Service of the Word: Lent 5

Opening Prayer

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.

Gospel Reading: John 11:1-45 (shortened)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

Homily by Rev. Harriet Oxley

How are you coping in these strange times?

Are you someone who’s anxiously keeping up with the latest news on Coronavirus, following the stats and insights from the experts?

Are you someone who’s feeling the pain of loneliness and loss of connection with friends and family who live elsewhere?

In today’s gospel reading from John chapter 11, Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is ill. At personal risk to himself, Jesus decides to visit Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary, knowing that Lazarus will be dead by the time he arrives. Of course these were different times with no government bans on unnecessary travel. When Jesus reaches Bethany the mourners have gathered to comfort the sisters. Both Martha and Mary meet Jesus with the same greeting: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” However, they relate to him very differently and Jesus responds to each sister as they need him to.

In his conversation with Martha, Jesus addresses her anxious thoughts. He focuses her attention on what she believes and builds up her faith and hope in God, and Jesus as the Son of God. Mary is grief-stricken and weeping when she meets Jesus. He empathises with her emotionally, even beginning to weep himself. He consoles her not by words, but by his presence with her.

Although some mourners recognised Jesus’ love for Lazarus, others questioned why Jesus didn’t prevent him from dying. One of the many spiritual questions people have about the Coronavirus crisis is: “why didn’t God prevent this?” Here a similar question is posed of Jesus.

Jesus knew that Lazarus would be dead by the time he got to Bethany, but he also knew God would be glorified. Not by preventing the situation – but by resolving it. In this case, not by preventing Lazarus’s death but by restoring him back to life and releasing him from his confinement. Many Christians today are praying to God for big things – for the end of the Coronavirus pandemic and the saving of people’s lives. These are good things to pray for and if you want to pray, asking God for these things, I encourage you to do so.

Yet Jesus also glorified God in less obvious ways – in the way he related to Martha and Mary. He listened to them. He understood what they needed. He comforted them accordingly: Martha – intellectually. Mary – emotionally. Although we cannot visit one another, we can keep in touch by phone or via apps and websites. As we listen to each person we can try to tune into what kind of conversation they need and if people feel better at the end of it, we know that, in some small way, God is glorified.

In these small ways we can glorify God, following the example of Jesus Christ and helping each other to get through this crisis.

Concluding Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for the way you related to Martha and Mary and how you brought Lazarus back to life. I pray that you would meet each of us and those we love, according to our needs. Be with us, build up our faith, and resolve this crisis. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.