March 6, 2022 – Raising Lazarus
Welcoming Hymn Come In and Sit Down #395
Life and Work of our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we once again acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Service of Lenten Candles
During Advent we light candles each week as we prepare with joy and excitement to welcome the one born to bring God’s light into the world. During Lent we prepare ourselves with quiet contemplation for the day when that light was extinguished. The six purple candles represent the six weeks of Lent, while the white candle, our Christ Candle continues to burn reminding us who it is that we journey with during this season of Lent.
Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery (General verse)
Light of life beyond conceiving
Mighty Spirit of our Lord;
Give new strength to our believing,
Give us faith to live your word,
Give us faith to live your word
Voice 1: We begin our Lenten journey in the wilderness. It was while he was alone in the wilderness that Jesus experienced temptation.
Voice 2: We experience temptation at many different times and in many different ways.
Voice 1: Jesus overcame temptation.
Voice 2: During this first week of Lent we struggle to face and overcome the temptations in our own lives.
Voice 1: We pray for God’s help to do so. (First Candle is Extinguished)
Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery (1st Sunday of Lent)
From the dawning of creation,
You have loved us as your own;
Stay with us through all temptation
Make us turn to you alone,
Make us turn to you alone.
Call to Worship
Jesus began his ministry to the world, led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
As we begin our Lenten journey, we are led by the Spirit into the uncomfortable and challenging places in our lives.
In those forty days, and in that place, Jesus was faced with hunger, doubt
As we journey through the next 40 days, we seek the courage to face our inward hunger and doubt and the outward temptations of our world.
In the wilderness Jesus was led, comforted and provided for by the Spirit of God.
As we seek to follow Jesus, we trust that God leads us, even when we face uncomfortable realities and difficult choices.
Jesus left the wilderness, faithful and obedient to God, rejoicing in the One in whom he trusted.
As we continue on our own path through Lent, we rejoice that we are led by Christ and loved by God.
And so on this first Sunday of Lent, we gather in worship
Opening Prayer (in unison)
The desert is a place of emptiness, solitude and silence. It is a home of jackals, snakes and inner demons, beasts of the earth and beasts of the soul. The Spirit of God led Jesus into such a place. Lent leads us into a time of wilderness journey. But we do not take this journey alone. In this sacred space, in these moments of stillness, you travel with us, Holy God. Your gentle Spirit embraces our vulnerability and fills our empty spaces with hope. Your intimate knowledge of us embraces all that we are and calls us forward to become more. May we know the deep calm that only You can offer. May we walk this journey with confidence and joy knowing that it leads us ever closer to you. Amen.
Gift of Music Come Let Us Sing #222
Scripture Reading John 11:1-44
The story of the raising of Lazarus, another one of the stories that is unique to the Gospel According to John, is one of those stories that has always challenged me. In the Gospel According to John, it is the last of the seven earthly “signs” that Jesus performed during his ministry and in many ways, it foreshadows his own death and resurrection. But there is much more to the story than that.
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?” 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. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 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.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb 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.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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 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 upward 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.”
A Deeply Personal Journey
The Gospel According to John is 21 chapters long. But Jesus entire public ministry is contained in the first 11 chapters. All of the signs or miracles that John describes are contained in the first half of this gospel. The raising of Lazarus is the last and perhaps, most climatic of these signs. From this point on, Jesus begins his journey to the cross. And it is, for John, the story of the rising of Lazarus that is the one critical incident, that convinces the temple authorities that it is not enough to arrest Jesus, he must die.
At the time that word reached Jesus that Lazarus was ill, he was across the Jordon River, at least a full day’s journey from Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. This meant that the message had been sent at least a full day before he received it and it would take a full day for him to return. We are never told why he remained where he was for another two days, but that’s not really important.
What was amazing to the disciples was that Jesus would choose to go there at all. Bethany was only around three kilometers from Jerusalem and the last time Jesus was in Jerusalem the people there had tried to stone him to death. So, the disciples tried to convince Jesus not to go. When Jesus told them that Lazarus was sleeping, they replied that that meant he would be fine and there was no need to Jesus to go there. When he told them that Lazarus was dead, it made even less sense for Jesus to risk the journey. But Jesus had made up his mind to go and so Thomas says to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” That is how dangerous the disciples believed this journey was. And they were right.
