Welcome to our online service at Cruden Parish Church. You are invited to join in the responses printed in bold and italic.
Call to Worship
At times like this it can be difficult to look forward in hope, to face the future, to trust that God is working for us. But in this space, God is with us. Offering us a glimpse of heaven, a teaser of what is to come. So, however difficult, however challenging, however uncomfortable, put your trust in God and worship him
This is the day that the Lord has made.
This is the day when he can be found.
God of all, breath of life,
Living water, Saviour, friend.
Come as the hungry, feed on his Word
Come as the thirsty, drink of his Love
Come as the faithful, worship the Lord.
Lighting of Candle & Prayer of Solidarity
As Scotland locked down in March, so our usual way of life came shuddering to a halt. Travel was restricted to an extent not experienced in any living lifetime. Our way of life changed too. Some faced traumatic, heart-rending personal situations, from illness to hospitalisation, anxiousness for and separation from loved ones. Others experienced new risk through their roles, including those serving in hospitals and care homes, and key workers in other sectors that are vital for life. Yet others faced difficult personal situations: hunger, tension in relationships and worse, and overnight, everyone had to find a new way of living life. Across the country people have answered the call to pray at the same time each week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rt Rev Colin Sinclair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: "When so much is not normal how lovely it can be to come together at 7pm each Sunday and have a few moments in which we can pray together. Let me encourage you to keep hope alive and join with us in prayer."
Today, in these times, we pray that we may sense Christ’s guiding presence:
Come, Jesus Christ, come my way;
showing me your way, through these disorientating days,
and opening my eyes to your accompanying presence.
Come, Jesus Christ, come my way;
teaching me your truth, through these confounding days
and opening my mind to your living Word.
Come Jesus Christ, come my way;
revealing to me your life, through these bewildering days,
and opening my heart to the fullness of your being.
What is the strangest or weirdest thing you have ever seen or heard? (Not confidential please!)
Bible Reading (Rev Fred Coutts)
Revelation 21: 1-7
Then saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
‘John of Leiden, Bishop Clemens August & Winston Churchill’
John of Leiden (1509 – 1536)
One of my favourite subjects at university was church history. It was fascinating learning about all the great saints and theologians - their thoughts and ideas, their struggles and difficulties. I especially enjoyed learning about their historic context. But alongside the great saints and theologians there are a varied assortment of eccentrics and heretics. These are people who possess charismatic personalities coupled with some rather curious ideas. And there have been lots of them. Every age has its share of religious odd-bods. I think the best example of our present age would be some of the American televangelists, who by the use of white suits and apparent earnest and sincere communication promise blessing and wealth and prosperity, all in exchange of course for financial support. But in the history of the Christian Church, perhaps the strangest odd-bod of them all is a man called John of Leiden. John of Leiden lived during the early 16th Century. Those of you who know your history will know that the 16th Century was a time of incredible change. The old medieval world was giving way to the modern era. There was great upheaval. The very fabric of society was in a time of flux. And so everything was changing. For the Christian Church it was also a time of reform. Through the influence of people like Martin Luther and John Calvin the Protestants broke away from the Church of Rome. In effect the church was ripped in two. There was a collision between different theological ideas and opinions about the nature of the church and the authority of the Pope. In Scotland the reformation was relatively peaceful. There was still a wrenching of the fabric of society. People did die. Both Catholics and Protestants died for the faith. But compared with what happened on the continent it was relatively peaceful. This brings me to John of Leiden.
John of Leiden was associated with the radical fringe of the reformation. He belonged to a group called the Anabaptists. Although this group were fairly radical for the day, to say John of Leiden was extreme is a bit of an understatement. Under his leadership in 1535, a group of Anabaptists seized control of the German town of Munster and in the process drove out the Bishop. What followed is probably the most bizarre episode in the history of the church.
Having been driven out, the Bishop supported by troops lay siege to the town. Inside the town, the equivalent of the town council was taken over by religious fanatics. This is where John of Leiden comes in. He seized power. To legitimise his rule, he claimed that he had received direct revelations from God and proclaimed that the town of Munster was the New Jerusalem and the start of the thousand-year reign of Christ. He also claimed to be successor of the King David and took to himself all the honours and prestige that go with royalty and he ruled absolute power. This in turn led to the passing of some rather unusual laws.
