Chairete! This, I have learned, is the customary greeting when you meet someone in rural Crete – but the actual meaning of the word chairete is ‘Rejoice!’ This Greek word is the one by which, in St Matthew’s Gospel, the risen Christ greets the two Marys on Resurrection Morning. What a wonderful word to use when you greet a friend!

I was struck by the use of this word as a greeting, because there is so much sadness around just now – on the international scene, the traumas in Lebanon, in Belarus, in Hongkong and in Yemen; in our own country, the three tragic deaths in the rail accident, and the worries of our young people about exam results; and everywhere, the on-going concerns about the coronavirus epidemic, and its social and economic consequences.

Yet still we can say, ‘Rejoice!’ – because God loves us and cares for us. This does not mean that this life will be smooth – it seldom is – but that through it all God is our strength, a ‘very present help in time of trouble’; and that in him our eternal well-being is assured.

Therefore let us worship God.

Hymn MP 200

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with thee;

Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not,

As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided –

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and spring-time and harvest,

Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Great is thy faithfulness…..

Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth,

Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;

Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside. Great is thy faithfulness…..

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Great God, our loving Father and faithful friend, we indeed rejoice that, although we cannot yet meet in church, we can still join together to worship you, with the Church world-wide, seen and unseen.

Loving Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the salvation which you won for us in your life, death, and resurrection.

Holy Spirit of God, you inspire and encourage us, and we rejoice in your companionship along life’s way.

Great God, we are sorry that so often we let you down.

We are sorry that so often we ignore the prompting of your Spirit to say, or do, the right thing.

We are sorry that so often we miss opportunities to make your love real to other people.

Holy God, please forgive what we have been;

help us to amend what we are;

and direct what we shall be;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer

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, for ever. Amen.

Reflection Part 1 (especially for the young at heart)

I’m going to tell you a story from the Old Testament. You can read it for yourselves in the second Book of Kings, chapter 5. It concerns Elisha, one of the great prophets of ancient Israel, and a mighty general who commanded the army of Israel’s powerful neighbour, Syria. His name was Naaman. The person who brought them together was a young Hebrew girl who had been captured in war, and taken away from Israel to serve as a slave in Syria.

We don’t know the girl’s name, or anything else about her, except that the mistress she served in Syria was the wife of Naaman, that great commander of Syria’s armies. Now Naaman was a very powerful man, greatly valued by his king. He was rich and successful, and everything seemed to go well for him. Except for one thing. He had developed the disease called leprosy, which was then incurable, and was greatly feared throughout the world. Naaman and his wife would have been horrified and distressed when that diagnosis was made.

The little Hebrew slave saw her mistress’s distress, and said to her: ‘If only my master could visit the prophet who lives in Samaria in my home country! That prophet is a great man, and would cure my master of his leprosy.’ Naaman was told what the little Hebrew girl had said. So Naaman set off to find the prophet, with a great retinue of horses and chariots and servants, and lots of wealthy gifts. It must have been a very splendid procession!

After some wrong turnings on the way, which you could read about in 2 Kings chapter 5, he eventually came to where the prophet Elisha lived, and stopped right at Elisha’s door. He expected that Elisha would come straight out and speak to him, but Elisha, who had heard what Naaman’s trouble was, simply sent out a messenger to him, telling him to go and wash seven times in the River Jordan. If he did that, he would be healed.

Naaman was not pleased by this apparently casual approach to his problem. He was a very important man in his own country, and was used to being treated with great respect. He had thought the prophet would hurry out to him, speak politely to him, and carry out some impressive ritual to bring about his cure. As for bathing in Samaria’s river Jordan – they had better rivers than that at home! So he started to go away in a very bad temper.

But his servants came to him, probably rather nervously, and said: ‘Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you’d have done it, wouldn’t you? But if he’s telling you just to bathe in the river seven times, why don’t you try it – when we’re here anyway?’

Naaman saw the sense of this, and went to the River Jordan, dipping in it seven times – and he was cured! Then he and his whole retinue went back to Elisha to thank him, and to praise the God of Israel who had such power to heal.

Reading from St John’s Gospel 4: 46-54

Jesus came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. Now, there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ’you will not believe.’ The official said to him: ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies!’ Jesus said to him: ‘Go; your son will live.’

The man took Jesus at his word, and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his son was alive. When he enquired as to the time when he began to recover, they said to him: ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ The father realised that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him: ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household.

Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

Hymn MP 760

When we walk with the Lord,

In the light of his word,

What a glory he sheds on our way!

While we do his good will,

He abides with us still,

And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

But we never can prove

The delights of his love,

Until all on the altar we lay;

For the favour he shows,

And the joy he bestows

Are for them who will trust and obey. Trust and obey ….

