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29th March

Sunday 29th March 2020
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A sermon for  Passion Sunday
Some Prayers

A Sermon For Passion Sunday
Psalm 130; John 11: 1 - 45


This Passion Sunday, we read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus.  It is a reading which can both challenge and offer hope as we continue to journey through a world which has changed rapidly as the effects of the coronavirus continue to touch every area of our lives.
As I’ve put in place the ever-changing advice and regulations which affect the running of the parishes, I have become aware just how close we are to our medieval forebears.  For them, the threat of plague and death was a daily reality.  In a world where few people could read, ‘Doom Paintings’ in churches, such as the magnificent example in St Thomas’s Church in Salisbury were painted in churches.  The aim was to ensure that worshippers lived godly lives, so they could receive the rewards of heaven, rather than the eternal punishment of hell, so graphically depicted in these paintings.
Most of the time, death does not feature prominently in our culture.  We talk of people ‘passing’ rather than ‘dying’, though quite where they have ‘passed’ too is often unclear. We employ Funeral Directors, so we do not need to deal with the practicalities of death.
Yet death is real, as we are reminded each time we hear the news.  It is sobering, as each day the number of people dying from coronavirus in the UK rises, although we should not forget that in an average year 17,000 people are expected to die in the UK seasonal flu.  That does not mean coronavirus is not serious. It is, and we need to do all we can to reduce its spread.
Against our current situation, what should our response be to the raising of Lazarus?  How might it challenge and encourage us as we grapple with new and unfamiliar ways of living our daily lives?  How might it challenge and encourage us as we continue to make our way through Lent towards Good Friday and on to Easter Day as we face the current challenges ‘together apart’.
First, John’s account of the raising of Lazarus allows us to acknowledge that death is real.  Jesus goes to great lengths to ensure that there can be no doubt.  Like us, Jesus and the disciples prefer not to speak of death.  Instead, Jesus tells his disciples Lazarus has fallen asleep.  The disciples don’t understand, and Jesus spells it out.  Lazarus is dead.  Secondly, we get a glimpse of the fact that death is not the end.  
Death was real in Jesus’ day and it is real in our own.  The bible does not diminish death.  It makes no attempt to suggest that ‘death is nothing at all’.  Rather, it is very, very real. John’s report makes that clear, reporting the very real, very natural responses which we experience when family and friends die.  We see the raw grief of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary.  We see Jesus at his most human as he weeps.  It is a very natural, very human one scene.
What happens next in Bethany should encourage us and bring us hope in the face of death.  Here we discover that death does not have the final word.  It is not the final enemy.  Jesus, the Lord of life has control over death itself.  Jesus’ delay in travelling to Bethany leaves no room for doubt.  Lazarus was well and truly dead.  After 4 days he has not been in a coma, roused by a familiar voice.  The miracle Jesus performs is one of resurrection, transforming death into life.
Lazarus’ resurrection is temporary.  We hear nothing more of Lazarus, but it is safe to say that he went on to die a very ordinary death at the end of his natural life span.  But Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  In two weeks, we will remember how Jesus died by crucifixion; the cruellest, most sadistic form of capital punishment every invented.  Jesus death will be every bit as real as the death of Lazarus.  But Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.  When we come to mark the resurrection on Easter Day, we will remember that in the resurrection of Jesus, death is defeated, not for now, but for eternity.  
That does not mean, that for now, we might feel ourselves sitting alongside of the Psalmist and crying to God from the depths, but even the Psalmist saw a glimmer of hope, as the watchman sees the first faint promises of dawn.  We live as those who bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus who has defeated death. That is cause for great hope and encouragement, however dark our present may seem, now or in the future.
Such hope is not an excuse for hollow triumphalism.  It is the source of light and encouragement for us, and for the world in which we live.  As Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy who was held in captivity for 5 years in Beirut, wrote: “At the centre of our faith stands the cross, a symbol of suffering.  Beyond that stands the Resurrection.  Take hope.  Do not despair ...” 
On this Passion Sunday, death is real. So too is resurrection, and resurrection will come.
S Anne Lawson
26 March 2020


The Collect for The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
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 you Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Post Communion Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us
that 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 give up your life and died for us,
but are alive and reign, now and for ever.  Amen.

Prayers of Intercession
Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  He can transform death and despair, in any form, into life and hope.
As the people of the living God,
let us join together in our prayers
for the Church and the world.

Holy God, breathe your life into the Church;
breathe holiness and deepening faith,
breathe energy, inspired teaching and fervent praise;
unblock the channels and make us more receptive
to your gentleness and your power.

Breathe into us;
so that we live in you.
Holy God, breathe your life into the universe;
breathe responsible caring, honesty and compassion,
breathe right values and good stewardship,
peace and reconciliation, vision and hope.
Breathe into us;
so that we live in you.
Holy God, breathe your life
into our homes and places of work;
breathe increased patience and understanding,
and the courage to live the Christian life
when to do so brings ridicule or demands sacrifice.
Breathe into us;
so that we live in you.
Hoy God, breathe your life into those who suffer;
breathe courage for the journey
and the realisation that you can be trusted.
breathe the life that lasts for ever.

Breathe into us;
so that we live in you.
Holy God, breathe your life into us now
as we offer you here our thanks and praise
for your life laid down out of love for us.
May our words be worked out
in fresh commitment to you.
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Other Prayers
A Prayer for the coronavirus outbreak:
God of healing,
surround us with your love as together we negotiate the complexities of coronavirus.
Guide us all as we seek to support one another. 
Help us to be attentive to the lonely, the isolated, the fearful and those who are ill.
Mindful of the geographical isolation of many rural communities, 
we pray for everyone involved in the effective provision 
of food, medical supplies and pastoral care.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who walks alongside us in our difficulties.  Amen.
The Arthur Rank Centre

For our neighbours… Lord Jesus Christ, you taught us to love our neighbour, and to care for those in need as if we were caring for you. In this time of anxiety, give us strength to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick, and to assure the isolated of our love, and your love, for your name’s sake. Amen. Dear God our Shield and our Defender, guide and protect my neighbour in this time of health emergency; deliver them from all harm and may your love and care ever grow in this place. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Christ Church Higher Bebbington

For hospital staff and medical researchers… Gracious God, give skill, sympathy and resilience to all who are caring for the sick, and your wisdom to those searching for a cure. Strengthen them with your Spirit, that through their work many will be restored to health; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. May the wisdom of God lead the doctors, nurses and researchers, and all in the emergency services that they may know God’s protection; and that God will guide the leaders of the nations into the ways of justice and peace. And that the love of Christ will surround us and take away our anxiety and give us His peace. May He hear us and heal us. Amen

Christ Church Higher Bebbington