May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now...
Holy God, we see Your glory in the face of Your Son Jesus Christ; may we reflect His life in our words and deeds, that all the world may know His power to change and save. This we ask in His name. Amen.
We say or sing prayerfully...
Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways; re-clothe us in our rightful mind; in purer lives Thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.
In simple trust like theirs who heard beside the Syrian sea the gracious calling of the Lord, let us, like them, without a word rise up and follow Thee.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire Thy coolness and thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, O still small voice of calm.
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Dear Lord and Father of mankind - sung by St Martin’s Voices
As we prepare to reflect on this Bible passage, let’s first pause to be still, to breathe slowly and to re-centre our scattered senses upon the presence of the living God…
Mark chapter 9 verses 2 - 13
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant. And they asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.’
For the word of the Lord: Thanks be to God.
How do you find yourself responding to the troubled times in which we’re living? Social media, interviews broadcast on radio and TV, in newspapers and online, not to mention conversations with our friends and neighbours, reveal all sorts of different reactions to the ongoing crisis caused by the coronavirus. Some folk are still in denial (“What’s all the fuss - it’s just a touch of ‘flu?”). Some people are angry and looking for someone to blame (“The Government.” “Scientists and medics.” “The Church.” “Foreigners.” “The riff-raff who won’t keep their distance.” “God.” etc etc). Many are frustrated and worried about the effect it’s having on their finances, their plans (including for holidays or special celebrations) or frightened that they or their loved ones will catch it (especially if they’re in the ‘shielding’ or ‘vulnerable’ group). Others are just weary with it all and longing for life to ‘get back to normal’. If we’re honest, most of us probably share in most of these reactions to some extent. And then, on top of the seemingly endless list of troubles generated by COVID-19, there are the other bad news stories that keep coming at us from around the world; in this past week, who has not been horrified by the ghastly scenes of the terrible explosion and its aftermath in Beirut…
Is there a distinctively Christian response to troubled times? Some folk assert that we should see diseases and disasters as God’s punishment on evil people and a faithless Church, or (as was said to me again last week) as God’s method of population control. Some people are certain that ‘The End of the World is nigh’. Church leaders are being told that we (or at least Bishops and Archbishops, if not humble parish clergy) should be issuing national calls to repentance and prayer. There are no quick, neat answers to the huge questions raised by the prevalence of disease and disaster. Yet the New Testament does provide plenty of pointers to guide us.
Let’s reflect on today’s Bible reading from Mark chapter 9 and see where that leads us. I’ve selected this passage because last Thursday (6th August) is the day in the Church calendar on which we remember the Transfiguration of our Lord. This major milestone in the earthly life of Jesus is recorded by Matthew and Luke as well as Mark. If you read what’s going on for Jesus and His disciples before and after this mountain-top experience, you’ll be reminded that even for them, life was full of struggle and strife. In Mark 8:31-97, Jesus speaks explicitly about His impending suffering and execution (which is alluded to again in today’s passage) and He tells those who would follow Him that they must also ‘take up their cross’. This suggests that we should not be surprised by times of trouble. Rather we should expect and be prepared for them to be a ‘normal’ part of life in this beautiful but broken world, where ‘battles and blessings’ are inextricably intertwined, while the whole creation is waiting to be made new at the end of time as we know it (eg Romans 8: 18-22, Revelation 21: 1-5).
‘The cloud’ in the Bible is often a symbol of God’s close presence and in Mark 9 Jesus’ heavenly Father speaks from the cloud to command the disciples to “Listen to Him!”. In good times and bad, the Christian response to whatever is going on for us and our world is to stay focussed upon Jesus. We do this best by prayerfully reading (or listening to) Scripture to learn more deeply day by day the Christ-like way of living, thinking and praying. Bishop and Professor Tom Wright has written helpfully on this in his recent book God and the Pandemic, where he says that, “The thing above all that the Church should be doing at the present time is praying… when the world is going through great convulsions, the followers of Jesus are called to be people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain.”
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John became aware of the way in which the power of God’s presence transfigures and transforms the way His people see and respond to everything. The Greek word used in the Gospel is ‘metamorphosis’ - radical change. It’s the word now used, for instance, of a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly. It is when Christians respond to troubled times, first and foremost by praying with our eyes fixed on Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame…”, that we ourselves are strengthened by His Spirit, so that we don’t “grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12: 2-3). And, by God’s grace, we also become channels of His transforming power in the people and places for whom we pray.
Let's pause, linger over or repeat slowly, words and phrases that particularly stir our hearts in prayer to the Lord:
Shield us, Lord, from all evil, and lift us from apathy and despair, that even when we are anxious or confused, we may trust Your power to save Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord, You hide Your face when we trust in ourselves; strip us of false security and re-clothe us in Your praise, that we may know You as the One who shines light in the darkness, who brings change and transformation even out of situations of despair and desperation, and who raises us from death, as You raised your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, may the tears shed in Your earthly life be balm for all who weep. We pray for those in this and other nations who are struggling with physical or mental illness… including the terrible scourge of COVID-19… with loneliness, relationship problems, or bereavement… with loss of employment and financial hardship…. We pray for those whose lives have been destroyed or devastated by the terrible explosion in Beirut…. And we name before You now in the silence of our hearts those known to us personally who are hurting in body, mind or spirit…. Lord may the prayers of Your pilgrimage give strength to all who suffer; for Your mercy’s sake. Amen.
Gracious Father, revive Your Church in our day, and make her holy, strong and faithful, for Your glory's sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Come, creator Spirit, source of life; sustain us when our hearts are heavy and our wells have run dry, for You are the Father’s gift, with Him who is our living water, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the darkness of unknowing, when Your love seems absent, draw near to us, O God, in Christ forsaken, in Christ risen, our Redeemer and our Lord. Amen.
Let's say or sing...
God has spoken – by His prophets, spoken His unchanging word; each from age to age proclaiming God the one, the righteous Lord; in the world's despair and turmoil one firm anchor holds us fast: God eternal reigns for ever, God the first and God the last.
God has spoken – by Christ Jesus, Christ, the everlasting Son; brightness of the Father's glory, with the Father ever one: spoken by the Word incarnate, Life, before all time began, Light of Light, to earth descending, God, revealed as Son of Man.
God is speaking – by His Spirit speaking to our hearts again; in the ageless Word declaring God's own message, now as then. Through the rise and fall of nations one sure faith is holding fast: God abides, His word unchanging, God the first and God the last.
God has spoken – by His prophets, recorded remotely by the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields in their homes, and edited together
Lord, send us forth into the world in peace, being of good courage, holding fast that which is good, rendering to no one evil for evil. Help us to strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honour everyone, and love and serve You, rejoicing in the power of Your Holy Spirit - today, tomorrow and always. Amen.
The Revd Dr Mary Barr Melton Mowbray Team Vicar
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