Easter season 2020

Holy Week Devotions

Note: To read the Bible readings, click on the references here and they will open in a separate web page. Close the Bible reading to return to this web page.

Note: To review the previous days’ devotions, click on the specific links here.
~ Monday’s devotion
~ Tuesday’s devotion
~ Wednesday’s devotion
~ Maundy Thursday’s devotion

~ Good Friday’s Reflection

Easter Sunday’s reflection 12 April by Rev Brian Gilbert

Apart or together, we meet in the presence of God. Together we offer our worship, and rejoice in the hope we find in Christ. May the signs of the risen Christ be made real to us wherever we may be.

Christ is risen!- He is risen indeed.

Prayer

Holy God, even as we announce your rising, we find ourselves often searching in our lives for signs of your life. We pray that you would come to meet us, and be known to us as we take this time, and set it aside to wonder again at your love, your grace, your peace- the things we can know and trust in as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
As we come before you, we confess that sometimes within our lives lie questions which challenge our faith. There are doubts that we have, especially when the difficulties of life press upon us more and more.
There are times we hold on to the wrongs of the past, rather than hearing your call to leave behind past hurts and fears, and accept the new beginning and new life which is your gift to us.
Holy God, forgive whatever doubts we may have, and renew us in spirit, that we may share your risen life and have confidence to face each new day.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen

Words of Assurance
On this day of the risen life of God, we affirm that God indeed loves us, and never leaves us in our guilt.
We are forgiven- and may our thanks be to God.

Readings

Jeremiah 31: 1-6
At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel,
and they shall be my people.
Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest,
 the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim:
‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’

Acts 10: 34-43
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Matthew 28: 1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

For the word of God in scripture
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God!

Sermon
There has never been an Easter like this one. I don’t mean because the Easter Bunny was stopped at the border- or so I am told- but because our gatherings are so different. Many people have been used to Palm Sunday marches, Passover meals, Good Friday solemn gatherings, and Easter Day joyful crowds gathering to watch the sun rise over water, or gathering on mountain tops see the sun rise once again, bringing light and life to darkness, or standing in crowded churches all singing praise. This year is different. I am sure we look ahead to when it will change again. We hope it will anyway.
Christians are a people of hope- it is who we are. Our sacred texts are all about hope. We heard from Jeremiah- he tells the people who have lost everything and gone into exile, that they will return- God is with them and things will be better. Peter preaches forgiveness in Jesus- in following his way, the people can live in hope because the past does not have a hold over them.
Then, in the Gospel, Jesus shows that even death is not the end, and his followers have a new beginning, a new way of living and understanding life.
There has never been an Easter like this one. A new way of living has been forced upon us, and most people hope that things will get better for them- and for some that just means back to how things were. In the three readings however, the hope that was given to people was never about just going back to how things were. It was about a new start, and living with a commitment to new values.
The Corona Virus has certainly changed things- from relatively minor matters like rationing of toilet paper, to managing to live in social isolation or distancing. As people of hope, we know things will change again- but will it be back to normal, or will there be a change to better than before?
In the scripture readings, out of experience of exile and restoration, death and new life, people see things differently and their lives are changed because of new understandings. Out of our experience of again celebrating in a different way the hope and new life we see in the Easter events, and doing so in the midst of dealing with social trials, is our hope just that things will get back to normal, or will we have learnt more about the way of Jesus, and how lives are to be lived- especially identifying those at risk or in need?
It was interesting to hear the comments made recently by some medical practitioners speaking about their experiences through this, with the frustration of not always being able to provide the comfort and care required in life threatening situations- especially when completely covered in protective clothing which seems to further isolate the patient. Some hospitals have not allowed visitors to patients whether they have CoVid19 or not- simply to minimise the risk of any spreading of the illness. Alternative contact can be made using modern technology- for those that have it, and that’s good- but limited personal contact has been clearly identified as a problem for patient well-being. The need to be with others, relate to others, feel the support and sometimes touch of others and not be alone- has been identified as a critical factor in care.
It was also interesting to hear of the 280 students in Brisbane who have been willing to leave their student accommodation so that homeless people may have a shelter, with less chance of them being exposed to the virus.
To me, these and other small events seem to suggest that there may be a greater sense of empathy, concern for others, especially the most vulnerable, in our society at this time. Political decisions have been made- cynics might say to preserve the economy- that have shown care and compassion for those in need. It is not perfect, but there are signs of care for the most vulnerable- and it has to come at a cost, but the cost has been willingly paid.
So, back to our hope, and this Easter. Yes, as Christians we live in hope, and we speak of things beyond this life as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, I am sure our hope is also that we might be here for a bit longer yet in this life. How do our current experiences, and how does our belief in a risen Jesus, our acceptance of his teaching which is to love God, and love neighbour, challenge us to live into our future, when we are again free to go where we wish, talk to whom we want to, use whatever resources we have been given?
Do we just want to go back to how things were three months ago, or are we willing to commit again to follow Jesus, perhaps with new understandings of what it means to live in relationship with others, and to love God and neighbour, as Christ commanded, to continue to seek care for the most needy and disadvantaged?
Now, given the way things are going, we probably have another two months at least to reflect on that, but… It may be worth considering that when the time does come to re-gather as a community, that first Sunday should be like an Easter celebration – celebrating the new life that has come, the new opportunities to be God’s people.
For now, though, may the joy of this day, and the recognition of the love God has for each of us, again lead us to be disciples of the risen Christ, wherever we might be.

