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Lent Pilgrimage 5: Living with Uncertainty

On Passion Sunday, an exploration of living with uncertainty with the Right Rev Alan Abernethy, Bishop of Connor. Led by the Rev Brian Lacey. From St Peter's Church, Belfast.

On Passion Sunday, an exploration of living with uncertainty as we pilgrim through Lent. On this Passion Sunday the Bishop of Connor, the Right Rev. Alan Abernethy considers how we can live with unanswered questions and find hope during those times of separation and alienation that are common to us all. Led by the Rev Brian Lacey.

Isaiah 43.16-21
St Mark 14.32-42
Praise to the holiest in the height (Chorus Angelorum)
Psalm 126
Ah! Holy Jesu, how hast thou offended (Herzliebster Jesu)
How bright those glorious spirits shine (Beatitudo)
God so loved the world (Chilcott)

With the Priory Singers directed by Robert Thompson. From St Peter's Church, Belfast. Producer: Bert Tosh
A link to this year's Lent resources from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland can be found on the Sunday Worship web pages.

40 minutes

Bishop Alan Abernethy

Bishop Alan Abernethy

Alan Abernethy was born and educated in Belfast. After ordination in 1982, he served two curacies in parishes in Co. Down and became Rector of Helen's May in 1986 and then of Ballyholme in Bangoi in 1990. He was elected Bishop of Connor (covering County Antrim and part of Belfast) in 2007.

Bishop Abernethy is a member of the Central Committee of the World Council for Churches. He is also chair of the Board of Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS). He is the author of ‘Fulfilment and Frustration,’ (2002 ) and ‘Shadows on the Journey,’ (2011) a series of reflections concerning the shadows that have been part of his journey of faith.


Please note:This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

Radio 4 Opening Announcement: BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship's pilgrimage through Lent  this Passion Sunday comes live from St Peter's Church in Belfast. Today's theme is 'Living with Uncertainty'  and the service is led by the Reverend Brian Lacey. It begins with the introit 'Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts' by Henry Purcell. 

RECTOR   The Lord be with you                       And also with you 
Good morning from St Peter's Church in North Belfast, on the rising ground that leads to Cavehill, one of the many hills surrounding Belfast.We have just heard “Thou knowest, Lord the secrets of our hearts” sung by the Priory Singers. This anthem reminds us of the need to examine ourselves. This is something we must always do as Christians, and particularly during the Season of Lent. On his sermon, our Bishop ,Alan Abernethy, will be reflecting on “Living with Uncertainty” , including one traumatic incident in his childhood: BISHOP ABERNETHYThe details of that day are very sketchy in my memory, although I do remember it was cloudy and dry. My brother and I had set out for school as normal, assuming we would return to our home that evening. I was never to see the inside of that house again. 
RECTORThis  the Fifth Sunday in Lent is Passion Sunday and our first hymn reflects on the suffering of Jesus and what that has achieved for us: John Henry Newman's “Praise to the holiest in the height and in the depths be praise”
RECTOR IN Romans Chapter 5, St Paul writes, God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.Beloved in Christ, we come together to offer to Almighty God our worship and praise and thanksgiving, to confess our sins and to receive God’s forgiveness, to hear his holy word proclaimed, to bring before him our needs and the needs of the world, and to pray that in the power of his Spirit we may serve him and know the greatness of his love. TLet us confess our sins to God our Father.  Heavenly Father, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault; by what we have done and by what we have failed to do. We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ who died for us, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may serve you in newness of life to the glory of your name. Amen.  Almighty God, who forgives all who truly repent, have mercy on you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  O Lord, open our lips and our mouth will proclaim your praise. O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us. 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. Praise the Lord. The Lord’s name be praised.  Today's Psalm Psalm 126
CHOIR  Psalm 126

