Call to worship (by P Smith)
God call us all and bids us welcome
The least and greatest
The lost and the found
The weak and the strong
The dreamers and actors
The hesitant and the confident
For one and for all, a place at the table.
1 God with us: Creator, Father,
bringing everything to birth;
Mother of the whole creation,
fire of stars and life of earth:
down the countless years composing,
from the earth’s evolving night,
love’s response to love, and forming
mind and soul to seek your light.
2 God with us: Redeemer, Brother,
Friend for ever at our side,
here, in flesh, you walked among us,
taking up your cross, you died.
Crucified, despised, rejected,
Perfect Love, who shared our shame,
streaming from the cross, your judgement,
full of mercy, clears our name.
3 God with us: Unwearied Spirit,
from the birth of time and space,
surging through unconscious being,
joyful, Life-Creating Grace:
through the centuries you find us;
you, as God, inspire our prayer;
Life and Power at work within us,
Love for ever, everywhere!
4 God, Transcendent, far beyond us,
closest Friend, unfailing Guide:
through the ages, wronged, affronted,
in your poor, still crucified!
God with us: convict, forgive us;
by your holy love destroy
all that hinders peace and justice:
fill this aching world with joy!
Alan Gaunt (b. 1935) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 8 Words: © 1998, Stainer & Bell Ltd, 23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ <www.stainer.co.uk>
Prayer of approach (Prayer in the morning Jim Cotter)
Let the whole earth be joyful in you, O God, serve you with gladness, and celebrate your presence with a song.
For we know that you are creating us, you have made us and we belong to you.
We are your people, and the sheep of your pasture. We find our way into your gates with thanksgiving, and into your house with praise.
We give you thanks, and bless your holy name, for you are gracious, your mercy is everlasting, and your faithfulness endures from generation to generation. Amen
Reflection part 1 – Stories of hospitality (or the lack of it)
It took some of my friends a while to realise that I catered on the basis that if there was food left over then there must have been enough, a concept I picked up from Aunty Lena at the Christian holiday centre Plas. So if they ate everything, I would just ensure there was more next time.
My great Aunty Lizzie, who we adored as children and loved to visit, did have a mean streak at times and which got worse with age. She once told her sister, my Gran, that she hadn’t got anything extra in for her visit – the trouble was she meant it and the same small portion of meat had to do two of them. I’m sure we have all been for meals where we felt like counting the peas to make sure we don’t take too many.
Gran also told of visiting her cousin, who knew well in advance that she was coming for tea. The meal, after much time in the kitchen, comprised jam butties followed by trifle – a strange choice that seemed to say both I have made something special and I really can’t be bothered at the same time!
Of course sometimes what is standard in our own homes can startle other people. As an 11 year old invited to stay for tea at Mr and Mrs Bowleys, I asked for two boiled eggs – which they thought amusing as they would only ever have one each!
Then there was Aunty Nancy (a honorary Aunt) who standing in front of a groaning table enquired of the young people (late teens/early 20’s) what they would like, as she had a two gateaux and a trifle – to which they said yes please – so all three in one bowl they got! (for the record I had my trifle followed by the cake, on the grounds that if I tried all three at once I would make mess).
But it’s not just the quantity and quality of the food that make for good hospitality, and a memorable occasion. At university we once pooled our resources on a miserable bank holiday so that Sister Katherine could make us all eggy bread. Good company and a warm welcome are required.
And we could go on, drawing examples from our own experiences and from literature – for example the novel Chocolat by Joanne Harris, which not only uses the hospitality of the chocolate shop to show care and community, but effectively features a last supper in the form of a lavish party on the Maundy Thursday.
I used to make a Christmas cake for one of my relatives, a niece of my Gran’s, Bertha. She would tell everyone who called about it and even show them. Then she would offer a drink and they would get excited expecting a piece of cake. But no, a biscuit if lucky but never never a piece of the cake that Peter had made.
Well at the start of lockdown last year I began to know how they felt, as ordained friends seemed to flood facebook etc with pictures of their celebrations of Holy Communion at home. We were invited to look but not take part.
Holy Communion, that foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all people, in a small piece of bread and a tiny glass of non alcoholic wine. Strange how so little and such simple things can be so profound, as we practice hospitality in the presence of Christ our host and share together as all are welcome.
