Sunday 31 March 2024

Easter Sunday

Welcome!

We know not everyone who is part of Westwood Church is able to be in church on Sunday morning however, we thought it would be good to offer some excerpts from the Sunday morning service. Where we can, we offer parts of the service in text and audio, whichever works best for you. If you want to plug in headphones to your computer, tablet or mobile phone now is a good time to do it ! If you want to offer some comment or feedback just use the comment box at the end of this post.



Scripture

Mark 16: 1 – 8

Acts 10: 34 – 43


Praise – I serve a risen Saviour


Prayers

Lord Jesus Christ, we greet You on this day of Resurrection.

You knew the pain of humiliation, the loneliness of rejection.  You entered the clutches of hell itself and have shown us by your triumph over death and hell  that love is always stronger than fear, or death or hell.

Just as You came, risen and unexpected to those first friends of Yours who went to the tomb, anxious and fearful, be with us now, and touch us with Your peace.

God of power and love, we give You thanks that You raised Your Son Jesus Christ from the grave, that You gave hope by Your presence.  We thank You that the powers of evil, which seemed to overcome all light and goodness and love on Friday were defeated in Your Son’s rising to life.

We thank You that in Christ’s rising, we have hope for life before and beyond death, inspiration for our lives as witnesses to Your grace, comfort in our pain,

and faith in place of fear.

We thank You for every sign of resurrection we sense by Your Spirit, in nature as the seasons, slowly, turn, in society, as Your kingdom makes its way, in our lives, as anxieties give way to peace.

Gracious God, we pray in sorrow for the ways we go wrong in our lives, the ways we fail in our witness to Your love. We have journeyed through Lent, attempting to shape our lives around the compassion and courage of Christ, yet we have heard in our hearts the impulses of those who denied Jesus, betrayed Him and mocked Him. Forgive us for the ways we have abandoned the path of love and forgiveness. Yet we trust in Your grace, Your forgiveness, and Your acceptance flowing from the cross; Your joy shared in resurrection life.  Help us to live lives liberated from guilt, and inspired to follow Your risen Son.

Hear us as we join in the words of the Lord’s Prayer saying…

Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever.  Amen.


Address

Stephen Bullivant is Professor of Theology and the Sociology of Religion at St. Mary’s University London. Bullivant created a bit of storm when he stated that “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good”. He said this, in response to figures showing widespread rejection of Christianity among Europe’s young people.  We may find that sort of sad, but it is an undeniable fact.  All across Europe and North America Christianity is in retreat.

What may be more interesting is the response of Peter Ormerod, as he writes in The Guardian;  quoting Professor Bullivant.

“Plenty of people will find all this to be cause for celebration. The young people of Europe casting off the deadening, corrupting, malignant influence of religion. They appear to be putting that ancient, feeble entity called God out of his misery. It could be seen as a sloughing off of superstition, a thrilling engagement with reality and reason. And yet I suspect the truth is a little more complex.

At the risk of sounding in denial, this may not be entirely bad news for Christianity. Arguably one of the most toxic developments in the history of the faith was its shift from being a radical political and spiritual movement to allowing itself to be co-opted by forces of oppression and militarism. Becoming a default or norm effectively drained it of much of its energy.

There have, of course, been countless Christians through the centuries who have resisted this, but the institutionalisation of Christianity as a whole has done it a great disservice. [The move over the past few decades into a post-Christendom world is one we should surely embrace if we want to see the faith re-energised.]

Rather than being just a slightly rubbish version of the world, maybe the church needs to embrace its weirdness.”

Weirdness, now that’s not a word we would normally use when we are speaking about our church, our faith, or ourselves.  But maybe we should reflect on that for a moment.

Edinburgh airport is expecting 100,000 people to be jetting off on holiday this weekend, Glasgow another 105,000.  The motorways in England will come to a standstill with holiday traffic, and no doubt engineering works will be scheduled on the railways for this weekend.  Easter is a time for getting away, chilling out and relaxing.  And what have we done?

We’ve managed to take a reasonably busy church life and make it even busier in the last seven days.  When most folk are looking forward to a holiday weekend and teenagers are lying in bed till lunchtime, we are here even more than usual generating all kinds of activity for ourselves.  No wonder large sections of society look at us and think we are all sad or weird. And sometimes, I think they might be right. We must seem a bit sad or weird going to church each Sunday, singing hymns and indulging in all kinds of odd rituals, talking about things like faith, which make no sense, and indulging in seemingly pointless activity. We could be cleaning the car or doing the shopping or playing sport or otherwise enjoying ourselves.