Prayers of Intercession prepared by Sharon Dekkers
The first apostle speaks boldly: “I have seen the Lord!” Imagine for a moment that encounter, sadness now turned to joy, fear turned to exaltation, timidity turned to boldness. Something happened on that day – we might not be able to explain it – but something happened, and the women, the first witnesses to the Resurrection, were never the same again”.
Let us embrace today’s prayers in the same exuberant mood with eyes alight and hearts which are joyous.
Let us bow our heads now in this time of prayer and share our good news
This Sunday, the second one in April offers us a glimmer of a colder season yet to come. April heralds mid-autumn, providing the promise of cooler nights and temperate days.
It is a time when we can reflect upon the transition from summer to winter and the Easter message of our risen Lord.
We have been on a journey. It began with the command, “Believe the good news!” We pray that whilst on this journey, “We have seen the Lord and that in seeing him we have found new life. The old has passed away and new life is emerging. Now we join the great witnesses of the faith so that other can see the Lord through us”.
And to this end, we give thanks for the opportunity to share together this Easter Sunday in a community of Christian faith, in love and honour and devotion.
We thank the Lord for the Easter season which provides the foundation for our Christianity. This most holy period in the Christian calendar offers us a somber time to reflect upon our faith and renew our relationship with our Lord. It is also a period of great joy and hope for the whole of mankind with the prospect of continuing love and enlightenment, serving in the name of our holy father.
We give thanks for the care you have taken of our North Rockhampton church community during the school holidays.
We call on you Lord God to continue to guide members of our congregation in decision making roles which affect your North Rockhampton congregation. We are indeed grateful for the depth of your love with which you have blessed members of our church council. We ask that you continue to provide each elected member with the strength to lead the church and a pathway for our Lord Jesus Christ to navigate our daily endeavours.
We lift on high the wonderful work of our church elders who have tirelessly provided their valued gifts. Through their efforts we are able to enjoy our services and fully appreciate your beloved servants and their devotion to your word.
We pray for our musicians who bring such joy and delight to our services. May they continue to enliven our devotions and provide a means to worship you through the beauty of music.
We acknowledge the work of our cleaners who prepare our church each week, in readiness for our service.
We pray for our RI teachers and the passion they bring to our schools for our Lord God. Thank you gracious Father for the commitment they have made to sharing your teachings with our young people.
We hold to you those who are facilitators in their employment, taking every opportunity to give glory to you through their daily tasks and activities.
We pray for Reverend Brian Gilbert and his wife Margaret. The gifts which Reverend Gilbert has brought to our congregation and parish have helped us to understand your word which is a source of hope, love and comfort for all. May Reverend Gilbert’s passion for preaching God’s way touch the lives of each and every one of us and help us to live the life that God has planned for us.
Lord use your people as you see fit – Send us around the world with the news of your saving power and your eternal plan for all mankind
We pray for your loving servants as they embark on their journeys close to home and in far off places, spreading your good news and learning to live in peace and harmony with your peoples.
We recognise that belonging to the Uniting Church means recognising One People of God and valuing the Kaleidoscope of Colours which they Form.
We pray for our overseas partner church.
We take time to reflect upon the Mainly Music Program. We pray for the ministry team and future family participants
We ask you loving guidance for our leaders throughout the world as they grapple with abject poverty, brutal regimes, crippling unemployment, gender inequalities and racial prejudices.
Lord encourage your people to live life with a due sense of responsibility not as those who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do. We have experienced what love looks like, what letting go looks like and what new life looks like. We know what it means to be a people of resurrection. We know that sin and death no longer bind us. They no longer have power over us and they are our end no longer for Christ is risen and we have seen him.
We ask for you Lord to speak to us through our faith and conviction to see the Uniting Church as a living organism with the church providing the heartbeat.
Lord in love and devotion, hear our prayers as we join together in saying the prayer that your son taught us to say
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name;
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
And deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,
Now and forever.

Amen

Benediction
In the days to come, may we see signs that point to the wonders of God.
May we see ways of carrying justice and compassion into the places we may go- for this is the word in Christ to us.
And may God rise up in majesty before us,
Christ Jesus draw our eyes towards true life,
and the holy Spirit be discovered in every new day.
Amen