Sunday, March 29, 2020
Fifth Sunday in Lent
In today’s gospel Jesus reveals his power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead. As we live in the shadow of Covid-19, economic distress, and global dynamics, today’s readings proclaim God’s promise of resurrection.
Welcome to virtual worship during this time. The Lord be with you.
Confession and Forgiveness
Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God, who is present, who gives life, who calls into existence the things that do not exist. Amen.
If you were to keep watch over sins, O Lord, who could stand? Yet with you is forgiveness, and so we confess. (I invite you to reflect in a time of confession as we start this virtual worship.) Amen.
Confession: Gracious God, have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned away from you, knowingly and unknowingly. We have wandered from your resurrection life. We have strayed from your love for all people. Turn us back to you, O God. Give us new hearts and right spirits, that we may find what is pleasing to you and dwell in your house forever. Amen.
Forgiveness: Receive good news: God turns to you in love. “I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live,” says our God. All your sin is forgiven in the name of ☩ Jesus Christ, who is the free and abounding gift of God’s grace for you. Amen.
Hymn: You might sing a gathering song here that draws your heart and mind to focus on God. I love: Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land, LBW 333 or In the Cross of Christ I Glory, LBW 324.
Greeting: The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
HEARING GOD’S WORD
Readings and Psalm
Ezekiel 37:1-14 God brings Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones and calls forth new life.
Psalm 130 I wait for you, O Lord; in your word is my hope. (Ps. 130:5)
Romans 8:6-11 Life in the Spirit
The Gospel reading for today is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses 1 to 45. Jesus who is in northern Israel as the religious authorities are seeking his life, hears that his friend Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, is sick. (no email or phones in those days.) Two days later he journeys to Bethany, outside Jerusalem, meets the grieving sisters and friends. Lazarus has died. He assures them he is the resurrection, weeps with them, and calls Lazarus from the grave. Come forth. Unbind him!
Glory to you, O Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
SERMON John 11: 1-45 The Death of Lazarus
Lent 5, the time of journey to the cross in the Gospel of John, now brings us back to Jerusalem with the account of the raising of Lazarus. Last week, Jesus traveled north, to Galilee as the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem was plotting against him. He passed through Samaria and encountered the woman at the well. Once north, he received news that his good friend, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, is sick back in Bethany, near Jerusalem. Perhaps this is not unlike today as we listen for news about the health of our friends we are socially distancing from. At face value the news is serious. Someone has traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee to bring the news, Jesus is involved in ministry with his disciples, and then he must travel to go to Lazarus, Mary and Martha. I doubt Jesus was afraid of “the virus,” the authorities, or the hardship of the journey. As Covid-19 begins to take on faces and known people report they are “positive,” our anxiety grows and I’m sure we can identify with the disciples. Social distance does not stop worry.
Jesus arrives in Bethany and goes to the sisters. We can join with Martha who lamented, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We know God could do a miracle for the sick, if…. Meanwhile the disciples have misunderstood the severity of Lazarus’ illness. They think he is asleep, and are told Lazarus is dead. They don’t seem to doubt the truth of the statement nor the science of it but instead decide to go with Jesus, realizing they may well die too. Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus shares, “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Again, the disciples, Mary and Martha are focused on the physical reality, sickness, possible healing, danger of the context and again, Jesus pulls us to a bigger picture. Perhaps the situations we face are not about us!!! Not all of life revolves around me, as important as I am to me. It is my body that is sick. It is my life that is at risk. It is my family and friends that are impacted. Is it possible God is not so much worried about my physical comfort as he is about our faith and eternal life?
Next, we arrive at the grave. Funerals are a confusion of emotions. Many are openly grieving and weeping. Others are trying to focus on faith and perhaps relief that the person is no longer suffering. It is so today. Honoring the life of the deceased, trying to forget or bury that which is best left in the past, caring for all the well wishers that come in support. So many memories and feelings! Jesus comes to the scene and speaks with Mary and Martha.