READER A reading from .the 41st  chapter of Isaiah beginning at verse  16. Thus says the Lord,   who makes a way in the sea,   a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings out chariot and horse,   army and warrior;they lie down, they cannot rise,   they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18 Do not remember the former things,   or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing;   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?I will make a way in the wilderness   and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild animals will honour me,   the jackals and the ostriches;for I give water in the wilderness,   rivers in the desert,to give drink to my chosen people, 21   the people whom I formed for myselfso that they might declare my praise.  This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
RECTOR  Bishop Alan will now peach the first part of his address.
BISHOP ABERNETHY  Sermon (part 1)The details of that day are very sketchy in my memory, although I do remember it was cloudy and dry. My brother and I had set out for school as normal, assuming we would return to our home that evening. I was never to see the inside of that house again. We were collected from school and brought to our grandparent's house, which was next door to the school. We could walk out of the back door of my grandparent's home and be at one of the school gates.
Others tell me some of the details of this uncertain part of my life. My father had been gambling heavily for some time and he had managed to work his way through the family inheritance he had received. That particular morning the bailiffs arrived at our home to inform my mum that we had lost our home because of my father's debts. She took the two of us to her parent's home and they were incredibly supportive and gave us a secure and loving home.From a very young age I observed unwittingly my mum with a strong, personal and gentle faith that remained humble and thankful for what she had. For her, faith helped her in what must have been at times a lonely and very uncertain road, to find God's loving presence and help. I also learnt from an early age that having faith did not protect us from difficulties and that life could be painful and hard. However But  there was also a strange realisation that the church found it hard to cope with her situation as she and my father were separated through no fault of hers. As a bishop I do recognise the church can find it hard to deal with many situations that are messy and untidy. The church can find it hard to dispense grace and I know that from first hand experience.In my own faith journey I have experienced moments of uncertainty, of confusion and unanswered questions. But faith isn't about having answers it is more often about asking the right questions or being willing to live with the uncertainty and yet recognise that God walks with us even when we can not sense this.A few years after I was ordained a bishop I found myself quite unwell at first with gall stones but then as I physically recovered I had to recognise I was struggling with a heavy heart and what I describe as a bruised spirit. I was suffering from depression and was given great help from my doctor which included anti depressants and cognitive therapy. Recovery was slow and frustrating but with the love of my family, the professional help I received and the countless prayers offered for me I was able to return to work but only after having leant some very important lessons.The first reading of the day in Isaiah chapter 43. is a glorious piece of poetry and follows on from the beginning of the chapter when God declares to His people that they "are precious and honoured and he loves them". Despite the children of Israel constantly turning away and taking for granted God's goodness, The Lord, the Creator of Israel will be their redeemer making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, this is the power of God to create and recreate, reminiscent of the language of the creation story. There is an important insight into the character of God in these few verses, that I have found helpful on my journey of faith; God is faithful and God is always wanting to recreate and make new. God will never give up and He never turns ways no matter where we are or how we feel on this journey of faith. Despite the struggle or the shadows of darkness I have experienced the everlasting arms have been there, even when I couldn’t believe or experience them. It was often the support of others who walked with me that helped carry me. This is incarnated in the words of Jesus when he says He is with us always until the end, I believe this to be true even when I am unaware of His presence. When we journey with Jesus there are no road maps or google helps, we may will probably make wrong turns or find ourselves in strange and difficult cul-de-sacs but we are promised that He will walk with us always and that is particularly important to remember when we are struggling and finding it hard to make sense of our experiences.
RECTOR  The choir now sings one of the most famous Passion-tide pieces i”Ah Holy Jesu, how hast thou offended” The original German Lutheran Chiorale was used by JS Bach in his St  Matthew and St John Passions. 

READER   A reading from the 14th chapter .of the Gospel according to St Mark beginning at verse 32.  ... They  went to a place called Gethsemane; and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
BISHOP ABERNETHY   Sermon pt 2  What a beautiful and disturbing place Gethsemane is. That Gospel reading describes a moment of struggle, and uncertainty , agony and confusion for Jesus himself as he faced Crucifixion and death.. We are also on a journey through Lent and are moving with Jesus to the inevitability of death and the wonder of resurrection. From the birth in Bethlehem we have witnessed God living in the pain and confusion of our humanity. He constantly challenged theperceptions of what it is to love God by touching the lives of so many, of dispensing grace in ways that transformed and made new, that brought meaning and purpose to some bewildered people and disturbed some who found this grace in the mess difficult to comprehend. As we witness Jesus in his moment of agony wrestling with what his calling is leading him to I am reminded of the enormity of what his life and ministry have shown us. In the strange and   beautiful moment when He was born in Bethlehem something very beautiful was being stated as God came into our confusion and mess of being human and lived among us showing what God was like in tangible and human form. Now in then garden we see the human and divine struggle to follow this journey from Bethlehem to a piece of wood in the form of a cross as God declares in stark and real terms His never ending love for all humanity. We do find it difficult to put into words such a mystery but we can find encouragement and inspiration that as Jesus walks with us He does understand our struggles and uncertainty.As I reflect on my journey of faith it has led me to some strange and unexpected places but I am very grateful that Jesus has walked with me particularly when I have not been aware of His presence.I am also very grateful to family and friends who shown me the loveliness of Jesus when I have been in confusing and uncertain places. My prayer is that you will know Jesus walks with you and find the love and support of others as you journey. even with uncertainty.