And they could be right, looking at Christianity from the outside we worship a leader who had none of the attributes associated with success, like wealth or social status. His friends were mostly poor, many of them were not well educated, and none of them had any influence. They were a ragged bunch, many of whom were on the outskirts of society and were despised by decent people.  And to cap it all, that leader of whom they had such high hopes, who was able to work wonders and had the sort of charismatic personality, which drew people to him, was executed as a criminal after three short years.  The Jesus movement was an underground movement; it was the poor people’s hope for a better future.  In the years following the resurrection the emerging Christian faith was probably more like a “Just Stop Oil” pressure group.


In the earliest days of Christianity when Paul was writing his pastoral letters even, he had to say we’re sad people.  We’re sad, he says, if we have the idea that Christianity is only to do with this life. If that’s what we think, we’ve only picked up a fraction of the full story and we’re selling ourselves short, for Christ was raised from death, and that makes all the difference. It means that Christianity certainly is a religion for this life, showing us how to live this life and helping us get to know God for ourselves, but Christianity is also a religion for another life, a life which comes after death.

Easter brings our faith into very sharp focus because it’s full of huge contradictions. On Good Friday the leader of our religion was executed after a rigged trial featuring dishonest witnesses and a great deal of prejudice. By the next day it was all over for Jesus’ followers. They were plunged into that awful stage of bereavement when nothing seems quite real except the unremitting agony of grief, that stage when you can’t concentrate on anything except the aching void within.

The dream had come to a hideous end involving torture and shame and disgrace. Shame has a habit of sticking to anyone within reach. No wonder Peter hurried to distance himself when he was asked if he was Jesus’ friend.

But as we all know, it wasn’t over. Christianity was just beginning. Despite his well-attested death, many people saw Jesus alive again. Clearly, he was alive in a different sort of way, for although less than 48 hours earlier he’d been so badly tortured and injured that he’d died from his wounds, he was now fit and well and left only with scars.

At this distance of time and space it’s difficult to know exactly what happened, but we know for certain that many people saw the risen Jesus, that all four gospels proclaim it and that subsequently the Apostle Paul based his whole life upon it. So, something very out of the ordinary happened, which has made a massive difference to the lives of millions of people over thousands of years.

Jesus overcame the power of death and that’s exactly what Jesus has promised to each of us. He promised that we too would overcome death just as he had overcome death. We too will live in some different dimension, a place that Jesus described as a banquet, a wedding celebration; a place where all our ills and tears and griefs will vanish. 

Weird?  Yes, maybe it is weird.  But would you really want to swap that mystery, promise, hope, that sacrificial love, for a shopping trip to Morrison’s? (Other supermarkets are available).


Praise – Crown Him with many crowns


Prayers for Others

Lord Jesus Christ, in this troubled and divided world where fear runs so deep, hopes so often dashed and dreams so often broken, we remember today the faith you nurtured in the hearts of your disciples, faith that has given hope to generation upon generation long after your disciples had lived their lives.  Through Your coming and through Your resurrection from the dead, you transformed people.

Lord Jesus Christ, a world is waiting, longing, hurting, searching for hope,

crying out for meaning, hungry for some reason to believe in the future.  Come again in Your life giving power, and bring new life to all.

We remember especially those places where there are real fears for people’s safety, and for those places where people may have forgotten a time before fear existed, in war torn nations, in family homes where domestic violence inflicts so much harm, in organisations and institutions where child abuse goes unreported.  Help them and us come nearer a place and time without tears or pain or grief.

On this Easter Day, we think of our families, perhaps far from here, who are celebrating as we do but many miles apart. Comfort all who miss family and friends at this time, and help us feel united in faith and love.

Lord Jesus Christ, in the quietness of prayer we offer to You those people and situations we are particularly conscious of:

friends and family members whose life seems to be running out, all who are struggling with mental health, anyone who seems imprisoned by the past, who is fearful of rejection, or missing out on what the future may hold; all who are anxious over work  not done, or find themselves lonely and isolated: come to them with the joy of your presence…

Encourage us by the example of Your saints that we may run with courage the race which lies ahead of us, our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  AMEN


Praise – Thine be the Glory


The Grace

And now… May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you and all whom you love, now and for evermore. AMEN.

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