by Ellen Sims
John 13: 31-35, Revelation 21:1-6
On third Sundays we offer a contemplative service. Rather than a sermon, we offer a guided meditation and an opportunity to then visit one or more of the prayer stations set up around the chapel.
From the book of Revelation comes a vision of newness, a new earth, in fact. And from the Gospel of John comes a new commandment: the law of love. The lectionary chose well in pairing these two scriptures today.
When Revelation was composed, the oppression of the Roman Empire must have made Jesus followers long for God to wipe the board clean and start over. Although we are not living in quite so desperate times, social problems seem to be intensifying, and we know that we can’t just tweak what we’re doing to correct the path we’re on. What we may need for our state and nation and planet is to completely re-envision . . . everything. Such sweeping, holistic, ambitious, wrenching changes are hard to face. The adjustments we will have to make as a society and as individuals to defend our planet against climate change are daunting. Meanwhile, we are still mired in the evils of racism and sexism, still tepid in advancing religious freedom for all, still willfully ignorant about biases against sexual and gender minorities, still unable to recognize the dwindling of the middle class, still using guns and wars to solve problems. Like the writer of Revelation, we need a fresh and bracing vision. We want to trust John’s vision that one day God “will wipe every tear from our eyes.” We long for the time when “mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the first things [will have] passed away.”
We are still living in the time of “first things.” Maybe the totality of history thus far is still, in God’s mind, “the first things.” In God’s reckoning, the totality of history thus far–14 billion years after the Big Bang and 4.5 billion years after the earth’s formation — is just “the first things,” the alpha of the alphabet. So the omega point will be far out into the future and far beyond our imagination. God is the alpha as well as the omega point. God is beginning and end. God is the author of beginnings and endings and the beginnings after the endings. God authors change and revolution, genesis and newness. Change is God’s constant. And our short lives attest to change. We keep growing until we die. But some things have to end for newness to spring forth.
Call to mind now some aspect of your life that is nearing an end. Are you sad or anxious as you anticipate this ending you’re facing? Or are you prepared for closure, maybe looking forward to it because it will lead to a new beginning?
Whether it’s a major or minor turning point, prayerfully imagine what might be around the next corner for you. What might be a positive aspect of this anticipated ending? What worries you about this change in your life? Can you trust that the God who brought you thus far will be with you into this next stage of your life?
Pray for an openness to newness in your life. Consider that new person you met yesterday, that unusual situation you experienced at work, that fresh challenge in a relationship is a reason to give thanks for the new that will help you grow.
Pray now that you can follow the new commandment Jesus gave his disciples: to love one another. It’s not so new, of course. But let’s consider ways we can approach loving one another afresh. Who is hard to love in your life? Why? Prayerfully consider one simple way to show a bit more compassion or patience or kindness. Let Jesus’s words shape your prayer for greater love: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
The Prayer of Thomas Merton: My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I do not know for certain where it will end nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you . And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing, I hope that I may never have anything apart from that desire. And I know if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, tho I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always. Though I may be lost and in the shadow of death I will not fear for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my terrors alone. Amen
1. Prayer for a Renewed Earth or a Personal Fresh Start
Reread Revelation 21: 1-6 on p. 1 of this bulletin. Using the water colors, brushes, and paper provided, paint your vision of a new/renewed earth where God “is making all things new” or a vision of a fresh start in your own life. Make this a prayer to the Alpha and the Omega for the renewal of our planet and/or for renewal in your own being.
2. Prayer of Praise
In the style of Psalm 146, use the flipchart and markers provided to create collaboratively a prayer of praise. Your contribution might invite praise from a place or situation (as in “Praise God from the heavens”) or from particular elements or living things (as in “Praise God, you fire and hail . . . creeping things and flying birds.”) Imagine the way the earth itself offers a kind of praise and enter into that joy, gratefulness, and exultation.
Below is the Prayer of Praise composed collaboratively by members of the congregation:
Praise God for the exuberance of puppies, the honesty of children, lentils, avocados, and raspberries.
Praise God for the friendship of others and the love between us.
Praise God for the circle of life: birth, death, birth.
Praise God, from the Infinite, Maker of stars, bringer of supernovas, creator of blackholes. The universe implodes and explodes, from stagnation to action and back again. Let us know we are meant to do the same, for we are also the Creation of God.
Praise God, you blossoming trees. Praise God, you loving parents. Praise God, you singing birds.
Praise God for the gift of new life, for a woman’s amazing body that gives life and transitions it to earth, and specifically for my niece Daphne and her mother.
3. Prayer through a Sacred Meal
Reread John 13: 31-35 from p. 2 of this bulletin as you reflect on the Love Commandment. Prayerfully prepare yourself to receive the community’s bread and cup in a spirit of love. Call to mind those in your life or individuals who affect your life but whom you don’t know personally who are hard to love. Try to see them as Jesus would see them through the lens of love. Then come to Christ’s Table remembering that you are loved and welcomed.
4. Prayer that our Gifts be Used for Loving Purposes
Consider that your offering today contributes to God’s love let loose in this world or makes possible some act of renewal in this world. Your prayer might be, “Thanks be to God for the powers of Love and Renewal. Use my gifts to activate these forces in the world. Amen.”