from being less analytical and critical to a more spiritual relationship, and in fact to extend that further into my life – working with the idea of “love made manifest.”

In our first reading, the closing verses of Mark’s Gospel, the story comes to an abrupt end. There are two supplements to the ending that scholars believe may have been added later because scribes translating it might have thought the original seemed incomplete. Indeed, some still wonder this. However, I prefer the idea that some commentators put forward that it was deliberately left like this. In my Oxford Bible Commentary, C.M Tuckett says,

“There is no happy ending to the gospel. There is certainly no objective account of the reality that informs Christian existence for Mark, namely the presence of the risen Jesus with his people: such would be inappropriate for Mark. Maybe Mark’s gospel is indeed unfinished. But perhaps that is deliberate. It is up to the reader to supply the ending – and that is the perennial challenge of this gospel for all readers today.”

The sense of “where do we go from here” that the ending of Mark gives us, is one that we are perhaps familiar with this Easter Sunday, as we think about the pain and suffering of the pandemic and uncertainties about the future. What will happen in the coming weeks, months, years? What is our spiritual response? In the closing verses of Mark we are told, “he [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him”. Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry started, so perhaps this gives a clue as to where we might start. Back at the beginning, to walk the Way humbly once more, despite any previous failings.

Our current predicament is both serious and tragic, many people have and will lose their lives to coronavirus. But with our consumer society put on hold for a time it does seem to offer us a unique opportunity for contemplation. To reflect on our spiritual relationship with our God, or whatever we consider to be of highest worth; as well as ourselves, others and our planet. Can a spiritual revolution take place? I don’t know, but we can try to ensure some kind of renewal within ourselves in the context of our own lives.

For some contemplation, prayer or meditation may be seen as waste of time but as Buddhist nun and teacher Christina Feldman says,
“All that we accomplish, achieve, and perform is truly meaningful only when it communicates the values we cherish in our hearts. Each day, remembering what brings a deep authenticity to our lives, we need to ask ourselves:

Did I love well?
Am I awake to my life?
Did I remember to care for all the moments I lived?” from “Heart of Wisdom, Mind of Calm” by Christina Feldman, published by Element

How we answer these sorts of questions and others will determine the ending we might give to Mark’s Gospel, and the only way to consider them is through some kind of contemplative practice.

If we look around us we can see many wonderful, caring activities going on in our communities. People supporting elderly or vulnerable neighbours, volunteering in various ways and of course expressing gratitude to those that work in our National Health Service. I am particularly enjoying the moment on Thursday evenings when we all come out to cheer and clap. We need to hold on to this spirit, and when the restrictions are gradually lifted to try to live in peace, with love and gratitude. Supporting one another and practising forgiveness. Perhaps like the disciples we may fail sometimes, but we can keep faith and try again; and in doing so resurrect hope for our present and our future.

May it be so.

You may like to pause for a moment, or two, of quiet reflection.

Please join in singing our final hymn, The Spirit Lives to Set Us Free

Anon., traditional melody arranged by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

The Spirit lives to set us free

The Spirit lives to set us free,
walk, walk in the light.
It binds us all in unity,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

The light that shines is in us all,
walk, walk in the light.
We each must follow our own call,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Peace begins inside your heart,
walk, walk in the light.
We’ve got to live it from the start,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Seek the truth in what you see,
walk, walk in the light.
Then hold it firmly as can be,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

The Spirit lives in you and me,
walk, walk in the light.
Its light will shine for all to see,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Closing words

Hope to the last…Always hope;…Never leave off hoping;…Don’t leave a stone unturned. It’s always something to know you’ve done the most you could. But don’t leave off hoping, or it’s no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last!
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby adapted in “The Canterbury Book of Spiritual Quotations” complied by William Sykes, published by Canterbury Press

Blessing

“Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”
– John 14: 27

As we come to the end of our Service and go on our ways, may we do so in peace; and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always. Amen

6 thoughts on “The Spirit of Hope

  1. Thanks once more Duncan. These services seem to get more meaningful each week for me and give me something to carry forward until the next one. I’m going to read the Gospel of Mark…

    Like

  2. Thanks so much Duncan. I’ve always resisted the idea of reflecting on aspects of the Bible as being too Christian for my liking, but you have made me think again. Isn’t Lizzie’s music beautiful. I heard some of it during one of the Heart and Soul hours at the AGM.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: