Fifth Sunday of Lent

Introduction and Call to Worship Allow yourself to meet with the presence of the Lord through his words to us, the Scriptures and by participating in worship from home using our LIVE streaming on Facebook or downloading worship from our website: And above all, know that however earthbound and ordinary, weighed down or vulnerable you may feel, each one of us can embrace and enjoy the possibilities of heaven today. Bible Readings First Reading Ezekiel 37:1-14 Israel has lost hope. They say that their bones have dried up but Ezekiel has a vision of God taking those bones, clothing them with flesh and breathing life into them. A message of hope for a hopeless people. Second Reading Romans 8:6-11 Paul explains to the Roman Christians that even though the power of sin and death is strong, the Spirit of Christ has conquered death and will win out in each one of them. Gospel John 11:1-45 Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies and Mary and Martha send for Him. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and restores him to his family in an echo of Jesus’ own death and resurrection soon to come. HOMILYOur bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely’ In surreal times like these, when the impact of the coronavirus has forced us to consciously step off the relentless, all-consuming rat race that we inadvertently find ourselves on, we are required to stop and seriously revaluate the fragile gift of life, of our homes, our families and everything we hold dear in our lives. Consequently, it is not surprising to feel a spiritual connection with our ancestors depicted in today’s opening reading who, like us, experienced a genuine sense of vulnerability. It would be both insensitive and naive to sit here as our nation faces stringent and necessary measures, and somehow claim we should embrace the arrival of the coronavirus as a blessing but, if we put to one side the strange obsession of having to stockpile loo rolls, there’s a noticeable positive sea of change in the air for, whether this be online keep-fit videos or people trying to boost morale by singing outside care homes where residents are self- isolating, we are starting to witness a rediscovery of community spirit. There is an acknowledgment in the importance of the greater common good as up and down the land individuals are no longer looking inwardly, but rather outwardly as they think about how their behaviour may well help or indeed hinder the long-term health of their neighbours. These are all actions that have always been the very bedrock of Christianity. Yes, as our first reading realistically points out, in times of uncertainty we can feel as though the energy has been sucked out of our bodies, but surely this is exactly the right moment when we need God more and not less in our lives. Isn’t it only natural when the world presents us with challenges that we inherently open our hearts in order to receive the patience, strength and endurance of the Holy Spirit; something which is deeply mirrored in our Gospel passage for, despite His divine status, Jesus automatically looks up towards Heaven in order to thank His Father for his continuous reassuring presence. Our Gospel passage this morning is so appropriate for us today as it reassuringly reminds us that God has broad shoulders and an all-embracing heart that doesn’t expect or want us to get all bogged down in religious protocol. We recall that when Martha learns that Jesus is near she simply rushes out, throws herself at the feet of Jesus and explains in no uncertain terms what she is feeling, ‘If you had been here when I asked my brother would not have died.’ Raw, honest and powerful emotion that some might feel is overstepping the mark but, there again, God doesn’t want us treading on eggshells, constantly worrying about upsetting Him, for the truth of the matter is, if we are hurt and confused by situations we and our loved ones are facing, God wants to know so that he can embrace the anxiety and walk alongside us. As our story unfolds and this highly-charged dialogue between Martha and Jesus is exchanged, God’s grace and inner strength cause her to boldly announce how Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah who, through His pending death and resurrection, is going to offer the whole of humanity the chance of eternal salvation. Next, this passage emphasises that, even in the bleakest of moments, God gives us the power and drive to positively share our faith with others. As the author of this text tells us, Martha instinctively rushes back home and tells her sister, ‘The Master is here.’ Martha’s declaration was clearly infectious as Mary, likewise, doesn’t stand on ceremony as, similar to her sister, she too feels compelled to dash out and emotionally lay her heart and soul at the Master’s feet. There were various ways that Jesus could have responded to these two honest, yet extremely vulnerable, sisters. However, his pure humanity becomes apparent as he soaks up all their built-up tension and we are left with the shortest, yet one of the most incarnate, beautiful verses of the whole Bible: ‘Jesus wept’. With these two simple words we are presented with a God that is never so distant and grand that he has to be feared or kept at arm’s length but, rather he is a pastoral God who truly understands what it means to be fully human, which is why, as we learn from this passage, he can’t help but shed genuine tears of sorrow when His children are hurting. Although the third member of this group of siblings remains vocally silent in this passage, and indeed throughout the entire Bible, Lazarus has a great deal to teach us of how we can and should approach the complexities of this life. Clearly, there are strong parallels between him and Jesus being raised from the dead but we can save this for another sermon. This morning, to bring our reflection to a close, I would like us to think of those spiritual, emotional and even physical tombs which we find ourselves inhabiting at various stages of our lives. What bandages is Jesus calling us to abandon, those things in life that make us dry bones rather than living, active members of the body of Christ here and now in a world that is searching for a strong foundation, a platform that will provide support, comfort and reassurance as we work together in solidarity addressing the many issues that have been brought on by the coronavirus? Yes, we can feel overwhelmed, lost and confused at the apparent flow and direction in which our paths seem to be heading but, as our dear friends Martha and Mary did, we have the opportunity to be honest with God, placing everything at his feet and saying, ‘Please walk with us through this one, Lord Jesus.’

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