Prayer and reflection for Passion Sunday 29th March 2020
(Click the video or read the transcript and the Bible reading below)
Good morning and welcome.
I would like to introduce myself. I am Olwen, and earlier today, that is Saturday, I was licensed to be the priest in charge of Ketton and Tinwell in an online service with Bishop John, the Bishop of Brixworth. I am married to Ray and we want to tell you how pleased we are to be here and how much we have appreciated the welcome we have already received.
This is my first Sunday as the new vicar of these parishes and one thing is for sure, I didn’t expect to begin my ministry here in this way. I was expecting to see you face to face in a united service at St Mary’s, instead I have set up my first blog and made my first video and I’m speaking to an unknown congregation.
Today is Passion Sunday the beginning of Passiontide, the two weeks leading up to Easter when we recollect the suffering of Jesus during the last days of his earthly life. This feels very relevant at the moment because in a sense we are living out our own passion as we stand alongside others in prayer who are suffering under the impact of the coronavirus.
Let’s begin this time together with a prayer.
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Gospel Reading: John 11:1-45
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4 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.’ 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8 The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11 After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12 The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ 17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.[f] 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 said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’ 28 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.’ 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 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.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 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.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 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.’ 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Reflection: There will be a new day
Here I am, the new vicar of Ketton and Tinwell and this is my first Sunday in that role and one thing is for sure, I didn’t expect to begin my ministry here in this way. I was expecting to see you face to face in a united service at St Mary’s, instead I have set up my first blog and made my first video and am speaking to an unknown congregation. What turmoil!
Over the last few days, I have realised that even the greeting I have been exchanging with other people has changed. As speak to people on the phone – or as I stand seven feet apart from someone I encounter when walking the dog, then the thing that we say to one another is ‘these are strange times.’
These are strange times. Our new greeting. Our way of life, the way the world around us works, our expectations about the future, have all been over turned – and this upheaval is challenging and disturbing, nothing is as it should be. It’s very uncomfortable for us as we have lost control.
That was surely also the perspective of the bystanders and those who were present when Lazarus emerged from the tomb. This man who had died and been buried and been in the tomb for four days was now standing before them, blinking in the light, the winding sheet dropping away from his shoulders, Lazarus – restored to life. How could it be? What a profoundly disturbing event – it rocked the way that those who were present understood the world. If death wasn’t final then the world didn’t make sense. Suddenly they were in strange times.
This last miracle of Jesus wasn’t universally welcomed or celebrated. It was too strange. It provoked fierce responses. It brought to the fore the question of who Jesus really was and where his authority came from. Here was one who apparently had authority over life and death – here was a phenomenon the Jewish religious leaders couldn’t control. The direct result of the raising of Lazarus was that a plot was hatched by the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus. He was considered too dangerous. Today is Passion Sunday and it’s at this point that Jesus’ passion journey begins. From now on there is an inevitability to the cross.
Jesus must have known that would be the result. One of the strange aspects of this story is the very deliberate way in which this miracle is set up. Jesus intended this miracle to take place. He has a point to make – something he wants his followers to grasp. When the messenger came from Martha and Mary to tell Jesus that their brother Lazarus was ill, Jesus delayed going to him. These were his friends yet Jesus practises his own form of social distancing – staying away from the sick man. He has another end in view.
Needless to say, his actions are not understood by his disciples. Why stay when his friend is ill? And then when he finally decides to go – why go when it is dangerous near Jerusalem? And Jesus isn’t exactly clear in his explanations. What follows is a description of delaying tactics, misleading statements and riddles. Is Lazarus asleep or is he dead? Whatever does Jesus mean when he says to his disciples ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble because they see the light of this world, but those who walk at night stumble because the light is not in them?’ His disciples are confused.
And yet, for the first time, those particular words resonated with me. It seems to me that in our response to the coronavirus and its impact on the world we are like those who are stumbling in the darkness. Seeking ways through this pandemic that may or may not work. Not able to see the way ahead and wondering how the situation that we are in will end and when. Now, more than ever, we need the light and to be able to walk in the light and to see the way.
In the prologue to John’s gospel, the Word, which has come into the world is described as the ‘light of all people. And John writes ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ In Jesus we already have the light. When we look towards him then we will see the way through the night time of our present anxieties and fears. In holding fast to Jesus, the way ahead will be illumined.
When Jesus finally turns up in Bethany, purposely too late to save Lazarus, he is faced with the regret and the sorrow of the sisters. Both of them say to him at different moments ‘Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.’ Jesus feels their grief, he is grief stricken too, he weeps with them. He is not impartial to their suffering; he is deeply and profoundly moved. Yet at the same time he invites them to look beyond their present reality of sorrow and loss to another future.
He promises Martha ‘your brother will rise again’. She cannot hear it of course, take it on board – as we say. So, Jesus tells her ‘I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die will live. Do you believe this?’ And then there is a wonderful moment of recognition when Martha knows Jesus for who he is. ‘I believe that you are the son of God, the one coming into the world.’She proclaims.
When Jesus tells Martha ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ he is speaking the truth of who he intrinsically is. Through him there is life and love and the power of love. In him death is not the end of the story, his authority goes beyond death. This is what Jesus wanted his followers to know. Jesus’ absence was essential to the story, the sisters show him where Lazarus is laid, the mourners gather, and despite the protest that by this time his body was decomposing and there would be a stench, Jesus asks them to roll the stone away from the entrance. He prays, gives glory to God and calls Lazarus forth.
This is the point of the miracle. It is to reveal who Jesus truly is, in the most dramatic way – to demonstrate that resurrection is his very nature and that he will call us from death into new life as physically and visibly as he has called Lazarus. It feels like there’s an element of jeopardy in this story – what if Jesus hadn’t pulled it off? But of course, it did come to pass and in Jesus’ action God is glorified, the divine authority of Jesus is made known and Lazarus is called out of the tomb to live his life once again.
The call to life. We too will be called to live our lives again. We will be called out of the darkness of these present times into the light. There will be a new day. This is the hope and the truth to hold onto when it’s hard to see how this situation will end. There will be a new day. In Christ there is always a new day.
God our Father
As we live through the dreadful impact of the coronavirus on our lives and on our world,
as we stand with those who suffer and enter into their grief and sorrow,
as we hold them in prayer
helps us to trust in Jesus whose very nature is to call us into life
and with the eyes of faith to look for that New Day.
The Lord’s Prayer
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.
Christ crucified draw you to himself,
to find in him a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven;
and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be with you and those you love and care for,
now and always.