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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Lent 5  (Colour = Purple) First Sunday of the Passion


Introduction

Jesus finds Lazarus in Bethany. Lazarus means ‘God helps,’ whilst Bethany means ’House of Affliction.”  We can all find ourselves in a place of affliction, a place so bad it is like death itself in its debilitating hopelessness. Sometimes the living need someone to call them out of their graves and to give their spirit new life, just as the people in Ezekiel’s time needed God to raise them from their graves. Our Christian faith is not just about a reward in the next life, Jesus is concerned about our lives now. He calls us out from our darkest places, he calls us to leave the tomb and gives us the strength to live as his resurrected people? 

 

Opening Verse of Scripture - Romans Chapter 8:11

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Common Worship

Gracious father, you 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's blood, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us with the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ, and serve you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading    Ezekiel 37: 1-14

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD , you alone know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD ! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD .' " So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet-a vast army. Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off. 'Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD , when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD .

Second Reading  - Romans 8: 6-11

The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.  

Gospel Reading    John11: 1-45

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 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. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples
 thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” And 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.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then 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?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days. ”Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.
 

Post Communion Sentence

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for you: give us the will to be the servant of others as you were the servant of all, and gave up your life and died for us, but are alive and reign, now and for ever. Amen


Commentary


The readings today think about death and resurrection, surely these are issues faced by every living soul. But the condition of death can mean so much more than just the physical moment when we need an undertaker. When the prophet Ezekiel spoke to the people they were living, but they were in a condition of death. As Sam spoke to us in our Lent Course this week, they were a shattered and captive nation; they were exiles in Babylon. On their own, they had no future and no hope of restoration. They were like “Dry bones” strewn on a desert landscape. This picture conveys to us how the people felt, despair and lifeless. They lived in a foreign land and could no longer call themselves a people and they lacked the resources to do anything about it. We all know people like that: a death or serious illness has changed their lives dramatically and they despair about the future.

Yet Ezekiel tells that when God is involved, nothing is hopeless. God makes a promise, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them and bring you back to the land of Israel.” God did fulfill that promise and the people were brought back home. They were raised from their graves and they, who were no-people, became a new people through the Spirit of God. Death and its manifestations affect even those who are still physically alive. But, the prophet assures us, God has power over death in all its forms.

John spends a long time telling the story of how Jesus gives life to Lazarus. It is an important episode, the decaying corpse of Lazarus, locked away in a tomb is brought to life and it aroused much faith in Jesus. Understandably the Jewish authorities were furious about Jesus who had so much power that he was a serious threat to them, their religion and way of life. From now on the Jewish leaders had a decision, either kill Jesus or he would start a religious revolution in which they would be overthrown. We all know how this ends, they made their decision and choose to pursue him to death on the cross. Thankfully they underestimated the power of Jesus, not only could Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, he could be raised himself, to a life that could never be taken away again - everlasting life. That is what Easter is all about, discovering the new life which Jesus gives, so that we need not fear anybody or anything, not ever death itself.

But there is also something more which is very symbolic about this passage. Jesus finds Lazarus in Bethany. Lazarus means ‘God helps,’ whilst Bethany means ’House of Affliction.”
We can all find ourselves in a place of affliction, a place so bad it is like death itself in its debilitating hopelessness. Sometimes the living need someone to call them out of their graves and to give their spirit new life, just as the people in Ezekiel’s time needed God to raise them from their graves. Our Christian faith is not just about a reward in the next life, Jesus is concerned about our lives now. He call us out from our darkest places, he calls us to leave the tomb and gives us the strength to live as his resurrected people? Charles Royden
 

Meditation

One of the demonstrators who spent several hours on the roof of the House of Commons last week was Tamsin Omond (23) , a parish administrator. She said that church people should limit their flights to one a year, and then “only if essential.”
Miss Omond spends half her time working for St Mary’s, Primrose Hill, in north-west London. Last week she hung banners from the Palace of Westminster roof to protest against the expansion of Heathrow. She is no dummy, having recently been awarded a first-class degree at Trinity College, Cambridge. She now faces 51 days’ imprisonment and a £5000 fine. She said, “my Vicar had been talking to me about spiritual development the evening before, and what I was going to do in the future. I told him I was getting more involved in direct action, and he nodded; but I don’t think he realised it meant this.’ Her Vicar, the Revd Robert Atwell, said: “Tamsin Omond is our conscientious and hard-working parish administrator. Like many people, she has a passionate concern for the environment. Whilst I do not applaud the manner of her personal demonstration, I do support her concern that our environment be protected.”
A supportive Vicar like that is probably already trying working out ways to help pay her fine. But think, what do you feel strongly enough about to risk, going to prison, a hefty fine - and possibly falling off a very high building? Charles Royden
 

Hymns

  1. Let all the world in every corner sing 404 (Tune Luckington)
  2. King of Glory King of Peace 397 (Tune Gwalchmai)
  3. O for a closer walk with God 494 (Tune Gerontius)
  4. Hail thou once despised Jesus 203 (Tune Lux Eoi)
  5. Jesus, Prince and Saviour 377 (Tune St Gertrude)