First he comforts them with fact, “Your brother will rise again.” Like Mary and Martha, intellectual truth often is not very comforting. It may be true but still there is the pain of separation. Jesus expands his explanation. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She (Martha) said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Jesus goes beyond intellectual truth to emotional truth. Does our intellectual knowledge result in trust?
I think of the many ways that intellectual knowledge results in acts of trust and faith daily. That which is unseen impacts the reality of how I live my life. I know a chair is built to hold me but it is when I sit down that I experience its support. I know Uber is there to carry me but it is when I get in the car that I begin to travel. I know that Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the resurrection, the light of the world but it is only when this becomes active faith and trust, the line between life and death, between the seen and the unseen becomes blurred. We do die, or at least our bodies, physically are exchanged for eternal ones.
Jesus goes beyond the intellectual truth and the call to emotional trust. He walks up to the grave and weeps. “Jesus wept.” We can only imagine what that is about. Is he overwhelmed with the sadness that human actions resulted in death consequencew in the Garden of Eden? Is he overwhelmed with the sadness of the death he is going to pass through? Is he just journeying with Mary and Martha? At least, his inside feelings have become congruent with his external expressions, showing his oneness with Mary and Martha and with us as we travel with disease, political upheaval, unemployment and all the other complications of our world today. God grieves as we grieve.
Jesus calls Lazarus forth. How does a man bound hand and foot move forward? I don’t know, but Lazarus comes from the grave. Jesus has power over life and death. Jesus cares. What binds you today, intellectually, emotionally or physically? Jesus walks with us and some day we will hear his voice calling us forth.
“Unbind him, and let him go,” orders Jesus. Next week is Palm Sunday and we enter Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, Jesus initiates the ritual of communion to remind us that he is with us. He gives a new command, love one another – even our enemies. Good Friday we journey to the cross. Our Lenten journey is coming to an end, bringing us back to John’s thesis: Jesus, the creator, the Word, the Light of the World, the Lamb of God, comes so that all who receive him might become children of God, unbound and free. Free to live guided by the Holy Spirit, live in a community of love and support, live as God’s beloved in eternity. Alive and unbound.
Thank you LORD.
(Spend some moments reflecting and praying and perhaps singing a song that reminds you of God’s love. The Old Rugged Cross is one of my favorites. Copy and paste this link into your address bar and skip the ad to sing along: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUju31yqll4 )
Prayers of Intercession
Turning our hearts to God who is gracious and merciful, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.
God of life, bind your faithful people into one body. Enliven the church with your Spirit and bless the work of those who work for its renewal. Accomplish your work of salvation in us and through us, for the sake of the world. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of life, you love the world you have made and you grieve when creation suffers. Restore polluted lands and waterways. Heal areas of the world ravaged by storms, floods, wildfires, droughts, or other natural disasters. Bring all things to new life. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of life, show redemption to all who watch and wait with eager expectation: those longing for wars to cease, those waiting for immigration paperwork to finalize, those seeking election, and those in dire need of humanitarian relief. Come quickly with your hope. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of life, you weep with those who grieve. Unbind all who are held captive by anxiety, despair, or pain (especially). Fill us with compassion and empathy for those who struggle, and keep us faithful in prayer. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
God of life, we give thanks for opportunities for this congregation to collaborate with our community in caring for the needs of our neighbors. Be with our families affected by Covid-19. Give us patience as our Garden Community waits for plantings. Strengthen our ties with other local congregations, agencies, and services. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
.God of life, you are our resurrection. We remember all those who have died and trust that, in you, they will live again. Breathe new life into our dry bones that we, too, might live with you forever. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Offering Prayer: (Reflect on the gifts you bring today, physical and spiritual.) Let us pray: Holy and generous host, call us to a table where we feast as friends whether together or whether socially distancing. We are your body. Prepare us to witness to your goodness with every gift you have given us to share, that all people may know your peace through Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.
Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. Holy God, speaking, spoken, and inspiring, ☩ bless us, unbind us, and send us in love and in peace. Amen.
Go in peace. Share the good news.
Thanks be to God.