Live morning prayer from St Aloysius' RC Church, Glasgow, with a reflection on The Acts of the Apostles led by Fr Dermot Preston SJ with Schola Cantorum of St Aloysius' College.
Live Morning Prayer from St Aloysius' RC Church, Glasgow, with a reflection on The Acts of the Apostles:
St Luke's narrative of the early disciples as they begin to take over the roles of Jesus, and Paul's vision of
the Church as the Body of Christ.
The service is led by Fr Dermot Preston SJ and the choir is the Schola Cantorum of St Aloysius' College.
Music includes hymns, For All the Saints, We Cannot Measure How you Heal and Hail Redeemer, King Divine,
with the Missa de Angelis, Gloria by Keith Roberts, and Vaughan Williams' 'O taste and see'.
Director of Music: Ann Archibald; Organist: Hugh Reid
Producer: Mo McCullough.
MUSIC: HYMN – HAIL REDEEMER, KING DIVINE! (Tune: King Divine)
Good morning and welcome to the west of Scotland. I am delighted that you are with us in worship and prayer at this Jesuit parish here in the heart of Glasgow, where the congregation is joined by the Schola Cantorum of St Aloysius’ College.
In this morning’s service, as part of the Easter season, we are taking a step into the world of the early Church, to see the Holy Spirit engaging with the early followers of Christ, to meditate on how that Spirit recreates Jesus in those disciples, and how that might be significant for us now.
MUSIC: HYMN – HAIL REDEEMER, KING DIVINE!
We are fortunate that there is one book in the New Testament which is devoted to the period of time after Christ died and rose again; it is known as The Acts of the Apostles. Although it is not formally signed, in its style, content and interests, it is clear that it is the work of Saint Luke, who composed one of the four Gospels about Jesus.
Luke begins Acts by picking up where he left off at the end of his Gospel, retelling the story of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven; but then, the gear changes. In chapter two, Pentecost Sunday explodes off the page as he graphically describes how the disciples were infiltrated by the power of the Holy Spirit.
For Christians 'the Holy Spirit' is living presence of God in creation and in every human heart - the very word 'in-spire' indicates the root of this intimate relationship. Thus Pentecost is the seminal event in Acts, and if Volume I of Luke’s narrative is 'The Good News of Jesus Christ', then the Acts of the Apostles, Volume II, can rightly be called 'The Good News of the Holy Spirit'.
In Acts, chapter 3, we encounter Peter and John who were two of Jesus’ first 12 disciples. Let us allow Luke to take up the narrative…
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When the man saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ 7 And Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately the man’s feet and ankles were made strong. 8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
This is a remarkable turn of events. Just two months before, Peter and John had been cowering in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday as Jesus was arrested; Peter compounded his cowardice later that night by denying any knowledge of Jesus when suddenly cornered in the forecourt of the High Priest's house during Jesus’ trial.
But now here we have Peter and John confident, fearless and articulate in broad daylight, despite the dangers from those opposed to their message.
As Luke hints, they have become Jesus the Galilean – healing the sick and preaching the Good News to those who are lost.
READER: PRAYER RYAN
Lord Jesus, in the challenges of our life, give us a confidence in your mission that we may have a share of the Spirit that ignited the hearts of Peter and John. We pray for those who heal the sick and those who bring peace & joy into our troubled and broken world.
ALL: Lord, graciously hear us.
MUSIC: AGNUS DEI FROM MISSA DE ANGELIS
The ministry of the Apostles stirred up the Jerusalem authorities, and a spate of arrests and interrogations followed. Despite this, the embryonic Christian community began exploring radical new ways of living together – sharing goods and crossing cultural and racial barriers. A new group of Apostles was emerging in Jerusalem and foremost among these was a man called Stephen:
Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some people to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.’ 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Then the high priest asked him, ‘Are these things so?’ 2 And Stephen replied:
‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me…
And at this point Luke inserts the longest speech in the
whole of the New Testament. Stephen emphatically sketches out how, through all
its prophets and priests, the Old Testament points to the person of Jesus as
the fulfilment of the word of God. Stephen, uncowed by the growing tension in
the Council chamber, then turns on the leaders themselves, provoking an
opposition which eventually tips over into violence…
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.
MUSIC: ANTHEM – O TASTE AND SEE (R Vaughan Williams)
If Peter in the Temple resembles Jesus as he healed and preached in Galilee, so Luke highlights how Stephen, inspired by God’s Spirit, mirrors Jesus in his passion and death. Like Jesus at his trial, Stephen is accused by false witnesses, he is questioned directly by the High Priest and he sees a vision of the Son of Man; in his execution, Stephen prays for those who kill him and asks the Lord to receive his spirit. Luke is placing before the early Church the fact that as Christians, although they might have to live their lives like Christ, they might also have to die like Christ.
Lord Jesus, we ask you to protect
those persecuted because of their faith & identity. We pray
for all who live in fear, especially for those who find themselves isolated or
defenceless -the child who is hungry, the refugee without a voice; the woman
who has been violated. When we encounter abuse of power, let your Spirit burn
within us: help us speak your truth and act with courage, imagination and
Lord hear us.
ALL: Lord, graciously hear us.