Psalm 145: 10 -18
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
Prayers of thanksgiving and Confession (by P Smith)
Loving God we give you thanks;
Your grace is boundless, your love is unlimited,
At your table there is place for everyone,
you welcome sinners and saints to your feast,
and there is plenty for all
Loving God we give you thanks
Yet so often we fail to welcome the stranger and the strange
We are selfish with your gifts and take more than our share.
We take too much time to decide how to exclude people,
and fail to protect the weak and the vulnerable.
So we come to you seeking forgiveness.
Loving God we hear your gracious word: “Your sins are forgiven” Amen.
1 Come, sinners, to the gospel feast,
let every soul be Jesu’s guest;
you need not one be left behind,
for God has called all humankind.
2 Sent by my Lord, on you I call,
the invitation is to all;
come, all the world and witness how
all things in Christ are ready now.
3 Come, all you souls by sin oppressed,
you restless wanderers after rest,
you poor, and maimed, and sick, and blind,
in Christ a hearty welcome find.
4 His love is mighty to compel;
his conquering love consent to feel;
yield to his love’s resistless power,
and fight against your God no more.
5 See him set forth before your eyes;
behold the bleeding sacrifice!
His offered benefits embrace,
and freely now be saved by grace.
6 This is the time; no more delay!
This is the Lord’s accepted day;
come in, this moment, at his call,
and live for him who died for all.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 401.
Reflection part 2 – What happened to Communion in John’s Gospel
I’m not sure at what stage I realised that in the account of the last evening Jesus spent with his disciples that Gospel of John gives us that there was no account of the sharing of the bread and wine – no account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. But then the writer does say that there is much more they could have included.
The Gospel seems to be written for an established Christian community who would not have been unaware of the story of the last supper, it would have featured in their life together, in the words and actions of the liturgy.
But the writer does explore what it means for Jesus to say of bread –this is my body. We find that exploration and teaching in chapter 6 of the Gospel, which starts with the feeding of the 5,000 which John locates as taking place at Passover, and goes on to teaching about Jesus as the bread of life, and builds towards the “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
Which seems to be expressing what we do when we share communion. Over the coming weeks we will, if we follow the lectionary explore the whole of chapter 6, so I will be careful not to get too far ahead. But in this story we have the basics of a Communion; Offering, taking, thanksgiving, (is there breaking?) the distribution and consuming. And the careful collection of what remains. Speaking volumes about God’s generous bounty. Let’s listen to/read that story.
Reading John 6: 1 -21
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.
Reflection part 3 – room for one more?
In 1973, we had been living in Chirk for about a year when my aunty and two of the five cousins arrived from Canada. Mum spent just over an hour with her sister, the first time for 23 years before having to go get dinner ready (the meal in the middle of the day). Half way through that meal, Mum collapsed and was rushed to hospital. She died early the next morning.
Dad’s sister arrived to help out. If we were sitting down to a meal, and anyone appeared at the door they were immediately invited to pull up a chair and join us. There was plenty of food and no one was turned away. There was always room for one more.
So much time and energy has been expended down the centuries in fencing the table – deciding who is and who is not allowed to receive Communion. In the days when the Communion service followed the main morning service, my friend Ian thought that people were being kept in for being naughty. And in recent years we have expended time and energy in debating whether children can receive communion – they can and do, making us realise that it this is about being in community rather than understanding what is going on. Gathered around God’s table we are in the divine presence.
As John (whoever John really was) tells the story of the feeding of the 5,000 they are fed as soon as they have assembled. If we are to take this as a Eucharistic celebration, then it is interesting that there is no attempt to work out who is in or out. It would seem that all are welcome.
I began reflecting on this story before the Methodist Conference (sometimes I like to get ahead) so it is interesting that the President, Sonia Hicks, in her address to Conference has returned us to the theme of God’s Table and a place for everyone. If you have not already read or listened to it, it is well worth doing so.
In 1993 the Methodist Conference spent a whole day talking about sexuality, eventually working its way through a myriad of notices of motions etc, until it had expressed itself in 6 resolutions. It was a costly and exhausting process. There was for many a sense of relief that although we had not agreed and were uncertain as to how to interpret what the Conference had said yet we were committed to travelling together, expressed most eloquently in the celebration of Holy Communion the next day, as we shared bread and wine together.
The Conference this year in confirming the provisional resolutions from God in Love Unites Us around human relating including cohabitation and same sex marriage, invites us all to continue to walk together even with contradictory views, and to make room for each other around God’s table. We will need space to do so.