But even before Jesus arrived in Bethany, word of his approach reached Martha and she rushed out to meet him. When she saw him, she greeted him with the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
These words seem to be part plea and part accusation, and in many ways Jesus’ response to her seems almost cold. “Your brother will rise again.” There is no apology for waiting so long to come. There is no expression of sympathy for her loss. Simply, “Your brother will rise again.”
“I know”, says Martha. “On the day of resurrection everyone will arise.”
It is here that Jesus turns to her and says, “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 answers, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Exactly what this meant to Martha I’m not really sure, but after saying it she immediately returns home to fetch her sister Mary.
When Mary arrives, she says exactly the same thing to Jesus as Martha had said. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But the way in which these words are said is very different. They are said, not as a challenge or an accusation, but as words of deep mourning. They are said through her tears. And Jesus reaction to Mary is very different from his reaction to Martha. He does not challenge her faith. He does not ask her question. Instead, he simply weeps with her.
What a profound example of deep and meaningful pastoral care in a time of immense sorrow. Martha and Mary did not respond in the same way to their grief and so Jesus did not respond in the same way to them.
I’m sure you all remember the story of one of Jesus other visits to Mary and Martha. Before Jesus even arrived, Martha went to work cleaning the house, planning the meal and madly trying to make everything perfect for Jesus’ visit. Mary, on the other hand, simply sat quietly at Jesus’ feet.
For Martha it was in keeping busy, in being able to do something, that she felt most useful and comfortable. And so, it is not surprising that at the time of Lazarus’s death, it is Martha who remains in control. She doesn’t need someone patting her on the arm and telling her how very sorry they are. She needs someone to reassure her that it will be OK, to reaffirm her faith and to remind her of her own strong belief.
And this is what Jesus did. By questioning her, Jesus reminds Martha of how strong she is and of how strong her faith is. He provides what Martha most needs in that moment. He provides her with the assurance that she will be OK.
Mary is not like Martha. She is not in control. Her grief is so overwhelming that all she can seem to do is cry. What sustained Mary was not keeping busy or feeling useful. What sustains Mary is the quiet time spent in the presence of Jesus.
And like his reaction to Martha, Jesus offers Mary exactly what she needs. He does not say anything to her. He simple cries with her.
We need to recognize within this story the assurance that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Different people react differently to grief. Jesus knew this and so he worked with Mary and Martha where they were in their own personal grieving.
This is how God deals with us. God knows us. God knows our story, our personality, our pain, and our unique needs. God doesn’t deal with us generically. God deals with each one of us in a wonderfully personal way.
But there is more to this story than the grieving. Faced with the undeniable reality of death, Jesus grieves. He weeps for the loss of his dear friend and for the pain that Lazarus’s death has caused for those that Jesus loves. He doesn’t just respond to the grief of others, Jesus shares that grief with them. He weeps not only for them but with them.
Yet even in the midst of this deep grief, even in the midst of the greatest pain imaginable, Jesus also speaks words of hope. “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.”
Jesus does not deny the reality of death. He accepts it and he grieves the loss that we all feel in the death of someone we love. But what Jesus does promise is that, although death is very real, death does not have the final say. Resurrection is possible. And this journey through the reality of pain, sorrow and death to the ultimate promise of resurrection is the journey we are called to take during Lent.
This Lenten journey is more than simply waiting for the death of Jesus so that we can celebrate his resurrection. If that is all we do, we deny the reality of death. We skip over the pain, the sorrow and the sacrifice because they are too difficult to deal with. But if we deny the reality of the pain, suffering and death of Jesus, how can we truly embrace our own mortality? How can we accept the reality that we are finite beings, that we will die, if we simply skip over all of that, to get to the promise of resurrection?