MUSIC: HYMN – WE CANNOT MEASURE HOW YOU HEAL
(Tune: Ye Banks and Braes)
The death of Stephen inflamed a persecution of Jerusalem Christians which until that point was mainly simmering. The core disciples remained in the city, but many others now scattered away, using the opportunity to move to other parts of Palestine preaching the Good News. One such pilgrim was Philip, a native of Caesarea Maritima on the Palestinian coast. He began a key ministry in Samaria, the area between Judea & Jerusalem in the south and Galilee in the north. By all accounts the Samaritans were very receptive to the Good News that was preached to them. Luke takes up the story…
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the queen of the Ethiopians. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31 He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40
Does this story seem strangely resonant to an episode in Jesus’ life? It might not be obvious, but this is a re-telling of the story where Luke relates at the end of his Gospel the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus, You may know the narrative: when on Easter Sunday afternoon, two of the disciples were walking to a village called Emmaus and Jesus, unrecognised, joins them and enters their discussion and teaches them about the meaning of scripture. When they reach the village, Jesus breaks bread, they recognise him, but he vanishes.
In the passage with Philip and the Ethiopian, Philip is in the role of Jesus and we see now the incident through his eyes. You get the impression that the Spirit is driving Philip, pushing him so much so that it causes him to run.
In the chariot the Ethiopian is reading the Jewish scriptures and, like the disciples heading to Emmaus, he is somewhat baffled; it is now Philip who explains the scriptures to the Ethiopian on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Where on the road to Emmaus, the disciples invite Jesus to stay with them, so at the invitation of the Ethiopian, Philip is invited to stop at the water. Jesus breaks the bread and disappears; Philip baptises and then disappears. The disciples hurry back to Jerusalem with their hearts on fire; the Ethiopian, goes on his way rejoicing.
Luke has crafted yet another portrait of discipleship in Jesus – thus the vocation of the inspired Christian might be found in being Jesus the Galilean, like Peter and John healing the man lame from birth; it might be in taking on the mantle of Jesus the Crucified One, like Stephen who was killed; now, with Philip, Luke indicates that others might need to be the Risen Christ in our world, explaining the Gospel to anyone open to hear.
Lord Jesus, like Philip we are sometimes hesitant at the
promptings of the Spirit. Push us when we are over-cautious; challenge us when
we need to leap; allow your angel to take us by the hand and lead us beyond the
frontiers of our comfort. In this Year of Young People, we pray especially
for our youth who are facing uncertainty, discouragement and anxiety about the
Lord hear us.
ALL: Lord, graciously hear us.
MUSIC: GLORIA (Keith Roberts)
Luke is a wonderful dramatist and in both the Gospel and Acts he weaves threads of the story together, introducing and withdrawing characters to highlight links and veiled dimensions of the tale. Thus in the passage of the martyrdom of Stephen he momentarily throws the spotlight on Saul of Tarsus, who is happily guarding the cloaks of the men who are strenuously stoning Stephen. Saul is an up-&-coming Pharisee, trained by Gamaliel, and has been honed as a tool for the rooting out of Christians across the Middle East. Luke, in Acts Chapter 9, now draws Saul centre-stage…
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5 He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.
Saul got up from the ground, and
though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand
and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he
was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Luke now informs us that in Damascus there was a Christian called Ananias, and God spoke to him and told him to go and intercept Saul; but Ananias knew of Saul's violent reputation and was reluctant – but God was insistent.
So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Sauland said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Thus begins the ministry of the greatest apostle of the Early Church. To Hebrew speakers he would be called Saul, but to people who spoke Greek or Latin, ‘Paul’ is easiest on the tongue.
There are many things that can be said about the man who now dominates the rest of the Acts of the Apostles, but there is just one thing today that I want to point out. It focuses on the words that Jesus spoke to Saul as he lay on the road to Damascus.
“Saul, Saul… why do you persecute me?”
Notice not, ‘why do you persecute my Church?’ or ‘Why do you persecute my followers?’ It is “Saul… why do you persecute ME?”
Whenever Paul retells the story of his conversion, the words of Jesus never vary and you can see that this revelation is at the heart of Christianity. In the growing radical understanding of Paul, the disciples of Jesus are not just apostles of Jesus, they ARE Jesus. Jesus is incarnate in his disciples. It is thus that Paul in his letters articulates a vision of the Church as the Body of Christ – some the eyes, some the head and so on… - and it is this insight that Luke has been sketching-out in the first part of Acts. Peter, John, Stephen and Philip are not just followers of Christ – by their actions and their openness to the Holy Spirit they ARE Christ.
In a world where we are encouraged to live by proxy through the experience of others, to engage with the world from an armchair via a computer or a mobile phone, Luke challenges us. To follow Christ is not akin to following someone on social media; in the words of Billy Graham – Christianity is not a spectator sport. It is not sufficient to observe and click 'like' or 'dislike', or to monitor life from the grandstand as it jogs past us; the only life for a Christian is on the track, and running - like Philip, chased by the Spirit, sprinting to a destiny he can only glimpse.
MUSIC: ANTHEM – THOU KNOWEST, LORD, THE SECRETS OF OUR HEARTS (Purcell)
Let us pray in the words that Jesus gave to his own disciples...
ALL: LORD’S PRAYER
MUSIC: HYMN – FOR ALL THE SAINTS WHO FROM THEIR LABOURS REST
(Tune: Sine Nomine)
Fr Dermot: The Lord be with you
All: And with your Spirit
Fr Dermot: May Almighty God bless us: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Fr Dermot: Our Service is ended – Let us go in the Peace of Christ
All: Thanks be to God.
MUSIC: ORGAN VOLUNTARY – LANQUETUIT TOCCATA IN D