March 29, 2020
One of the downsides to worshipping through a screen is that it can feel like it isn't very sacred. Before worship starts, we recommend that you create a space for your worship. Ideas: find a beautiful spot by a window, lay out a special table cloth, light a candle.
At morning prayer, we give thanks for the gift of new life in Christ and seek God's grace for the day ahead.
PRELUDE Sarabande in E Minor G F HANDEL
As you listen to the prelude, please reflect on the following poem by Wendell Berry:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Thus says the Lord: "I will put my breath within you, and you shall live." In gratitude, we praise the Giver of Life. Jesus says: "I am the resurrection and the life." In gratitude, we praise the Source of our Being. We gather to worship the One who frees us from the grave and stirs dry bones to life. Spirit, come and enliven our worship!
HYMN NO. 797 We Cannot Measure How You Heal YE BANKS AND BRAES
THANKSGIVING FOR BAPTISM
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
SCRIPTURE Ezekiel 37:1–14 The Message (MSG)
Breath of Life
37 1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Master God, only you know that.” 4 He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’” 5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!” 7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them. 9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’” 10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army. 11 Then God said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they’re saying: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.’ 12-14 “Therefore, prophesy. Tell them, ‘God, the Master, says: I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I’ll take you straight to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you straight back to your land and you’ll realize that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. God’s Decree.’”
HYMN NO. 787 God Weeps with Us, Who Weep and Mourn MOSHIER
SCRIPTURE John 11:1–48
The Death of Lazarus
11 1-3 A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.” 4 When Jesus got the message, he said, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.” 5-7 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days. After the two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” 8 They said, “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?” 9-10 Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in daylight doesn’t stumble because there’s plenty of light from the sun. Walking at night, he might very well stumble because he can’t see where he’s going.” 11 He said these things, and then announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.” 12-13 The disciples said, “Master, if he’s gone to sleep, he’ll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap. 14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.” 16 That’s when Thomas, the one called the Twin, said to his companions, “Come along. We might as well die with him.” 17-20 When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house. 21-22 Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” 23 Jesus said, “Your brother will be raised up.” 24 Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.” 25-26 “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”
28 After saying this, she went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.” 29-32 The moment she heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When her sympathizing Jewish friends saw Mary run off, they followed her, thinking she was on her way to the tomb to weep there. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33-34 When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?” 34-35 “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept. 36 The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.” 37 Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” 38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!” 40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41-42 Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.” They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.” 43-44 Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.” The Man Who Creates God-Signs 45-48 That was a turnaround for many of the Jews who were with Mary. They saw what Jesus did, and believed in him. But some went back to the Pharisees and told on Jesus. The high priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Jewish ruling body. “What do we do now?” they asked. “This man keeps on doing things, creating God-signs. If we let him go on, pretty soon everyone will be believing in him and the Romans will come and remove what little power and privilege we still have.”
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
Ezekiel prophesizes to the dry bones and, lo, they rattle and groan and stand on their own two feet and finally breathe. Paul in Romans tells us that God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you and will give life to your mortal bodies. John's Gospel tells the story of Lazarus, his grief-stricken sisters, their plea to Jesus, Jesus' own grief and prayer and plea to God, Lazarus' grand exit from the tomb and the onlookers' astonished belief. Where can we turn from new, God-given life this week? Nowhere!
As social distancing grows, shelter in place orders expand, more people get sick, layoffs increase, anxiety heightens and the end of this public health crisis seems far off, we need a glimpse of Easter, a foreshadowing of hope, a sure cause for rejoicing and, thanks be to God, we unequivocally have such an occasion this Lord's Day. We may not mark Holy Week or celebrate Easter in our sanctuaries this year, but nothing will prevent Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his living, breathing exit from the tomb. Nothing.
In this tumultuous season of terrifying, 24/7 headlines, we who have been tasked with preaching to dry bones, we who have witnessed Lazarus unbound and resurrected, need to proclaim in confidence that God has not, does not, will not abandon us. Jesus weeps with us. The community mourns together. The wind of the Spirit still blows where it wills and if we pause and listen, we will surely hear the sound and see the impact of it. Jesus will not ignore our pleas to come and help. While we do not know when we will return to our churches in person or when we will embrace each other with abandon or when we will get back to work in our offices or find grocery stores with fully stocked aisles, we can be sure that dry bones will become living, breathing human beings. The one who raised Jesus will sustain us even now. And Lazarus, four days in the tomb and decomposing, will make an astonishing return to his family and community.
This is a Sunday to remember that Easter is coming and nothing - nothing - will stop God's power and plan to bring new life out of despair and death. In the meantime, in this in between time, we must weep with those who weep, mourn the mounting communal losses together, call on Jesus for help and pray to our Father in hope.
God asks, "Mortal, can these bones live?" We can say with resolve or reservation or resignation, "O Lord, you know." And then prophesize and preach and proclaim the love and compassion of our God with every fiber of our being, in word and in deed, through every medium available until we start to hear rattling and deep, full breaths again. We must bear witness to the transformative power of our God until there is a rustling and all that seemed dead and gone comes back to life and our mourning is turned to dancing. In the meantime, in this in between time, we need to point to glimpses of Easter as people all across the globe come together and not only weep and wail and mourn, but offer comfort and celebrate small kindnesses and share what they have for the sake of those with less.
I do not believe this season of strangeness will be brief. I hope our social distancing and the upending that comes with it flattens the curve and interrupts the rapid spread of COVID-19. As we call for Jesus to come and worry that he is too late in arriving, we are called to live in hope, trusting that because of Easter, death, evil, sin and suffering never have the last word.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
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PRAYERS OF THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION Hebrews 4:14–16
ANTHEM Hear my Cry, O God, and Save Me (Psalm 77) GENEVAN 77
DISMISSAL Psalm 51:1, 11
CHORAL BENEDICTION I Went Down to the River to Pray TRADITIONAL
Physical distancing does not mean social or spiritual distancing.
Thank you to those who participated in the creation of this worship service: