Conversion of Saint Paul – 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – 24th January 2021
ORDER OF SERVICE
You can click to expand or minimise the order of service below.
All are requested to join in wherever text is GREEN
HYMN: We sing the glorious conquest Before Damascus gate
We sing the glorious conquest
Before Damascus gate,
When Saul, the Church’s spoiler,
Came breathing threats and hate;
The ravening wolf rushed forward
Full early to his prey;
But lo! The Shepherd met him,
And bound him fast today!
O Glory most excelling
That smote across his path!
O Light that pierced and blinded
The zealot in his wrath!
O Voice that spake within him
The calm reproving word!
O Love that sought and held him
The bondman of his Lord!
Lord, teach thy Church the lesson,
Still in her darkest hour
Of weakness and of danger
To trust thy hidden power.
Thy grace by ways mysterious
The wrath of man can bind,
And in thy boldest foeman
Thy chosen saint can find!
BLESSED BE GOD: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever. Amen
From Easter to Pentecost:
Allelulia. Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia
In Lent and other penitential occasions:
Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins;
His mercy endures for ever.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, to whom all hearts be open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
This prayer is omitted during Lent and Advent:
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.
THE COLLECT OF THE DAY
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
THE FIRST READING
Paul said to King Agrippa, “Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
6 The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
7 May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.
THE SECOND READING
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God
All stand for the Acclamation and Gospel reading.
We have found the Messiah: Jesus Christ, who brings us truth and grace.
The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to:
Jesus said to the twelve, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
After the Gospel reading
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ
Paul, to my way of thinking, is quite possibly the most interesting and utterly fascinating character in the whole of the New Testament, save of course for Our Lord Himself!
Most of us, when challenged to name each of the 12 apostles, would in all probability include Paul without giving it a second thought as we grappled to conjure up the less familiar members of the apostolic band. This though would be quite wrong – Paul’s encounter with Jesus was on the road to Damascus, as we heard in our 1st reading, and this was, of course, some little while after the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord. Although Paul was actually only a few years younger than Jesus, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that the two of them ever met, or necessarily even set eyes on one another during Jesus’s earthly ministry. In order to understand though just what ’made him tick’, some biographical detail could be helpful, as might have been revealed in his obituary in the Jerusalem Chronicle of the time!
Paul, named Saul at his circumcision, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, was born at Tarsus, the capitol of Cilicia, a Roman province on what is now the southern, Mediterranean coast of Turkey, to the north-west of the island of Cyprus – hence the bible frequently refers to him as ‘Saul of Tarsus’. He was by birth therefore a Roman citizen, but nevertheless was brought up as a strict Jew, and later became a violent and fanatical persecutor of those first Christians. He not only had been present at, but actually took an active part in the stoning of Stephen, the 1st Christian martyr, whose feast is celebrated just the day following the Birth of Our Lord himself, in other words, on December 26th. While on his way to Damascus to make new arrests, he was suddenly totally blinded, and thereby converted by a miraculous apparition of Our Lord himself. Initially the Christians in Damascus were wary of him in the extreme, because he had been viewed rather as if he had been a member of the Gestapo, the KGB, or the Stazi. Nevertheless, from being the fierce, obsessive persecutor, Saul, he became Paul, the great Evangelist of the Gentiles. He made three extended missionary journeys, which brought him in turn to all the great centres of Asia Minor and southern Europe, and there is no doubt whatsoever that during the course of his travels he made a great many converts – like Our Lord himself, he was a man of great charisma! Fourteen of his Epistles to ‘the brothers and sisters’ in the various places he visited are to be found in the New Testament. He was beheaded in Rome around 66 A.D., and his relics are in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls near the Ostian Way.
Back now though to the events which preceded his conversion. Saul had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all that Jesus stood for, as he began increasingly to harass the Church, rather like the groups of secret police to which I have just alluded, “……entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” as we read in Chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles. Can’t you just visualise the same treatment being handed out to European Jews during the Second World War, and so comparisons therefore are neither invidious nor out of place!
Now though, it was he himself who was “entered”, possessed, all his energy now harnessed to the one goal – that of being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one, true and only Saviour!
I can’t call to mind any similar event in the whole of the gospels, where Our Lord quite deliberately and so unmistakably targeted someone in such dramatic and undeniable circumstances. One sentence, which Saul heard on the road to Damascus, determined his whole theology and made such an indelible impression on him: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”. Jesus was mysteriously identified with people – the loving group of people Saul had hitherto been hunting down like criminals. Jesus, he suddenly realised, was the mysterious fulfilment of all that he in his ignorance had been blindly pursuing!
From then on, Paul’s only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labour and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me”, as we hear in Colossians. “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction”, as he declaims in the 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians.
Paul’s life henceforth became a tireless proclamation and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday like Him to rise from the dead. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out his Spirit on them, making them completely and utterly new.
So Paul’s great message to the world was, quite simply: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything that you yourselves can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.
Paul’s entire life then can be explained in terms of that one, overriding and utterly overwhelming experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he realised that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being senselessly squandered, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly, but with all the powerful punches missing their mark. Perhaps more particularly, so did Our Lord, who knew that the whole success of the early Church would depend largely on the impact this man would make, and which in all probability was far greater than any of the apostles themselves – there is certainly more written about him than probably all of the others added together!