Death is part of life. It is a reality we all must face. And how we face that is something that is unique to each one of us. But the one thing that is not unique is that, no matter how we may grieve, we do not do it alone. God grieves with us and God offers us the comfort that we need, comfort that is deeply personal and that understands our grief.
But beyond that grief, we still have the promise of resurrection. Through the example of Jesus, we know that death is not the end. And because of the promise of resurrection, we can look to the hope beyond death. That still does not mean that we can deny death or that we can avoid its harsh reality.
In the 2006 statement of belief put out by The United Church of Canada, titled the Song of Faith, we find these beautiful words.
Finding ourselves in a world of beauty and mystery, of living things, diverse and interdependent, of complex patterns of growth and evolution, of subatomic particles and cosmic swirls, we sing of God the Creator …
who made humans to live and move and have their being in God. In and with God, we can direct our lives toward right relationship with each other and with God. We can discover our place as one strand in the web of life. We can grow in wisdom and compassion. We can recognize all people as kin. We can accept our mortality and finitude, not as a curse, but as a challenge to make our lives and choices matter.
The journey of Lent calls us not only to accept our mortality but to find within it the challenge to make our lives and choices matter. Lent calls us to celebrate life without denying death. And Lent calls us to risk going all the way to the cross trusting in the promise that the journey doesn’t end there.
The Lenten Journey, if lived in its fullness, is the journey of life. Like Jesus journey to the cross, it ultimately leads to death. But beyond Lent is the promise of Easter. And it that promise that makes this journey not only possible, but challenging, exciting, and filled with unexpected opportunities and joys. It is a journey of faith, of hope and of the promise of deep and lasting joy. Amen.
Gift of Music Jesus, You Have Come to the Lakeshore #563
We Offer Our Gifts
As we offer God our thanks for all that God offers us, let us take a moment to offer back to God our gifts as well as our thanks. These gifts may be the financial contributions we make to our church through envelopes, through PAR or through online donations, or they may be the gifts of our time and our talent, given in service to others. Whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God to bless it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, we thank you for the many gifts and blessings that we have received and we ask that your spirit to bless the gifts we offer today. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
Each week we take time to offer our own silent prayers, prayers for the people in our lives that we are concerned about or who are particularly close to our thoughts. We also offer our prayers for the situation both personal and global, that cause us concern. Today I would ask that in this time of silence, you offer a special prayer for the ongoing struggles in Ukraine. So as we take a moment of silence now, let us remember not only our own personal worries and concerns but the concerns of our wider world and the wellbeing of all God’s creation.
Minute for Stewardship
Prayers of the People
As we begin our journey of Lent this year, Divine One, we pray of all those who are walking hard and difficult paths.
We pray for those whose paths each day encounter barbed wire and guns;
We pray for those who are forced to leave their homes, communities and countries;
We pray for those who will spend much of today in search of food and water;
We pray for those who are too weakened by lack of food and water to even search;
We pray for those whose journey is complicated and made more difficult by economic hardships, unemployment, and poverty;
We pray for those whose journey is marred by illness, pain or suffering;
We pray for those who faithfully journey alongside those who suffer;
We pray for those who are clinging tightly to the past, afraid to move on;
We pray for those who are taking the bold step to leave the past behind and to strike out in a new direction;
We pray for those who are marginalized;
We pray to those whose privilege causes others to be marginalized;
We pray for those who are being abused, bullied, and mistreated;
We pray for those who are doing the bullying and abusing;
We pray for those who are powerless to change their reality;
We pray for those in power that they may work to build a better reality;
We pray for those who have just taken their first breath, and
We pray for those who today will take their last.
We pray that this Lenten journey, with its stories about the difficult paths that Jesus experienced, will give strength and courage to all whose journey is far from easy. May these stories inspire us to risk walking the Way of Christ’s love as we take our own journey through Lent. Amen
Closing Hymn Go Make a Difference MV#209
So go out from here now into your own Lenten Journey. But go knowing you are not alone. The love of God is with you, the example of Christ leads you and the presence of the Spirit accompanies you, each step of the way. Go with God.