An act of worship at home
Reading 1 Peter 1: 17-23
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
I think God really does have a great sense of humour and of timing.
Last Sunday’s gospel reading told of how out of fear the disciples had locked themselves away in an upper room on the evening after two of them had found Jesus’ empty tomb. At that point they hadn’t yet seen Jesus for themselves and were afraid that the religious leaders would soon be coming after them too. And so I spoke about how Jesus breaks through the locked doors of our fears and by the gift of the Holy Spirit gives us peace.
But here we are, a week later, with a reading from the first letter of Peter seeming to tell us to be fearful, “to live in reverent fear during the time of our exile”. Typical! Just when we might think we’ve got God worked out a little better and shut back in the little box of our understanding Jesus opens the box once again!
As I look back at last week’s gospel reading I am reminded that while our two readings may seem to be almost contradictory perhaps they are actually different steps on the same journey. In last week’s reading, after breathing on the disciples and saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” Jesus went on “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” So what is this reverent fear we should live in? Is it a sense of awe for our creator? It is a sense of wonder for the presence and activity of God revealed to the world through Christ? Is it a sense of holiness we receive through the presence of the Holy Spirit of God within us? Yes, it’s all of those. But it’s also a recognition that God is a God of justice as well as love and peace.
I will be completely honest and open and tell you that I really do struggle with this, with the idea that God is so much a God of justice that Jesus needed to be sacrificed for my sins. How can that be fair, to Jesus or to me? Where would be the justice in that? I honestly don’t know. I’ve studied the theology, I’ve read the commentaries and listened to the lectures but I’ve never been able to reconcile that in my mind, perhaps I never will, but perhaps that’s ok. If the God we meet in the pages of the Bible, in the life of Jesus and in the whole spectrum of the lives of people of faith is so small we think we understand God then it would be a very small god we worship.
Thankfully the God we meet through the risen Christ is so much bigger and greater and keeps on bursting out of the limitations we try to impose. And, of course, we fear what we cannot fully know, with good reason. At the moment many of us are shut in our homes, others are continuing to work, putting themselves at risk for the sake of others. We cannot know who may have the virus, or even whether we have it ourselves. We cannot know how ill it would make us, or even if we’ve had it and don’t even know.
But even in our fear we can know the truth of God’s love for us and that we are called to love one another deeply from the heart and that we have been born anew through the living and enduring word of God. Amen.
Almighty God, in prayer we pause in awe and wonder to reflect on your greatness.
Through you everything that exists came into being, and through you we were created in your image.
Risen Lord, we come to you once more giving thanks that as we come to sit at your feet
you are already here with us, breaking into our lives through closed doors
and opening our hearts and minds to your gentle love.
Holy Spirit, give us peace as you still our thoughts even as we know your strength and power within us.
Loving Lord, in love for all your children we come to you with our prayers.
In this moment we bring to you our prayers for ourselves, for family, friends and neighbours.
In this moment we bring our prayers for those struggling with a world
that seems both big and frightening and all too small.
In this moment we bring to you our prayers for all those who are sick or dying,
for those who have lost loved ones, and for those who are putting themselves at risk.
Lord be with them, hear their prayers, an ours, an answer them. In the name of Christ. Amen.
Hymn StF 690 – The Church’s one foundation
The Church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the word:
from heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.
Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation
one Lord, one faith, one birth:
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses
with every grace endued.
’Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace for evermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great Church victorious
shall be the Church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.