Welcome: We now enter our third week of this new reality we call “physical distancing.” As the CoVid-19 pandemic continues to grow in Canada and globally we know that this will be our reality for an unknown number of weeks to come. Yes, we are physically distant from one another but as social creatures we are finding more and more ways to stay connected online and by phone and other electronic means. I’m grateful that technology makes it possible to create and share resources that connect us, and ground us in the Sacred Love that surrounds us all. With our United Church Creed we say with hope and confidence: we are not alone. We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.
As you prepare: Find a comfortable place on your own or with a few others in your household (and have a candle and something to light it with)
The Land upon which we stand
Take a moment now to think about where you are. Think about the land beneath your feet, the closest river and lake to where you are and how the water brings life and connection to human and non-human communities. For more than 10,000 years people have lived on this land and been nourished by these life-giving waters. We acknowledge this land and its waters and the first peoples who have lived here, continue to live here and will live here in the future. We acknowledge their stories and culture and spirituality so that those of us who are newcomers or descendants of newcomers will remember our responsibility to join with the first peoples of this land to do what we can to make right with all our relations.
I invite you to take a moment now
And centre yourself deeply in the love of the Sacred.
(Some people like to plant their feet firmly on the ground; others like to open their hands. Find the position that is best for you.)
Breathe into your core the life-giving Sprit of our Eternal Source;
Breathe in goodness, compassion and truth;
Breathe out fearfulness and worry.
(Repeat these breaths a few more times – breathing in goodness and letting go of your worries)
Allow yourself to open up to the deep Love and Wisdom that is here for you.
Lighting a Christ Candle
Why do we light a Christ Candle?
We light this candle to represent Christ Jesus’ light among us. We light this candle to remind us that even in times of challenge and trial there is a light that lights the way.
OPENING PRAYER (now speak or breathe a prayer for what you desire from this time in worship/silence/contemplation)
INVITATION TO CONFESSION
This is the 5th Sunday of Lent in the Christian tradition. Whether we wanted to or not, the time of the global pandemic has brought many of us to a new place of self and societal reflection and our hearts cry out to God for help:
Psalm 130 from the ancient prayer book of the Hebrew people provides us with words for our cry for help:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Holy One.
2 God, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice, my cries for mercy!
3 If you kept track of our sins,
who could stand before you?
4 But with you is forgiveness,
and for this we revere you.
5 I wait for you, O Holy One, my soul waits,
and in your word I place my trust;
6 my soul longs for you.
more than sentinels long for the dawn,
more than sentinels long for the dawn.
7 O sons and daughters of the Light, Welcome the Heart of your heart!
Then you will climb the Sacred Mountain of Truth; You will know mercy and love in abundance. Then will your transgressions be forgiven; and you will know the Oneness of All. (translation a combination of the Inclusive version and Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill)
In contemporary music, Sinead O’Connor’s song is based on Psalm 130 – consider listening to this now.
LISTENING FOR A WORD OF WISDOM
Read the following passage two or three or four times. Listen with the ear of your heart or inner wisdom.In between each reading you might consider these questions.
- Did anything stand out for you in this reading? A word or phrase? Say that word or phrase over and over again to yourself.
- Now read again and let any thoughts or feelings or reflections arise in you and make note of them.
- As you read a third time, speak your thoughts and feelings in prayer.
- Now rest in God’s presence. Just be.
- If there is someone with you as you have been reading this, share with each other anything that occurred to you about this passage.
11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” …
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then 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 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”
Reflection (from Marilyn)
I offer here something to hold alongside your own reflections.
In the words of both Martha and Mary this week. “Jesus, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
Or in my own words, Jesus, if you were here, so many would not be dying of CoVid-19
These are words of grief.
It’s a grief that contains, anger, frustration, sadness.
Where is God now when so many have already died and so many more will?
If you know someone who is already ill my heart goes out to you and them.
If you worry that someone you love might become ill because they are on the frontlines caring for the sick or keeping food in our grocery stories. My heart goes out to you and them.
This is the grief I’m feeling along with so many others this week. It is collective grief and all the Elizabeth Kubler Ross stages of grieving apply in whatever order you experience them.
Denial – oh it’s not going to be as bad as they say, right?
Anger – I have to self-isolate, really? For how long?
Bargaining – okay, I’ll do what I have to do and then it will all go away, right?
Sadness – including tears sometimes.
And acceptance that this is simply our collective reality for now.
Some of our grief is even anticipatory grief because we don’t yet know so much of what will unfold.
Some of the anger of our grief might also be directed at God. Why do you let this happen and where are you now?
All of that is normal and can feel like physical pain in our bodies.
This story of Martha and Mary and Lazarus reminds me that Jesus was not at all immune from the physical pain odef grief. When he stood among his friends who were grieving, he too was moved to tears.
For their loss? for his?
Even if he didn’t come right away, Jesus was eventually among his friends, feeling their pain with them even as their grief fueled anger accused him of not coming soon enough.
And Jesus’ friend Lazarus, does not remain in the tomb.
Jesus calls him out.
He comes out
Wrapped in grave cloths
And Jesus’ final words here are “unbind him and set him free.”
Where is Jesus in our story?
He is here with us too in the physical pain of our grief. He weeps with us. And for now, that is a comfort.
We are not alone.
And we need a resurrection. We need unbinding to set us free, but we hardly know what that looks like now or yet. We are still in the dark of our grief. And we are not alone. That is all I can say so far. And it is all I can repeat over and over again to myself and to you.
We are not alone.
We are in this together.
We are in this with God.
God is in this with us.
The life of resurrection might be a glimmer in the distance and it might seem a long way off yet. But this we know. Life always follows death as surely as light follows the darkness. And so with the psalmist in our grief and pain let us cry out with the longing of our souls for the light and Life beyond this current darkness.
Holy One we long for you
as much as watchmen long for the dawn,
as much as watchmen long for the dawn. Amen.
Song: When Jesus Wept
When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound.
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
Words from a song
Grant us God, the Grace of Giving, with a spirit large and free, That ourselves and all our living we may offer faithfully.
Pause and think for a moment of how you can respond concretely.
For example: Do you need to give someone a call or text or email? Can you help a neighbour with appropriate physical distancing measures? Or, if you have your offering for the church, or money for a charity that you support – consider setting that aside now – to give as you are able, online or by mail)
Continue to pray
For all those on our church prayer list. You may have a list from a previous bulletin when we were meeting regularly. You may use that now.
for our world and for our world’s leaders
for those who are ill and those who care for them
especially for healthcare workers who feel overwhelmed with the enormity of their responsibility and the risks involved.
for our community and neighbours who may feel more isolated than ever
for ourselves and our loved ones
and as you wish pray to the one who as a loving parent is like
CLOSING HYMN VU #670 Precious Lord, Take My Hand
A familiar favourite
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me Home
When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me Home
When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me Home
Prayer and Sending
Go now to will and to work for God’s purposes.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Be filled with the same love
and look to the interests of others.
And may the God of Life be with you;
May Christ Jesus stand with you and encourage you;
And may the Holy Spirit guide you into life.
We go in peace to love and serve God,
……..In the name of Christ. Amen.