29/3/20 Lent 5

weekly reflection

O Lord, open our lips

and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Give us the joy of your saving help

and sustain us with your life-giving Spirit.

Take some moments to call to mind your sins, before praying:

We are often slow to follow the example of Christ.

Lord have mercy.

We often fail to be known as Christ's disciples.

Christ have mercy.

We often fail to walk the way of the cross.

Lord have mercy.

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the collect

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. Amen.

The reading

John 11.1-45

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.’

Jesus the Resurrection and the Life

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for 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.’

Jesus Weeps

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?’

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life

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 for 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 upwards 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.’

The Plot to Kill Jesus

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Reflection

Two things occur to me. First of all that was a very long Gospel reading and for once we could all be seated to read/listen to it. The second point is that doing this online means I can use a visual aid which is otherwise challenging in our churches. So below you will see Caravaggio's masterpiece Raising of Lazarus.

What do you first notice about this painting? It certainly is quite dark, you could say that there is not much to see in the top third. Google this image and you will find many examples of where this top part has been cropped off. But that misses the point - the darkness is essential. John in his gospel makes expressive use of darkness, contrasting it to the people who have known the light of Jesus. The darkness represents death and the light is the eternal life of knowing Jesus. Caravaggio likewise uses the contrasts of light and darkness.

In the painting Jesus, in the presence of Martha and Mary is calling Lazarus back to life. Caravaggio shows the exact moment of the transition from death to life. With arms flung outward, reminding us of the cross and death, whilst new life if shown by the light coming from Jesus. It is light that warms the stone cold corpse of his friend Lazarus. Notice the right hand of Lazarus, palm facing Jesus, to receive this light and life.

So what does this passage and painting mean to us? One way to consider it is as a call scene. What we see is a call by God to an individual to leave darkness behind and enter the light. In the painting, darkness and the light can be see to be separated and with the top of the painting further away from Jesus being darker. Lazarus has accepted the call of Jesus and so we see much lightness there. Mary and Martha are also shown as bathed in some of that light - they too in their won ways have heard the call of Jesus to follow him and experience the richness and meaning in life which that can bring.

We find this account in John, whose gospel of course starts of with The Word and continues:

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

We are invited by Jesus to either be children of darkness or of light. Is it a no or a yes to follow Jesus and his teaching? But this is an ongoing invitation. As the days and years pass so we must consider different ways in which we might open our hands to receive his light.

But for now let us finish by thinking about those words: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In a week of unprecedented restrictions and great challenges, let us remember all those people who are doing their best to shine light on this situation. Take a few moment for our self now and given thanks for anyone who has shone some light into your life this past week, maybe a 'phone call, an errand run, a cheery hello (from a safe distance of course!) and also where you yourself have shone light because in some way or other, being a disciple of Jesus, be assured you will have done so. God Bless.

A time of prayer

We pray for those who are ill at home or in hospital and those who anxiously watch and wait;

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

We pray for carers and all medics who seek to relieve suffering

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

We pray for all those who are working long hours to alleviate anguish; for our government, for scientists, for our local government officials, for our police and armed services.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

We pray for those who feel entombed at home, by the restrictions placed upon them; those who face violence at home, those with difficult life circumstances, those afraid and filled with anxiety, those who live alone.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

We pray for one another, pausing to bring to mind our church family.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

Help us to believe, Lord, that changes and endings are but beginnings, and that closures are but the doorway to a new life. For you are the Lord of the resurrection, the Lord of revival and hope. Amen

Conclusion

May Christ, who bore our sins on the cross, set us free to serve him with joy. Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.

Thanks be to God.