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Almighty God,
your Son came into the world
to free us from sin and death
Breathe upon us with the power of your Spirit,
that we may be raised to new life in Christ,
and serve you in holiness
and righteousness all our days;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen


Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross, we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Almighty God and heavenly Father, open our eyes to see you at work in our world: grant us wisdom in using our gifts, grace to enliven our churches, and courage to transform our communities. By your Holy Spirit, equip us for the challenge ahead, excite us to follow your vision and empower us in witness and service. To you be the glory through Jesus our Saviour and mighty Redeemer. Vision for Action Prayer of the St Albans Diocese

Additional Material

Commentary

Mary and Martha send Jesus word of Lazarus' illness, and clearly they do so because they want Jesus to act to heal Lazarus, whom he loves, and believe that Jesus is capable of doing so. Jesus must have known how desperate Mary and Martha would be, nevertheless he waits and does not go to heal Lazarus. Instead he waits two days. Jesus loves them but he knows that when he finally arrives in Bethany, there will be no ambiguity about Lazarus' death, Out of fear for his safety, the disciples plead with Jesus not to go. Jesus knows that he has work to do and so he cannot ignore this duty. It is an inspiration for us that the disciples accompanied Jesus into danger, they were not lacking in courage or commitment.

Jesus says that Lazarus is sleeping (kekoimetai) the word means asleep, but is also a euphemism for death. Jewish people believed that the soul remained in the vicinity of the body for three days, hoping to rejoin the body. On the fourth day, the soul would finally face reality and depart. The fact that Lazarus has been in the tomb four days means that there can be no possibility of his soul rejoining his body. Four days means that it is hopeless.
Jesus 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. These verses form the heart of this Gospel lesson. While we call this story the healing (or resurrection) of Lazarus, it is in fact the story of Jesus' revelation that he is the resurrection and the life. This is one of several "I am" (ego eimi) statements by Jesus in this Gospel—statements that reveal Jesus' true identity. Jesus is the bread of life (6:35) and the light of the world (9:5). His statement that he is the resurrection and the life is the high point of these "I am" statements. "I am," of course, is God's name-- the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exod 3:14).

When Jesus asks Martha if she believes, she replies with a threefold statement of faith. Jesus is (1) the Messiah (2) the Son of God and (3) the one coming into the world. This is the fifth and most complete confession of faith in this Gospel (see 1:49; 4:42; 6:69; 9:35-38).

Mary's greeting to Jesus is much like Martha's, full of grief and reproach. When Jesus sees her weeping, he is greatly disturbed in spirit (embrimaomai) and deeply moved (tarasso). This is a difficult passage to understand. The first verb, embrimaomai, suggests anger. Why would Jesus have been angry? Perhaps Jesus is angry at Martha and Mary's lack of faith. Perhaps he is angry that the Jews—outsiders—are intruding on this very private and personal situation. Perhaps he was angry because he found himself face to face with the realm of Satan which, in this instance, was represented by death." Perhaps Jesus shares the sadness of his friends and their neighbours"

We should note that this Gospel has said little about Jesus' emotions until now. In this lesson, however, he loves Lazarus, Martha and Mary. He is disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He weeps. Emotion is not neat and tidy.
Here Jesus is dealing with a dear friend, Mary, in the throes of grief. Her weeping is not gentle and controlled but would be unrestrained wailing and shrieking almost hysterically, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping was the more honour it paid to the dead. The natural human response in the face of such terrible grief is a welling up of emotions—grief, fear, anger, and frustration—all mixed together. Mary's grief clearly hooks something deep and vulnerable in Jesus.

Jesus, 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.'

The grave is a cave with a stone lying against it, one of the many parallels between this story and that of Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus cries out 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.' "

It would be easy to misunderstand this miracle as a simple favour by Jesus to his dear friends—and to see Jesus as a mere wonder-worker—but this sign serves greater purposes. It is "for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (v. 4). It authenticates Jesus as "the resurrection and the life" as well as confirming the promise that "those who believe in me, though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (vv. 25-26).

The verses just after this reading 45-53, make it explicit that the Jewish leaders were extremely angry with Jesus. The raising of Lazarus was a miracle too far. They feared that the result of a miracle such as this would cause people to believe in Jesus and invoke the wrath of Rome and the loss of their positions. The healing/resurrection of Lazarus, then, is the precipitating event that leads to Jesus' crucifixion. The events that follow this story are the plotting of the Sanhedrin, the anointing by Mary, the plot against Lazarus, and the triumphal entry, soon Jesus will be dead.
Charles Royden (material used from lectionary.org)
 

Hymns

  1. O worship the king
  2. There is a Redeemer
  3. I am the bread of life
  4. I will sing the wondrous story Tune Hyffrodol

Make us worthy, O Lord, to serve our sisters and brothers throughout the world. Through us draw near to all who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give to them through our hands the bread they need for today and the love and joy and peace which is life in you, now and always. Amen. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 1910-1996

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord. As a man like us, Jesus wept for Lazarus his friend. As the eternal God he raised Lazarus from the dead. In his love for us all, Christ gives us the sacraments to lift us up to everlasting life. Through him the angels of heaven offer their prayer of adoration as they rejoice in your presence for ever. May our voices be one with theirs in their triumphant hymn of praise. Amen.