The order of service is as follows:
Video 1 - Welcome and Opening Prayer
Video 2 - Hymn/Songs - Hosanna & Majesty
Video 3 - Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Video 4 - Children's Address
Video 5 - Children's Song - Who's the King of the Jungle
Video 6 - Gospel Reading - Matthew 21:1-11
Audio 1- Sermon: Prayer in a time of coronavirus
Audio 2 - Prayers for others
Video 7 - Hymn - Ride on ride on in majesty
Matthew 21: 1-11.
Hosanna! Save us we pray: Prayer in a time of Coronavirus
On Monday or Tuesday of this week I caught the end of a radio ulster interview with the Catholic Bishop of Down, when a someone called in to ask the Bishop about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of prayer in light of the many disasters that have happened over the history of humanity and the seeming non-intervention of God.
The question of prayer at a time like this is indeed a pertinent one and a difficult one. We might well ask where is God in a time like this? Is there any use in praying at a time like this? When tragedies have swept through human history, has prayer ever done anything to prevent or stop these things from happening?
Earlier this week, the Rev. Simon Henning from First Church Belfast did a very thought provoking reflection on prayer during this time of coronavirus crisis.
He says the following: “What kind of message does it send out, when we are told that God loves and cares for humanity, and then we’re also told we’ve got to badger the Almighty to do something for the humanity he is supposed to be loving and caring for? Is that not all a wee bit confusing? Imagine you had a boss, and this boss knew that you were in financial difficulties. And this boss had acres of cash so that he could get you out of that trouble in a haert-beat. But he sat on his hands and did nothing. And employee after employee knocked on his door and begged him to do something. What would you think of that sort of person? Would you be impressed? So why are we being told that we need to flatter God into doing something?”
It is a very good question that I would like to pick up on today. And so I have entitled this sermon: “Prayer in a time of Coronavirus”.
But just in case we forget, It is important for us to remember that it is Palm Sunday today. That day in our Christian calendar when we are invited to reflect on the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey a few days before his trial and crucifixion.
In the story, as Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, he is greeted by crowds who shout
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven”.
As we consider our theme today of prayer in a time of coronavirus, the word Hosanna in the passage is significant. The way it is used in many of our hymns and contemporary songs is as an exclamation of praise. But the actual meaning of it is “Save, we pray”. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds are essentially raising their voices in a kind of prayer, “Jesus, Son of David, save us we pray!” And the phrase “Hosanna in the highest heaven” praying that the One who dwells in the Highest Heaven would save them.
What were they praying to be saved from? They were praying to be saved from a life of oppression, and for many, a life of varying levels of hardship and destitution caused by occupation and domination from a foreign empire.
During this coronavirus pandemic, it is understandable that many are praying that God would save us and protect us from the coronavirus. But, as Rev. Simon Henning reflects, what does it say about God, if we have to badger the Most High to save us if it is in his power to do so?
As one who has struggled with this question from early on in my ministry, I have come to see that there are a variety of ‘models’ of prayer.
The first model of prayer I would call the satellite model of prayer. In this model of prayer we conceive of our prayers being sent up somewhere else to God who hovers over the world a bit like a satellite. To this satellite God, we make our requests and we lift up our cries for God to save us. God then weighs up the request and either grants it or not, or sometimes for whatever reason may be understood to have delayed answering the request until a later time.
A second model of prayer might be likened to a well. When prayer is conceived of in this way, prayer might be likened to dropping our bucket into a well to draw up life-giving water that can refresh ourselves and others. In a way, it is aboout tapping into a deeper dimension of life that gives us strength to cope with whatever is happening in our lives.
A third model of prayer might be likened to a mobile network. When we phone or message another person, we are utilising a mode of communication to send messages to one-antoher. That might be another way of understanding what we are doing in prayer… we are tapping into a deeper dimension of life that enables us to communicate the energy of love to one-another, expressed through our often fumbling and inadequate words.
It is perhaps these second two models of prayer that make most sense to me and help me to maintain a life of prayer. They are models of prayer that connect me with the Quaker mode of prayer which perhaps more than any other way of praying has influenced me the most.
Quaker prayer finds expression in two articular ways. Firstly, Quaker prayer finds expression in the practice of sitting in silence, and in that silence listening deeply for the Light of God which they believe is accessible to all human beings. Deep Listening for the Light of God.
The second mode of prayer in the Quaker tradition as I have come to understand it, is the holding of others into the Light of God, and that somehow in doing so, we mysteriously become conduits of God’s Love and Light towards others, mysteriously sharing something of the Light and Love of God with others, through the very act of prayer.
My mom and grandmother used to say that if your ears were glowing it meant someone else was talking about you. Some might dismiss such statements as a kind of superstition and old wives tales. But increasingly science is slowly beginning to acknowledge that phenomenon like telepathy does exist. In my own experience I no longer find it strange to discover someone messaging me out of the blue to ask me how I am doing at roughly the same time I was thinking about them.
Below the surface of life there are an increasing number of people who are suggesting that we are all connected to one-another on an inner level. The simple practice of holding others into the Light of God may indeed be a means not only of changing us to are practising such a mode of prayer, making us more sensitive and loving towards the needs of others, but may indeed be a means of sharing that Light and Love of God with others.
All this raises questions: Does God work from the outside in? Or does God work from the inside out? Much of our Biblical imagery would suggest that God is an external Reality, and that therefore when we pray, we are essentially crying out, like the crowds to an external Jesus and an external God who we are asking to intervene in life from the outside.
But there are many other passages in the Bible that suggest that God may be an internal Reality: The Kingdom of God is within you… (Luke 17:21)
Christ in you, the hope of glory… (Colossians 1:27)
I in you and you in me… (John 17:20-23)
From this perspective prayer may not simply be the sending our requests to an external deity who hovers above us like a satellite. Prayer may also be conceived as a tapping-in to the Sacred Presence, the Light of God within and a sharing of that energy of light and love with others.
I would like to get back to Rev. Simon Henning's reflections on prayer which I find give another helpful and illuminating perspective.
“For other people of faith, prayer is not about bothering the Divine, prayer is about lifting ourselves out of ourselves, so that we can see the bigger picture. W.A. John said that prayer was paying attention to Someone, or Something bigger than oneself. By that definition, prayer is not something that we use to change the course of events, it’s a method that allows us to see things from a different perspective. And that motivates us to change the way we do things. And to do things however small, to make the lives of other people better and to change the world in which we live in.”
Please know that many of you are in my prayers at this time, especially those who are particularly vulnerable in our congregation at this time and those in our community who are in the front-line of the response to the coronavirus, those working in our shops, as well as those working as carers and in hospitals and doctors rooms. Next time your ears begin to glow, maybe it is because Wendy and I have voiced your name out as we hold you in God’s Light and Love.
But above all, may your prayer life help you to pay attention to Someone or Something bigger than yourself, that it would lift you out of yourself to see life from a much bigger perspective and in doing so, may it give you a taste of a peace that goes beyond the turmoil and fear of life under the coronavirus.
On this Palm Sunday, as we say “Hosanna! Save us we pray!” May the Most High save us from fear, from limited perspectives to see as if from a mountain-top, from the grand vista of Time, beyond time.