On a beautiful sunny morning we met once again at the bandstand in the park. After meeting on Zoom for over 4 months it was wonderful to meet up in person and worship in the open air surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.
We followed a pattern of prayer called Anam Cara, and added various elements that some of us had brought along to share:
Litany of thanksgiving:
For this time, this place, this day, these people
For calling us to this church, this freedom, this worship
We give thanks to the Lord for he is good
His love endures for ever.
For the changing seasons, light and weather,
For trees and birdsong and river and skies
For needless beauty and endless diversity…
That all creation joins with our praise today
That the sun sings and the earth hums…
If we were silent the very stones would sing his praise
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
the whole earth is full of his glory
For those we love, for those who love us
For those we struggle with and those who struggle with us
For old friends and new ones, for friendships yet to be made and for reunions
For all human goodness that speaks of your presence
For our frailty that drives us to acknowledge our dependence on you
We affirm that you Lord are God
It is you who made us and we are yours
For you know how we were formed
You remember that we are dust
For the freedom we enjoy
For choice and wealth and healthcare and education and opportunities and democracy
For holidays and leisure and comfort
For the privilege to be called to give to those who do not have these things
In this sacred place we remember that these are your gifts and affirm our calling
Your kingdom come, your will be done
On earth as in heaven
For the shalom you promise
For the call to press on together as companions on the journey
For your foundational underpinning, support, comfort, direction and strength
For your constant presence – your very name spoken with each breath we take
For Jesus – for all he has done, all he does, all he will yet do for us
For loving us
Salvation and glory and power belong to you our God
Our bible reading was: MARK 7: 24-30.
Arguing with a Syrian Phoenician woman.
The setting for this story is the far region of Tyre, an area way beyond the horizons of most Palestinian Jews. Earlier in the chapter Jesus has been in dispute with the Pharisees and Scribes; the phrase, “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know it” suggests that the main reason for the trip over the border into Syria is to withdraw in order to get some peace and to give himself time for reflection. As on previous occasions his attempt to get away from it all fails, this time he is accosted by a gentile woman. The woman falls at Jesus’ feet and asks him to carry out an exorcism on her daughter. Mark makes the point that the woman is Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia – in other words, not only is she a woman but she is a gentile, a foreigner and a pagan.
Ched Myers writes; “Her approaching in this way is an affront to the honour status of Jesus: no woman, and especially a gentile, unknown and unrelated to a Jew, would have dared to invade his privacy and ask for a favour.” So the sharp rebuff by Jesus is quite understandable: “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Rabbinic tradition of the time often referred to gentiles as dogs, an example is: “He who eats with a pagan is like unto one who eats with a dog.” This story highlights the ethnic, cultural and religious hostility between Jews and their gentile neighbours.
But the woman is not finished yet; she argues the point and so compounds her affront to Jesus. The fact that she is unafraid to engage in an argument with Jesus gives the story its twist: she argues that even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.
In Jewish culture her behaviour is utterly shameful, made even worse by the fact that she is a pagan. Jesus conceding the argument must have been shocking to those around him. He graciously grants her request, I believe not because of her faith but because of her argument, which is an amazing turn of events given Jesus’ powerful verbal mastery over his Jewish opponents.
The point of the story is that Jesus allows himself to be “shamed” in order to include this pagan woman in the new community of the kingdom.
How Humans have a Tendency to Complicate Life
When we read the gospels we read many stories of Jesus taking meals with others. The Middle Eastern tradition of hospitality is shown in so many of these stories. Jesus an itinerant rabbi was funded and fed by his followers, those who he ministered to and those who tried to catch him out.
The Jewish tradition of “The Meal” carries on today in many festivals and celebrations so we can surmise that Jesus often shared meals with his friends and often blessed the bread and the wine.
At this point I want to jump to the present day and tell a story that some have already heard. I am very friendly with a group of people that I used to teach with, we meet regularly and there is always food involved of some sort. One of our number sadly died a few years ago and in her parting email to us all she asked if we could remember her whenever we met by eating cake. So we have developed a tradition of eating cake.
I like to think that when Jesus asked us to remember him in the bread and wine it was meant in the same way. Oh how we have complicated this act of remembrance! Only certain people can administer the elements, only certain people can receive the bread and wine and magic hands must be used and magic words must be said.
So for those who like simplicity:
Take your bread and wine and get ready to eat and drink.
Here we are
Together we remember Jesus as we eat bread
In this place
Together we remember Jesus as we drink wine