Paul is undoubtedly hard to understand on occasion. His language frequently reflects the distinctly rabbinical style of argument current at that time, and often his thought skips on mountaintops while we plod along in laboured steps in the valleys down below. But perhaps our problems are accentuated by the fact that so much of his beautiful phraseology has become part of the everyday coinage of our Christian language. Quite possibly then, in this, as in so many other respects, familiarity breeds contempt?
Now where does all this leave you and I? Paul, more than anyone else, used his divinely-inspired understanding of the Lord, whose physical presence he had never actually experienced, to define so much of the doctrine, teaching and practice of the early Church. For this he considered himself to be uniquely qualified, on account of all the suffering he had patiently endured for the love of his Lord and Saviour – shipwrecks, beatings and imprisonment to name but a few of the things which are all to be found documented in the Acts of the Apostles. Yes, he was proud to boast of these things as proof of his own faith and integrity. Let us both hope and pray now that we in our day may find in Paul our shining example, having the same vision and courage to proclaim the faith of Christ Crucified, Risen and Ascended to our own increasingly sceptical and hostile generation. He was more than ready and willing to lay down his life in the service of Our Lord – the uncomfortable question we must now ask ourselves is, quite simply, are we? Amen.
THE NICENE CREED
Please stand for the Nicene Creed.
Let us together affirm the faith of the Church.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Let us pray for the world and for the Church:
Prayers of intercession are now said and at the end of each prayer the priest says:
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Lord hear us,
Lord graciously hear us
At the conclusion of the prayers the priest says:
Almighty God, who has promised to hear our prayers.
Grant that what we have asked in faith we may by your grace receive, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus said: Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
God is steadfast in love and infinite in mercy, welcoming sinners and inviting them to the Lord’s table.
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith, confident in God’s forgiveness.
Merciful God, our maker and our judge, we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, and in what we have failed to do: we have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves; we repent and are sorry for all our sins, Father forgive us, strengthen us to love and obey you in newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Almighty God, who has promised forgiveness to all who turn to him in faith, pardon you and set you free from all your sins, strengthen you in all goodness and keep you in eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The congregation stands.
We are the Body of Christ.
His Spirit is with us.
The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.
Please greet each other with a sign of peace.
HYMN: A heavenly splendour from on high, A light too great for mortal eye,
A heavenly splendour from on high,
A light too great for mortal eye,
Deprives the hunter of his prey
And turns his threatening wrath away.
In darkened eyes, an inward light
Begins to shine upon his sight,
As in his heart he hears the call
To follow, and surrender all.
Blest Paul, the convert of the Lord,
May heaven’s light to us afford
A blindness to the lures of sin,
That we with thee a crown may win.
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
From saints on earth and saints in heaven,
Let everlasting praise be given. Amen.
Blessed are you, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have these gifts to share. Accept and use our offerings for your glory and the service of your kingdom.
Blessed be God forever.
Let us pray
We do not presume to come to your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table, but you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. Amen.
EUCHARISTIC PRAYER C
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The Lord be with you.
and also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give thanks and praise.
Father, we give you thanks and praise through your beloved Son Jesus Christ, your living Word, through whom you have created all things; who was sent by you in your great goodness to be our Saviour.
By the power of the Holy Spirit he took flesh; as your Son, born of the blessed Virgin, he lived on earth and went about among us; he opened wide his arms for us on the cross; he put an end to death by dying for us; and revealed the resurrection by rising to new life; so he fulfilled your will and won for you a holy people.
Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Lord, you are holy indeed, the source of all holiness; grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit, and according to your holy will, these gifts of bread and wine may be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread and gave you thanks; he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way, after supper he took the cup and gave you thanks; he gave it to them, saying: Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of me.
Great is the mystery of faith:
Christ has died:
Christ is risen:
Christ will come again.
And so, Father, calling to mind his death on the cross, his perfect sacrifice, made once for the sins of the whole world; rejoicing in his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, and looking for his coming in glory, we celebrate this memorial of our redemption.
As we offer you this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, we bring before you this bread and this cup and we thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you. Send the Holy Spirit on your people and gather into one in your kingdom all who share this one bread and one cup, so that we, in the company of [N and] all the saints, may praise and glorify you for ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory be yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.
Let us pray with confidence to the Father, 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.
O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.
Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.
This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world;
Happy are those who are called to his supper.
Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
After Communion the celebrant and the congregation say
Let us pray.
Father of all we give you thanks and praise that when we were still far off you met us in your Son and brought us home. Dying and living, he declared your love, gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory. May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us in this hope that we have grasped; so we and all your children shall be free, and the whole earth live to praise your name.
Father, we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Lord. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be amongst you and remain with you always.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord:
In the name of Christ. Amen.
HYMN: Hail, thou source of every blessing, Sovereign Father of mankind! Gentiles now, thy grace possessing, In thy courts admission find.
Hail, thou source of every blessing,
Sovereign Father of mankind!
Gentiles now, thy grace possessing,
In thy courts admission find.
Once far off, but now invited,
We approach thy sacred throne;
In thy covenant united,
Reconciled, redeemed, made one.
Hail, thou universal Saviour!
Gentiles now their offerings bring,
In thy temple seek thy favour,
Jesus Christ, our Lord and King.