Order of Service
Organ prelude: Voluntary in A minor – Anon. (18th century)
Lent Liturgy – 1st Sunday, towel and bowl
As we follow our Lord through the events of his Passion, we remember today how he humbly washed his disciples’ feet
A reading from the hymn ‘An upper room did our Lord prepare’, by F. Pratt Green (1903 – 2000)
Meekness and majesty
Words and Music: Graham Kendrick (b. 1950)
Prayer of thanksgiving (URC service book, altd)
In your goodness you give us water to sustain our life and renew the earth.
We thank you for your love in all creation, especially for the gift of water,
to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life.
In the beginning you moved over the waters
and to a formless void brought life and light.
You led your people through the waters of the sea
from slavery to freedom in a land of promise.
Your Son was baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan.
He fulfilled His baptism on the cross and was raised from the dead
that we might have eternal life.
As we worship this morning, may we be faithful to you and
remain for ever in the number of your faithful children,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
be all honour and glory, now and forever.
The Lord’s Prayer
Introduction to the first reading
Our first reading follows on from the story of Noah’s flood: the dry land has appeared, Noah and his family emerged from the ark along with all the animals and creatures, Noah builds an altar and makes a sacrifice to God, and in turn, God promises not to destroy every living creature because of humankind’s evil. We now hear of the covenant between God and Noah’s family, the sign of which is the rainbow.
Reading – Genesis 9: 8 – 17
Organ interlude: Communion on the hymn tune ‘Bread of heaven’ – C. H. Trevor (1895 – 1976)
Introduction to the second reading
Our second reading is from Mark 1: 9 – 15, and is Mark’s brief account of Jesus’ baptism, temptation and the start of his ministry. We had the end of the reading as the first part of the reading in the podcast on 24th January, leading into the call of the first disciples. Here, it comes as the natural progression in Jesus’ own calling.
Reading – Mark 1: 9 – 15
‘Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink’, sang the ancient mariner on the still seas of the south Pacific, in the poem by Samuel Coleridge. Not the problem for Noah and his ark, where the surrounding water was rain water, and so plenty to drink, as far as we know!
We’re focusing on water and baptism this morning. In the story of Noah, the water destroyed all, as floods do in so many places today. Life is lost. Water is something we think of as life giving, and yet in the Old Testament story, all life is wiped out except that of Noah and his family, and all the creatures that came into the ark.
When we get to Chapter 9 of Genesis, to the reading we had, water now becomes part of the covenant between God and Noah’s family. When God sees the water, the clouds about to burst, and sees the rainbow, God remembers that water will never again be used to wipe out all living things. The rainbow is the sign of the covenant.
But what has this got to do with the reading from Mark’s gospel, especially the water bit – the baptism of Jesus? I hadn’t made the connection before, but on reading one of the other passages for today, one we didn’t have, I kind of got it, at least a little bit.
In 1 Peter 3, the apostle mentions Noah’s ark. He then says (verses 20b – 21, NIVUK), ‘In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . .’
So we see in these verses the idea that the waters of the flood saved Noah and his family. This is set as a foretaste of baptism, and in Peter’s words, a symbolism of baptism. Baptism, to Peter, is our ‘pledge of a clear conscience towards God’. In other words, in it, we say we will follow Christ, and turn from our old ways—dying to self, is a phrase we often think of.
I’m jumping ahead a little, so let’s get back to that passage in Mark’s gospel of Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist’s one of repentance. For us as Christians, it is a pivotal point. It’s a point of Jesus acknowledging what he came for; of identifying with people in the need to repent from sin and turn to God, although Jesus had no need to; of the Holy Spirit coming on him, reminding us that in the Christian faith, we are baptised with water and invite the Holy Spirit to work in us; and of God’s declaration of assurance to Jesus at the start of his ministry: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (NIVUK)
I’ve often wondered where the idea of baptism came from. A good few years ago I learnt that people coming to the Jewish faith from elsewhere were baptised. It is then part of Jewish tradition for those outside the faith.
On looking into it further for today, I discovered that the origin of Christian baptism is apparently the Jewish mikveh, or ceremonial bath. This had to be performed in flowing water, and was a form of ceremonial washing. I also read recently of the archaeological excavations around the Temple in Jerusalem in the late 1960s, where they found the pool of Siloam. It was apparently a very large area where those going to the Temple to worship would first immerse themselves in the water, for purification.
This then is what John the Baptist was doing in the river Jordan, symbolically baptising people to purify them from sin. As he was preparing the way for Jesus, he was in a sense, purifying them to meet with Jesus, God incarnate, to meet God in person.
As we begin our Lenten journey, what does water and baptism mean to us?
Water is life giving, and for us is abundant. We just have to turn on the tap. Sometimes we worry when the water bill comes in, but generally, water is good. We can wash in it for our own personal hygiene, water the garden, drink as much as we like. We probably don’t think of it much in a religious way.
However, as people of faith we’re conscious of how water affects others: we remember those who have suffered flooding in our country earlier this winter and in many places in our world; we see how it erodes and can therefore cause landslides and loss of life; we see places where there is drought, people die of thirst, and crops fail through lack of water; we see the effects of storms, water being driven by the wind.
