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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
our lives are laid open before you:
rescue us from the chaos of sin
and through the death of your Son
bring us healing and make us whole
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Blessed are they who have not walked
in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.
Their delight is in the law of the Lord
and they meditate on his law day and night.
Like a tree planted by streams of water
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,
whatever they do, it shall prosper.
As for the wicked, it is not so with them;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked shall not be able to stand in the judgement,
nor the sinner in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked shall perish.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?’
Let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
Jesus’ road map for discipleship does not make comfortable reading, and it is no more attractive in the twenty-first century than it was in the first. Down the ages we have learnt to ‘rationalize’ Jesus’ words but, no matter how clever we may consider ourselves to be at playing word games, the reality of Jesus’ call is as stark as it was when these words were first uttered. Jesus call to discipleship is uncompromising, and that is where we struggle.
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves. As our Lenten journey began, just twenty-four hours ago, we reflected on what it means to embark upon a Lenten pilgrimage. One of the major aspects of that journey of faith is one of self-denial. As we set aside that which gives us earthly pleasure we pray that we may be drawn into a close relationship with the God who in just a few weeks will sacrifice everything for us. By removing the worldly distraction of something we value for its own sake, we enter into the periphery of Jesus’ sacrifice for the whole of humanity.
The sacrifice of Jesus that we will soon be recalling will come in the form of an ignominious death on a terrible instrument of torture. The ‘cross’ will have had a profound meaning to all who heard Jesus’ words. The Roman conquerors used the cross as an instrument of oppression. They were very skilled at making the public agony of death last for days. Jesus’ call to take up our crosses daily is one of total commitment, no matter what the cost. For many this is too much to ask. If the thought of self-denial does not prove too onerous to bear, then the thought of the sacrifice of one’s reputation, possessions and earthly life can so easily prove to be the tipping point. But, there are those who have accepted Jesus’ challenge. We are called to join that long procession of those who proved the value of following Christ by setting aside all that is superficial and offering everything to God.
Then comes those final words: Follow me. We come across these two words several times in the gospel narrative. We hear Jesus use them as he calls those who will become his closest companions and followers, the disciples. They are a precursor to those faithful souls being transformed into apostles … those who are sent out to preach and to heal, to love and to serve, to shine with an inextinguishable light in the name of Christ.
In today’s reading we hear Jesus offering that same call to us. Let us pray that, as we journey through this Lent, we might come to realize that today’s reading is addressed to us as individuals. It does not matter who we are, how old we are, what our life story to this point may have been. Jesus wants us all to become his followers, his disciples. Let us take his outstretched hand, deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily and follow him.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to God for right judgement and constancy in faith.
Strengthen the Church to follow the way of the Cross and not to judge in the haste of the moment. Help all your faithful people to understand that to save is to lose and to lose is to find, that to give all is to gain all in the power of the risen Christ.
May those who value only the pleasure and satisfaction of the moment learn where true blessedness lies. May those who hold power so set their minds on the things that are divine that they may rule with mercy in the things that are human.
Give to us, to our families and friends and neighbours, grace to follow as we are led and wisdom to know what is right in our way of life and what is a hindrance to our faith. Strengthen us to let go of the old when you are calling to the new, knowing that in your will there is life and not loss.
Have mercy on those whose burdens in this world are heavy. Be near to those who suffer for the sake of the gospel, who have offered their lives for its sake. Shield them from harm and bring them to eternal life.
We remember the departed, those who took up their crosses and carried them to the end of the way and have laid them down in the repose of heaven. May we in our time be faithful until we come to share in their joy.
May our prayers be acceptable in Christ who suffered and died for us.
Prayer for the week
shine upon all who are in the darkness of suffering or grief;
that in your light
they may receive hope and courage,
and in your presence
may find their rest and peace;
for your love’s sake.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the cross of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)