One of the hymns that didn’t make it into Singing the Faith was For everyone born a place at the table. It didn’t make it in because of safeguarding concerns about the lines “For just and unjust, a place at the table, abuser, abused, with need to forgive” and that was the right decision. There was also another issue in that one verse was shown as optional:
“For gay and for straight, a place at the table,
a covenant shared, a welcoming space,
a rainbow of race and gender and colour,
for gay and for straight, the chalice of grace,
and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!”
LGBT+ people are not optional, we are part of the church with a place at the table.
This last week I have been speaking to Ken who is heading up the work strand “Dignity, Justice and Solidarity, which will have three working groups: looking at Race, Disability and LGBT+., and what we as Church need to say and do within our own structures and relating , how we engage with communities outside the Church and how we engage in campaigns for justice. Each group will need to work out for itself what it wants the wider Circuit to do and how.
It seems such a shame that we are still having to debate and campaign on these issues both in the church and in society in the 21st century. Yet, I am not without hope. In the stories told by those who would nearly 2o years ago never have seen themselves as sporting the celebration of same sex marriage in the church but now speak out in favour of inclusion and diversity, I see what it is possible for the Spirit to accomplish. And I see that same Spirit at work in those who whilst holding to the traditional view of marriage as only being between one man and one woman, are ready and willing to be part of a Church were others hold the view that accepts same sex marriage. Together, with integrity we can unite around what we do have in common, Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Jim Cotter reflected on the story in Numbers of Moses sending spies into Canaan to assess and report back on the situation. He wrote these words, which I think speak to the heart of the struggle and offer a vision for what might be:
“I vow to you, my friends of earth, all worldly things above, Entire and whole — yet broken.— the service of my love: The love that dares to question, the love that speaks its name, That flowers still in barren ground, yet hides no more for shame: The love that struggles through the pain, and whispers in the night, Yet shares its secret with the world, to bring the truth to light.
This is that other country we heard of long ago, When called to be the spies of God where milk and honey flow: A world where hurts find healing, where all th’oppressed run free, Where friends who have been sore betrayed each other truly see: It is our earth, transfigured, new, where wars and hatreds cease, Where spy and friend walk hand in hand in Christ our Lover’s Peace.”
1 Come with me, come wander, come welcome the world
where strangers might smile or where stones may be hurled;
come leave what you cling to, lay down what you clutch
and find, with hands empty, that hearts can hold much.
Sing hey for the carpenter leaving his tools!
Sing hey for the pharisees leaving their rules!
Sing hey for the fishermen leaving their nets!
Sing hey for the people who leave their regrets!
2 Come walk in my company, come sleep by my side,
come savour a lifestyle with nothing to hide;
come sit at my table and eat with my friends,
discovering that love which the world never ends.
3 Come share in my laughter, come close to my fears,
come find yourself washed with the kiss of my tears;
come stand close at hand while I suffer and die
and find in three days how I never will lie.
4 Come leave your possessions, come share out your treasure,
come give and receive without method or measure;
come loose every bond that’s resisting the Spirit,
enabling the earth to be yours to inherit.
John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 462 Words and Music: From Heaven Shall Not Wait © 1987, WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH Scotland. <www.wgrg.co.uk>
Prayers of intercession
Let us Pray
Concerns for the world, our neighbours and the church are shared
Take time to pray for the people and places on your heart, on your Church’s prayer list.
Dear God, our Creator, beloved Companion and Guide upon the Way, Eternal Spirit within us and beyond us:
Let us honour your name in lives of costly giving love;
Let us show that we and all whom we meet deserve dignity and respect, for they are your dwelling place and your home;
Let us share in action your deep desire for justice and peace among the peoples of the world;
Let us share our bread with one another, the bread that you have shared with us;
Let us, in spirit of your forgiving us, make friends with those we’ve hurt and failed to love;
Let us overcome our trials and temptations, our suffering and dying, in the strength and courage with which you overcame them too;
Let us in your love free the world from evil, transforming darkness into light;
For the whole universe is yours, and you invite us to be partners in work of your creating. Amen.
(from Prayer in the Day by Jim Cotter and Peter Pelz)
The Lord’s Prayer
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 for ever. Amen
1 Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore;
feed me now and evermore.
2 Open thou the crystal fountain
whence the healing stream shall flow;
let the fiery, cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through:
strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield;
be thou still my strength and shield.
3 When I tread the verge of Jordan
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side:
songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.
William Williams (1717–1791) translated by Peter Williams (1727–1796) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 465
Ephesians 3: 14-21
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirt be with you now and always. Amen