Amongst the many law passed by John of Leiden was that everyone must be re-baptised by total immersion under pain of death. This led to the rather curious scene in which on the outside the Bishop and his Army was preparing siege works, whilst inside the town John of Leiden and his followers were hastily going around baptising people! Worse was to follow. John of Leiden also declared that there was no such thing as private property and everything must be shared and held in common. And again, like being re-baptised, if you did not relinquish your personal possessions and property you would be beheaded in the market place. He also decided to reintroduce the OT practice of polygamy, where a man can have more than one wife. There were also no weddings. A man simply had to say to a woman that she was now his wife and she would have to obey and move into his house. As it turned out John of Leiden took sixteen wives, one of whom he beheaded himself in the market place. The madness lasted about 18 months, when the town was recaptured and Jan of Leiden and his conspirators were tortured and executed and their remains displayed in three metal cages hung from the cathedral. And these cages can be seen to this very day.
I share this with you, not because I want to introduced polygamy to Cruden Bay, or try and build the New Jerusalem in Hatton, but because there is an important lesson here. It is a lesson about how not to use the Book of Revelation. According to one historian I was reading, John of Leiden was heavily influenced by reading the Book of Revelation. In particular, it was the image of the heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven that fired his imagination. And so he tried to make it happen. He tried to take what was highly symbolic and turn it into an actual reality. In a time of massive social change and religious fervour, he tried to inaugurate the thousand-year reign of Christ. And as we heard a few moments ago, the results being one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the Christian Church.
There are a few things I want to say here. The book of Revelation was most likely written towards the end of the first century. It was written by the apostle John, the same author of the Gospel and the letters that bear his name. John is the last of the Apostles. He is the last of the 12. John is now a very old man and has been banished to the prison island of Patmos by the Roman Emperor Domitian. And it was a time of great tribulation. The Christian Church was going through an extended period of ruthless persecution. The apostle Paul was imprisoned and martyred in Rome some 30-40 years earlier. And the process continued. Christians were suffering for their faith and many died as martyrs. I’ll go into the reasons for the persecution next week, but what I want to draw out here is that the Book of Revelation was written in a time of fear and uncertainty. It was written in a time of crisis, when it felt like the full weight of the Roman Empire was bearing down and seeking to crush the fragile fellowships of believers. So what we have here is a time of crisis. And John the last of the apostles is in exile on Patmos. During his exile John is given a vision. In the vision, he is led by an angel through a door that takes him into heaven. And in the vision he is given a glimpse of what is to take place.
In my view this is the key to reading and understanding this unique and remarkable part of the Bible. It is not a book that was written for religious eccentrics, fringe groups or for idle speculation about the end of the world. It is a book written in imaginative and symbolic language for people in a time of crisis. It is a book written not to inform the mind, but to stir the heart. It is a book that is not intended to entertain us, but to make us tremble. It is a book that resonates with the power and sovereign majesty of God.
Bishop (later Cardinal) Clemens August Graf von Galen
This brings me back to the Town of Munster in Germany. Not to the year 1535 and the bizarre character Jan of Leiden. But instead to 20th July 1941 and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Munster. A man called Clemens August. (1878 to 1946) On his ordination as Bishop he took to himself a motto ‘Unconcerned about praise, unaffected by fear.’ For some years been a fierce critique of the Hitler and the Nazi party. Through his sermons and pastoral letters, he exposed their evil ideology. On the 20th July 1941 in a sermon he fired a broadside against the evil and injustice of the Nazi party and exhorted Christians to resist the tide of evil. “Become hard! He told them, Remain firm!” Then on the 3rd August 1941 came his most famous sermon. Bishop Clemens August accused the Nazi regime of murdering mentally handicapped persons. He revealed to the startled congregation how German people who were handicapped or mentally ill were murdered by the state. His sermon caused a storm of protest. Copies were printed and distributed all over Germany and beyond. There were street demonstrations. After having preached these sermons the Bishop was prepared to be arrested by the Gestapo. The Bishop was deeply dejected when in his place 24 priests and 13 other members of the clergy were deported into concentration camps, of whom 10 lost their lives. After the war, on 18th February 1946, Bishop Clemens August was presented to the Pope and appointed to the College of Cardinals, a honourable distinction for his fearless resistance against National Socialism. He later became known as the “Lion of Munster"
This then is what the Book of Revelation is all about. It was written not for odd-bods like John of Leiden, but for people like Clemens August the Bishop of Munster. It was written not to provide endless theories about the end of the world, but to galvanise Christians to stand firm in the face of difficulty and adversity. This is such a time. We might not be facing persecution like the first generation of Christians, but this time – our time – is also a time of difficulty and adversity.
