Fifth Sunday of Lent 5 29 March 2020
Rev Kate McDonald
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We may not be able to gather physically to worship together on this 5th Sunday of Lent, but I hope that this will still be an opportunity for us to share in fellowship as we read the scriptures, reflect on God’s word, and pray for one another.
So as we begin, let us take a moment to still ourselves in the presence of God.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us with the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The focus of my reflection for today is the gospel reading from John 11.1-45. If you haven’t already read it, I invite you to do so now.
‘The one whom you love is ill’. This is the message Martha and Mary send to Jesus about their brother, his friend, Lazarus.
‘The one whom you love is ill’.
These are words we have all come to dread in this time of global pandemic, as the rates of infection rise exponentially and our headlines remind us that thousands across our communities are dying.
The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is often preached as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection. We are now only a week away from Holy Week, so it makes sense to view it as
an encounter that we can look back to as we continue our journey with Christ towards Jerusalem and the Cross. It is a story which offers us hope that God’s love will triumph even over death.
In these times of bad news, this Good News of the gospel is just what we need to be reminded of.
So we may want to rush ahead to the silver linings and promise of redemption that the story of Lazarus holds for us.
But if we look at this gospel passage, we see that Jesus doesn’t seem to be in a rush. He waits two days after hearing the news about his friend Lazarus before he even begins his journey. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days.
It doesn’t take much effort to imagine how Martha and Mary must have felt in that time
… as they waited for word from their friend
… as their request was met with silence
… as they looked on, powerless, at their brother’s suffering
… as they mourned his death and prepared his body for burial Those days must have been agony.
Martha and Mary had no way of knowing that Jesus would come and return their brother to them. They could not have known how Jesus would somehow bring life from death.
Their grief was real and raw.
There are so many in our world today, us amongst them, who like Mary and Martha, are sending word to Jesus that loved ones are ill, who are praying for God to act, who are waiting and watching and weeping. There are so many for whom the words of Psalm 130 speak the cry of their hearts.
I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord —
more than the night watch waits for the morning;
yes, more than the night watch waits for the morning.
So before this story can foreshadow the glory of Easter morning, it gives us a glimpse of the agony of the holy wait of the long hours which follow Good Friday.
The days passed, and Jesus did finally join his friends in Bethany.
As Jesus stood amongst the mourners who were broken hearted, so he is with those whose hearts break now. As he wept with his friends Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus, so Jesus weeps with those who grieve now.
But through all their waiting, watching, and weeping, Mary and Martha continued to see Jesus as the source of their hope, continued to believe he is the Messiah, continued to have faith that he has the power to restore life in this world permeated with death and destruction.
And the words he speaks to them in their grief are a balm of hope and comfort and truth for us today in these painful times:
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
When Lazarus emerges from the tomb at Jesus’ command, he is still bound by the cloths of death. But rather than unwrapping him himself, Jesus tells those nearby to untie him. The gathered community became then not only witnesses to the sign of God’s glory, but participants in it.
We cannot know what these next days and weeks, and even months may hold. We may not always be able to see where or how God is acting.
But just as the community gathered at Lazarus’ tomb, both to grieve and then to witness Christ’s sign, so we gather (albeit remotely) in these times.
As we wait and watch and weep, how might we encourage one another to hold fast, as Mary and Martha did, to Jesus, the source of our hope, the source of our life?
If fear threatens to entomb us and those around us, how can we embody to one another the love of Christ, the perfect love that calls us out of the tomb of fear into new life?
As we face this difficult time together, how might we respond to Jesus’ call to unbind those who are bound by the grave cloths of despair and hopelessness?
We hope, Lord.
Our whole being hopes,
and we wait for God’s promise.
Let us pray.
God of compassion,
be close to those who are ill, afraid, or in isolation. In their loneliness, be their consolation;
in their anxiety, be their hope; in their darkness, be their light;
through him who suffered alone on the cross, but reigns with you in glory,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray together in our own languages and traditions the prayer our Saviour 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 Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The peace of Christ 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, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.