Reflection Part 2

Today’s lesson from St John’s Gospel reminded me of that Old Testament story of Elisha and Naaman. The two healings have some features in common. In each case a man of high standing, in desperate need, makes a journey to ask the help of someone of much lower social status. In each case he at first feels rebuffed. In each case he then makes the leap of faith required to take the healer at his word – though Naaman needs the help of his servants to do so. In each case that faith is rewarded by miraculous healing, which occurs at a distance from the physical presence of the healer. And in each case the petitioner comes to faith in the divine source of all healing.

The man who sought Jesus’ help was an official at King Herod’s court. For someone of his status to travel 20 miles to seek the help of a village carpenter was a momentous step; but his son was so ill that when the desperate father learned that Jesus was within reach, he did not hesitate to make the journey. Finding Jesus, he ‘begged’ him to come and cure his boy. Jesus’ reply – ‘unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe’ – sounds off-putting to us; but, though Jesus may have been testing the strength of the father’s belief that help was possible, yet the original Greek makes clear that the ‘you’ to whom Jesus attributes the desire for signs and wonders is plural, so probably included bystanders crowding close to see what would happen.

The official is not deterred – ‘Sir, come down before my child dies!’ he pleads. ‘Go home’, says Jesus then, ‘your son will live.’

How hard was it, I wonder, for that father to accept Jesus’ word, and turn and go home – leaving behind the one whose help he relied on, instead of again begging Jesus to come with him right to the boy’s bedside? But having met and spoken with Jesus, he was able to make that leap of faith. And, having found his son recovered, and learning that the recovery took place just as Jesus spoke the words, then ‘he and his household believed.’

John tells us that this is the second ‘sign’ that Jesus performed in Galilee. A ‘sign’ in this Gospel is an act of Jesus which demonstrates that, in him, the divine nature is present and at work on earth. The purpose of such a sign is to bring about belief in Jesus’ divine nature and authority. But not everyone who witnesses a sign understands and accepts it. Jesus’ words to the crowd suggest that all they are interested in, is seeing marvels.

The royal court official, however, comes to faith in stages. He has heard of Jesus, and that report is sufficiently encouraging that he seeks his help. His meeting with Jesus brings about complete trust that this man can, and will, do what he promises. When he has proof of this in the healing of his little boy, he understands, and believes, that Jesus is divine; and this belief is shared throughout his household.

The word ‘faith’ has many meanings. It can mean a body of doctrine, as in such phrases as ‘the faith of the Church.’ It can mean intellectual belief, accepting that something is a fact. But where we have faith in a person, that means that we trust them utterly – and this is the kind of faith shown by the sick child’s father as he turns for home. It is a little like the trust which an injured climber puts in those who lower him down the mountainside on a rope. He cannot help himself – he must put his trust entirely in his rescuers, and in their rope.

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, there is a food called lembas which is given by the elves to Frodo and his companions, to give them strength on their journey. At first, they eat of it sparingly, along with their normal food. But when normal food runs out, they find that the power of the lembas to keep them going increases. The more they rely on it, the more it nourishes them. It has always seemed to me that this is a metaphor for faith.

For most of us faith is not easy or unchanging – we may go through many ups and downs on our Christian journey. And we know that the Christian faith does not insulate us from suffering in this life. But often it is in times of stress and distress that our faith assumes greater importance for us and, paradoxically, becomes stronger. When we are able to admit that our own strength is insufficient, and when we are prepared to trust ourselves wholly to the love of God, then we find that that is a rope which will not break. In God’s loving care our eternal welfare is secure.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Loving heavenly Father, on this week-end when we remember the closing chapters of World War 2, we have much for which to be thankful. We thank you for the freedom which we enjoy, and which was won at such cost. We thank you for acts of courage and endurance, for every act of kindness and humanity carried out in wars then and now; and for all those willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the vulnerable, and for the defeat of tyranny and cruelty.

We remember with sorrow the human wickedness, ignorance and fear which leads to war, and the suffering endured by the innocent on both sides of conflict. We pray for all who today suffer the dislocation and terror of war, remembering especially the people of Yemen.

We pray for all who today mourn the loss of a loved one, remembering the victims of the rail disaster near Stonehaven, the people of Lebanon, and all affected by the pandemic.

We pray for all peoples who live under oppressive regimes or corrupt governments, asking that you will raise up capable leaders of integrity, to pursue peace and justice in our troubled world.

We pray for our own Queen and country, asking wisdom for all in authority over us. And at this time we pray especially for our young people, whether starting or returning to school, or embarking on further education, in these difficult times.

In moments of silence we bring before you the names of all those known to us in special need of your blessing at this time. ——-Pause

Be with us, good Lord, in all our doings. Strengthen our faith and our hope, and lead us always to rest in your love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hymn MP 210

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,

Feed me now and evermore.

Open now the crystal fountain

Whence the healing stream doth flow;

Let the fiery, cloudy pillar

Lead me all my journey through;

Strong deliverer,

Be thou still my strength and shield.

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

I will ever give to thee.

Benediction

May God bless and keep us. May he give us light to guide us, courage to support us, and love to unite us, now and always. Amen.