The Seventh Sunday of Easter
We sing along/listen to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r3EogSdfPU
O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place
where our Saviour Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen
We sing along/listen to:
This week we should’ve been on the parish pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, but alas it was not to be this May. Walsingham, or England’s Nazareth, as it’s known, is a place of devotion and peace, it’s a place of refreshment and renewal, it’s a place of healing and reconciliation, it’s a place of love and care, and perhaps above all, it’s a place of prayer.
If you enter the Shrine Church and move round gradually into the Holy House, you will be hard pushed to find a place that is more obviously soaked in prayer. Prayer is the beating heart of Walsingham – because it follows the example of Mary’s beating heart, and like Mary, the pilgrims who come to her shrine follow her practice, of offering constant devotion and thanksgiving – they speak Mary’s words: ‘my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord’. And at the same time, they recall the words of Simeon to Mary, that she would suffer and her heart be pierced. Many pilgrims come with a sense of pain and loss as well as joy and thanksgiving. But the thing that unites them? That common devotion to prayer.
Today we stand today at a crossroads. On Thursday we celebrated the Ascension the Lord into heaven, which means ‘a new chapter in our cosmic history has opened’, to quote the words of C.S. Lewis. Christ has taken our humanity to the heights of the heavens, our humanity now longs for the blessings of the heavenly home. And so we wait eagerly in these days, as the disciples and Mary did, for the coming of the Holy Spirit to move us ever closer towards the renewal of the world and the coming of Spirit at Pentecost – next Sunday.
It’s during this time that we look for the renewal of the Church, so that we may be ‘strengthened’, as our collect put it. So what must we do to be strengthened, strengthened for renewal and mission? We must pray.
We must pray for the coming of the Kingdom – we must pray ‘thy Kingdom come’ as the first disciples did, ‘constantly devoting themselves to prayer’.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have asked Christians during this time between Ascension and Pentecost to pray ‘thy Kingdom come’ focusing on the renewal of the Church and its mission to the world. Christian people are praying for their renewal that others may transformed by the Spirit, come to know Christ, to the glory of God the Father.
Each of us is called to prayer, each of us is called to follow the example of Mary and the eleven as we anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit that gives life and life to the full.
So how do we begin? We begin by doing that very thing: praying. In the words of Archbishop Justin:
“Prayer begins by acknowledging that we don’t have what we need, we aren’t who we want to be and we don’t see what we long to see.”
At the heart of prayer are those things: we don’t have what we need. We aren’t who we want to be and finally, we don’t see what we long to see.
We don’t have what we need.
We need constantly topping up with the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is the fuel for the Church, he is the fuel that keeps us going as we move ever closer to our heavenly destination. To go where Jesus has gone.
It’s so essential that we don’t run out of fuel – we need to top up the tank – to keep things flowing. But so often we run on empty, and don’t have what we need. Our first point in prayer must be to ask the Lord to give us what we need: that fuel, the Holy Spirit – that we may keep moving towards our destination so that we don’t stop along the way, so that we don’t break down.
The second thing:
We aren’t who we want to be.
We know this to be true, and if we needed reminding, we need only look at the scriptures, Judas betrayed, Peter denied, Matthew exploited… the list goes on… Perhaps not the obvious choices for Church leaders! And yet ordinary people, like you and me full of flaws, full of failures, full of misdeeds, and still chosen by God to do his will. Each of us will relate to some aspect of that rather disappointing line-up of people. We need to pray that Christ, through his Holy Spirit, would transform our lives – ‘take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee’ as the hymn puts it.
We must pray that we would be open to the Spirit who changes us – and changes us for the better. That we do become the people that God has called us to be. That is, people in the image and likeness of his own Son, for in the words of Catherine of Sienna: ‘be who God called you to be and you will set the world on fire’. That’s Pentecost! That’s what we anticipate next week! Being on fire for God, so that that flame may catch others, and make their hearts burn within them.
But we must recognise that third point:
We don’t see what we long to see.
We long to see people on fire for the living God, like those disciples and Our Lady. We long to see peace and justice in the world. We long to see, in the words of Mary the humble lifted up and the hungry filled with good things. But so often we don’t we see violence and terror, we see suffering and unrest… We see the world, not as God intended.
So we need to ask ourselves:
Do you want to see your lives as God intended? The world as he envisaged? People sharing in his life? If the answer is yes, then now is the time to do something about it.
Start by preparing, as Mary and the disciples did, for that outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the great mission of God taking off.
Start by praying this week ‘thy Kingdom come’ – that we, in the words of the Gospel may be effective witnesses – on fire for God who make ‘his name known’.
Pray that the people who come to faith may be ‘one’ one in the Church and ‘one’ with the Father. Pray that you may be one.
Pray that you may be given the courage and perseverance of the eleven, and most especially Mary, the model of faithfulness, devotion and grace and that you too would be agents of prayer.
But above all, take time to pray, take time to soak your walls with prayer, like that of the Holy House in Walsingham, so that people of Anfield and beyond may experience the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus promises today, that this and every Church may grow with new believers, so that ‘thy Kingdom will come’ on earth as it is in heaven.
Eternal God, giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom:
confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We sing along/listen to: