Readings and reflection - 5th Sunday of Lent
Gracious Father, who gave up your Son out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace through the shedding of our Saviour'd blood
Jesus Christ our Lord
Our readings today - please click the reading itself which will take you to the bible gateway. Here you can read the NIV version or if you prefer another, you can select this from a bar at the top of the page.
A song of ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The death of Lazarus
Reflection for today
A reflection on Ezekiel 37.1-14 & John 11.1-45
The story of the raising of Lazarus, hits perhaps uncomfortably close to home. It’s about illness, and death, and the grief and anger that a family feels when they lose someone they love. And death really is the elephant in the room at the moment as we face the facts about this virus that confronts the world and wonder what its impact will be on those that we know and love.
Martha and Mary, as they mourn the death of their brother Lazarus, could stand for any of the grieving families we have seen on the news or social media recently, mourning those close to them who have died as a result of the pandemic.
And Martha and Mary are weeping, stricken with grief at their loss, but they are also angry - with Jesus. Jesus, after all, is a personal friend of this family. He has stayed with them, eaten with them, treated their home as his refuge when he needed rest and refreshment. They know he cares for them. And they know that he can heal the sick. So when their brother falls seriously ill, they send word to him, assuming he would come. Assuming that his care and friendship would quite naturally mean that he would rush to do everything that he could for his friend.
And then he doesn’t come. This Jesus who has healed complete strangers, healed old and young, and foreigners, and beggars, women who touch his cloak on a crowded street – but when his friend needs him, he gets the message but doesn’t come. He stays away long enough that he not only misses his chance to help, he misses his friend’s death and funeral as well.
We know exactly what Mary and Martha have been saying over and over in the four days since Lazarus succumbed to his illness, because they both use the same judgemental words to Jesus when they see him. ‘‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
They say it differently, for they are two very different women. Martha comes out to meet Jesus, almost pleading with him and hanging on to a tiny scrap of faith that perhaps, even now, there is something he can do, whereas Mary just weeps, and Jesus weeps too at her pain and sadness, and his own.
Because despite what he knows is going to happen next, the death of Lazarus is real and Jesus feels all the grief of loss.
And then the unbelievable happens. Jesus says to Martha ‘, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ He has the stone rolled away and calls Lazarus out, and out he comes – no longer dead but alive again as he was before with his sickness cured.
It’s like a foretaste of what would happen very soon, after Jesus’s own death, though it is only a taste, a glimpse. Lazarus is cured of the illness that killed him, but like his sisters, like us, he will one day die again. Whereas Jesus will go through death and out the other side, to show us that life that has been cured of death itself.
Jesus knew from the beginning that God’s glory would be shown through the death of Lazarus; he knew how the story would end, but he still wept at his friend’s death. And we recall his tears and grief at every funeral because they remind us that faith in God, belief in life after death, do not make death any less real or shattering.
Whatever happens over the next few months in our community, our country, our world will be terrible, and we know that God is already weeping with those who mourn and sharing the fear and pain of those who die. Like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision we may find ourselves saying “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” And God will suffer with us. But unlike us, God sees the end of the story that we can’t. ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’
And we do see glimpses of it already; the glory of God shining through the cracks of tragedy in stories of love and service and bravery and caring as people rediscover the importance of community and love, and band together to help each other, as the TV slogan says, Apart but not alone.
One day we will be the other side of this crisis and able to look back and see it more clearly. And on another day, we will look back together from the other side of death itself, and see with complete clarity the unbreakable thread of God’s love and glory running through history, and hear Jesus say, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’
But now, Jesus is weeping. And we can weep too.