We are each facing our personal battles with Covid19. We are separated from the people we love. There is fear and anxiety. And who knows what the long term economic consequences will be? How many businesses will go under? How many people will lose their jobs? What about the church? What will be the long term effects on God’s people not being able to worship together? Like many other charities there is already there is evidence of a dramatic fall in income.
Perhaps we need to be remind afresh of these words from the Book of Revelation – words not written for the mind, but words written for the heart. It might strange and almost bizarre. But it was written to remind Christians of who God is. That God is in change and they must stand firm and never give up.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Perhaps the best illustrations of this I can think of are the wartime speeches of Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill had that rare gift of being able to say the right words at the right time to the right people. And it was more than rhetoric or eloquence. They were inspirational. They galvanised people. His speeches exemplified a determination to stand firm, to resist, to carry on the struggle against Nazism.
In June l955, Churchill, was asked to give a speech at a University. He was old and frail and he had to be helped up onto the stage. When the time for the speech came, he got up and for what seemed an interminable amount of time; he stood there gripping the lectern with his head bowed down. But then he finally raised his head, he gave his final public speech. He spoke only nine words. This is what he said: "Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." With that, Churchill turned and went back to his seat. For a moment there was silence, and then, as if one person, the whole audience rose to applaud him, because he was a man whose life and words were together. This is what the Book of Revelation with its strange and bizarre images is all about. It is written for Christians who are struggling, who are facing persecution, who are living in a time of tribulation and crisis. And its message is like that of Winston Churchill. That message is to stand firm, not to give in, not to lose hope. The Roman Empire, like Nazi Germany, might be big and powerful, but God is sovereign. It is God who will have the final word.
Prayers of God’s people (Led by Katherine Hyman)
And in the quietness of this evening hours, we pause to remember…
Pause to remember people who have lost their jobs and homes and shell-shocked by this new and unwanted experience bought about by Covid 19. May they find the help they need.
Pause to remember people all serve at personal risk – retail staff, delivery drives, carers, medical staff, emergency services and members of the armed forces.
Pause to remember all who guide our common life – Elizabeth our Queen, Prime Minister and First Minister, knowing the heavy burden of responsibility they bear and the hard choices and difficult decisions they need to make. – pray from God’s grace and guidance, deep wisdom and great courage.
Pause to remember those who have lost their lives to Covid19 because of their service to others – pray their families may receive God’s deepest comfort and peace.
Father, we lift up to you now…
For the health workers tending the seriously ill
for the scientists working on a vaccination
for the researchers analysing data and identifying trends
for the media outlets working to communicate reality
for the supermarket workers, hygiene and sanitation providers
for the good news stories of recoveries and effective planning
for the singing from balconies by locked-down communities
for the recognition that isolation doesn’t need to mean loneliness
for the notes through letterboxes offering help and support
for the internet and telephones and technology that connects
for the awakened appreciation of what is truly important
God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer
For those who are unwell and concerned for loved ones
for those who were already very anxious
for those immune suppressed or compromised
for those vulnerable because of underlying conditions
for those in the ‘most at risk to coronavirus’ categories
for those watching their entire income stream dry up
for those who have no choice but to go out to work
for those who are afraid to be at home
for those who are more lonely than they've ever been
for those who are bereaved and grieving.
God be their healer, comfort and protection,
be their strength, shield and provision
be their security, safety and close companion
God, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer
# And renew and revive and raise up your Church
to be your well-washed hands and faithful feet
to be present to the pain
to respond with love in action
if even from a safe distance.
God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
You will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,
now and forever.
Prayer of Dismissal
For your goodness and generosity in giving us all we need,
this week help us to praise you, O God.
In every circumstance of life, in good times and bad,
this week help us to trust you, O God.
In love and faithfulness, with all that we have and all that we are,
this week help us to serve you, O God.
As we speak or write or listen to those nearby or far away,
this week help us to share your love, O God.
In all our plans and work for ourselves and for others,
this week help us to glorify you, O God.
In every thought and word and deed, by the power of your Holy Spirit,
this week may we live for you, O God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through the dark hours of this night
protect and surround us,
Father, Son and Spirit, Three.
Forgive the ill that we have done.
Forgive the pride that we have shown.
Forgive the words that have caused harm
that we might sleep peaceably,
and rise refreshed to do your will.
Through the dark hours of this night
protect and surround us,
Father, Son and Spirit, Three