[Keep a moment of silence, calling to mind that, though we are not able to gather together with those in Church, we share fellowship as we offer this act of worship in our own homes]
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord is my shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing. [Psalm 23]
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Gospel Reading: Mark 6.30-34
A reading from the Gospel St Mark
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
St Mark is the fastest paced of the four Gospels. He uses the words ‘and’ and ‘immediately’ frequently as he moves quickly through Jesus’ ministry towards the events of Holy Week and Easter. If, as we think, he wrote his Gospel to record the testimony of St Peter, following his martyrdom in Rome, it’s understandable that he was in a hurry to pass on the ‘Good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ [Mark 1.1]
So, in the most frenetic of the four Gospels we would do well to take note of Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to ‘Come away to a quiet place and rest a while.’ It’s as if he is saying to us today, ‘Come with me to a place where there is no phone signal, internet access, televisions or computers.’ He invites us to take a break from the busyness and distractions of modern life. For it is when we take our rest that we are able to reflect on what is important in our lives, our relationships with family and friends, and with God.
The invitation to ‘rest a while’ followed the return of the twelve from their first venture into the mission field. Days earlier Jesus had sent them out in pairs and ordered them to take no provisions, change of clothes or spare cash. They went out in faith, just as they were, to proclaim the kingdom.
When they returned they were overjoyed by the experience and to know that the Spirit of God had worked through them as they proclaimed the good news and healed the sick.
As they related their experiences Jesus saw that they were tired, so they went onboard their fishing boat to sail to a quieter place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where they could have a well earned break. For by now Jesus and his group of followers were constantly being swamped by huge numbers of people, so much so, that they barely had time to eat, let alone relax. But the problem for our Lord was that as their boat travelled across the sea the multitude followed along the shore. On this occasion the winds must have been very light and the sail boat must have moved very slowly, because when they reached the more secluded spot the crowds were there waiting.
Most of us would have resented their presence but Mark tells us that our Lord had compassion for them. A more accurate translation of what he actually wrote is, ‘he was moved to the depths of his being,’ for our Lord’s love for us is deep and profound, it is ‘love so amazing, so divine!’ Then he looked at the crowds and likened them to ‘sheep without a shepherd’.
This was a strange thing for Jesus to say, because if the Jewish people claimed anything it was that the Lord was their Shepherd. What moved Jesus so deeply was to see how the crowds were wandering aimlessly and not really knowing what they were searching for, exactly like a flock left to fend for itself! So Jesus began to teach them about the kingdom. There was to be no rest for him or his disciples that day!
There are a number of things we can reflect on in this short passage.
First, there is a deep seated desire within each of us to know the truth; who we are; why we are here; or if there is anything beyond this life. It’s what has prompted physicists to look for the so called ‘God particle.’ When people turn away from religion, or the Church fails to live and communicate the Gospel to those it is called to serve, then something has to fill the ‘spiritual vacuum that is left. It’s why one of the great teachers of the Church, Saint Augustine, famously wrote, ‘Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ Until we find Jesus the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life,’ then we wander aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd.
Second, today’s Gospel reminds us that being followers of Jesus is not just about ‘busyness,’ being ‘active in his service.’ There are times when we need to be still, to rest a while in the presence of God. For it is then that we will hear his ‘still small voice of calm.’
Third, most of us have experienced enforced periods of seclusion and separation during the last sixteen months of pandemic. But instead of being a time of rest it has been one of anxiety and restlessness. As our Lord looks on at the world today he continues to be moved to the depths of his being at those who are like sheep without a shepherd.
Today’s Gospel challenges us to turn to him; to listen to his teaching; to help that shape our lives; and lead us through this time of lockdown and restriction to what the ‘new normal’ way of life will be. It is only in him that we find our rest.
Lord, strengthen your Church to be the witness of your saving and reconciling love for the world. Bless all who minister in your name, especially here, in the Mumbles Ministry Area and in our link parishes of St John the Evangelist, Havre de Grace, and St Thomas, Swansea. Bless all who work for the spread of the Gospel, in word, sacrament or in social outreach, and grant them rest and refreshment when they are weary.
Lord, hear us....
Lord, save with your healing power the nations of the world, especially at this time of pandemic. May we promote peace rather than war, justice rather than oppression. Grant that people shall not live in suspicion as strangers, but in harmony as your children. Bless the family of nations within the United Kingdom as we emerge from restriction and lockdown.
Lord, hear us...
Lord, we pray for the community of Mumbles and for those who will visit this place during this holiday period for rest and recreation. Bless our local Lifeboat and its crew, coastguards and lifeguards and all who work in our local tourism industry. May this place be welcoming to visitors and to those in need.
Lord, hear us...
Lord, bless with your healing love and presence all who are experiencing illness at this time, whether in mind, body or spirit. Give new hope to those whose suffing has been long and chronic and give skill and compassion to all who care for them. In our prayers we remember especially
Lord, hear us.
Lord, we give thanks for those who trusted you in this life and now behold you in the fullness of joy in your everlasting kingdom. In our prayers remember all our departed loved ones and friends.
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.
Prayer for those who are unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits you have given me, for all the pains and insults you have borne for me. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.
[Prayer of St Richard of Chichester - adapted]
[Keep a moment of silence for spiritual communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters]
Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
John Greenleaf Whittier [1807-1892]
May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us. May the Lord look lovingly upon us and grant us his peace. Amen.
Bible Readings: New Revised Standard Version  - Word of the Lord: Church in Wales - Prayers – Leading Intercessions [adapted] - CCL Parish Copyright Licence: 753662