In our faith tradition, water is usually only used in baptism, which is one of the only two sacraments we practice. In some other traditions, it is also used in Communion, to add to the wine, denoting the piercing of Jesus’ side. And I discovered at the pulpit exchange a couple of years ago at St Chad’s, that it’s also used for the priest to wash their hands, a symbol maybe of the ritual purification in Jewish thought.
What does baptism mean to us? What did our own baptism mean to us? What did the confirmation of it mean for those of us who had a service of confirmation later on? Most of us were probably too young to remember our own baptisms, and yet many of us hold it dear. We may also remember joyous occasions of the baptisms of our own children or those of others.
For us, baptism is the symbol of the spiritual bit that really takes place as soon as we begin to consciously follow Jesus. We may not have made a decision as such to follow Christ, but somewhere along the way, even in a moment of recognizing the Lord’s voice through a hymn, or in whatever way, that spiritual bit of being willing to follow Christ has taken place. In baptism’s symbolism of the turning away from sin and turning to God, this season of Lent is a significant time for us to remember that. It’s a call for us to give ourselves afresh to God, to remember all that has been done for us through Jesus, of our own walk with God, and the forgiveness we receive.
To finish, I’ll throw in a verse I had in the daily readings I’m doing at the moment, from James 1: 27 (NIVUK), ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ It is tempting to self-gaze during Lent, to focus on our own spiritual journey, our own baptism, as we’ve thought about today. This verse reminds us that in receiving that forgiveness, and turning ourselves towards God, it is to turn ourselves to those he has a heart for, those who struggle in our own time. Lent is a time to reflect and a time to vow to act out our faith afresh.
Jesus our Lord and King
Text: Anon (1858)
Tune: Sandys (English traditional)
The peace of Christ be with you, and in your homes
And also with you
Confession & Absolution
Let us confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness.
Lord God most merciful,
we confess that we have sinned,
through our own fault,
and in common with others,
in thought, word and deed,
and through what we have left undone.
We ask to be forgiven.
By the power of your Spirit
turn us from evil to good,
help us to forgive others,
and keep us in your ways
of righteousness and love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord says: See, I am making all things new.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself
Through Him our sins are forgiven.
Amen. Thanks be to God.
Come then to this table, not because you
must, but because you may;
Come, not because of who you are, but because of who God is.
Come, not because you are righteous,
but because of God’s grace through Christ Jesus.
Words of Institution 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26 (NIVUK)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Prayer of thanksgiving
Holy Lord Jesus,
We praise and thank you so much that you came to earth for us and gave yourself on the cross for our forgiveness. You, who are the same yesterday, today and forever, help us never to forget what it cost you, bearing the world’s sin in yourself, separated from the Father.
We praise and thank you for your promises which give us hope in our lives and for the future. We thank you for that assurance of new life in you, a new life we can share in many different ways at this time with others.
We give thanks now for this bread, symbolising for us your body, and ourselves as your body here, to be broken for others as we seek to serve others in whatever way.
We give thanks for this wine, symbolising for us your blood, poured out in love for the world, as we are poured out to bring new life to those around us.
We ask that as we share this bread and wine, we may be filled anew with your Holy Spirit, and refreshed in your resurrection life, to live for you, for your glory we pray. Amen.
Sharing the Bread and Wine
As we break the bread and share the wine, we will eat and drink together.
We break the bread to remember Christ’s broken body for us on the cross . . .
[pause to break the bread]
Christ’s body broken for us.
[pause to eat]
Christ’s blood was poured out that the world might have new life . . .
[pause to lift the cup]
And we have new life in his blood
[pause to drink]
Prayers of Intercession
Most gracious God, we praise you for what you have given and for what you have promised us here.
Through water, bread and wine, you have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth.
You have fed us with the bread of life, and renewed us for your service.
Now we give ourselves to you; and we ask that our daily living may be part of the life of your kingdom,
and that our love may be your love reaching out into the life of the world.
We pray in our world today for all those places where conflict is making the struggle against Covid even worse, and where there is famine . . .
For those countries struggling to afford a vaccine . . .
For those struggling with Ebola in parts of west Africa . . .
For those who are affected by climate change . . .
May they all know your compassion through your Church.
In our own country, we pray for wisdom for our government as they look to how we can safely come out of lockdown . . .
We pray for the nhs and the emergency services, giving thanks for them all and asking you to sustain them . . .
We pray for children and young people for whom this year has been one of fear, loneliness, loss of education and mental health issues . . .
May your Church in the UK hold in prayer all who work hard on our behalf and respond with grace to all in need.
As we begin our Lenten journey, we lift to you the Church worldwide.
We pray for the persecuted Church, struggling in faith and hope . . .
We pray for all churches who are meeting online, and those who can’t . . .
We pray for the churches we’re connected with, in Headingley, Leeds and further afield . . .
May all their worship be as incense to you . . .
Gracious God, as we lift to you our own church community, we pray for friends who have been bereaved . . .
We pray for those who are unable to go out at all . . .
We pray for all our friends and neighbours who are unwell or undergoing hospital treatment . . .
May they all know your comfort and peace.
Lord of all, we lift our prayers to you, both spoken, and in our hearts, and we lift ourselves to you, in Jesus’ name.
Lord of the love that in Christ has reclaimed us
Text: Caryl Micklem (1925 – 2003)
Tune: Epiphany Hymn – J. F. Thrupp (1827 – 67)
Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God.
And may the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us all and with those we love, now and always.
Organ voluntary: Allabreve – J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750)