RECTOR  God so loved the world by Bob Chilcott
The Lord be with you.And also with you.
Let us pray. 
Lord, have mercy.Christ, have mercy.Lord, have mercy.
Our Father, who art in heaven...
Show us your mercy, O Lord,And grant us your salvation.
O Lord, save the Queen.And grant her government wisdom.
Let your ministers be clothed with righteousnessAnd let your servants shout for joy.
O Lord, save your peopleAnd bless those whom you have chosen.
Give peace in our time, O Lord,And let your glory be over all the earth.
O God, make clean our hearts within usAnd renew us by your Holy Spirit.
Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross, we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN 
O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everliving God,We give you thanks for bringing us safely to this day;Keep us from falling into sin or running into danger,And in all things guide us to know and do you will;Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lord we pray for your church in a world that is often  confusing and unpredictable. May it always be true to the Gospel and consistently proclaim your constant love. Help it to be responsive to human needs, to be sensitive to the failures and doubts of many people and to be a source of refuge and calm to all people. Lord, in your mercyHear our prayerLord, we pray for your world and especially for those parts of it where millions of lives are marked y uncertainty and instability caused by violence and oppression, by poverty and hunger, by raging disease and political change. Bless your world, may its leaders be encouraged to take such steps as will create stability and peace.Lord, in your mercyHear our prayerLord, we pray for all people living with uncertainty- uncertainty about their health or that of someone they love, uncertainty about their work or their financial situation, uncertainty about their faith or their future, uncertainty that can cripple and damage their lives. May they know that you are journeying with them to uphold and support them Lord, in your mercyHear our prayer Arise within us, Holy mystery, Holy friendkeep danger near enough for the summoning of protection keep doubt strong enough for the deepening of trust keep despair near enough for the stirring of hope keep darkness strong enough for the glimmering of light keep hostility near enough for the sustaining of peace keep fear strong enough for the arousing of love keep greed near enough for the lavishing of generosity keep uncertainty strong enough for the bolstering of courage keep surprise near enough for the gifting of grace keep chaos strong enough for the flowering of creativity keep divinity near enough for the perfecting of humanityArise within us, Holy mystery, take us to hallowed ground.
We offer up these prayers to you, Heavenly Father, empowered by your Holy Spirit, and in the name of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
RECTOR   We've been made aware of those who support and help us when we are living with uncertainty- many of whom are now part of  that great cloud of witnesses. You may like to draw on the resources from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland for further inspiration. There's a link on the Sunday Worship web page. And we're aware too that on Thursday we will be celebrating the Feast of St Patrick, the Apostle of the Irish People. So we sing, How bright that glorious spirits shine.
CHOIR  How bright those glorious Spirits shine
BISHOP   Christ give you grace to grow in holiness, to deny yourselves and to take up your cross and follow him And the Blessing of God....AMEN

Radio 4 Closing Announcement Sunday Worship came from St Peter's Church in Belfast and was led by the rector, the Reverend Brian Lacey. The preacher was the Right Reverend Alan Abernethy, the Bishop of Connor  The Priory Singers were directed by Robert Thompson and the organist was Philip Elliott. The producer was Bert Tosh.
Next week Sunday Worship for Palm Sunday asks what the Next week Sunday Worship for Palm Sunday asks what the approaching passion of Christ reveals about human suffering, live fro  the Memorial Chapel of Glasgow University. A link to online resources from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is on the Sunday Worship web page.  

Lent Resources

Lent Resources
During Lent Radio 4’s Sunday Worship and Daily Service as well as Sunday Breakfast on BBC local radio are taking the idea of Pilgrimage as inspiration. A link to resources for individuals and groups from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland can be found below.


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