Readings, Hymns and Sermon for Passion Sunday, 29th March

Opening Hymn

Bible Reading: John 11:1-45

11 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. 

Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?” Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 

11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.” 16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” 25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,[f] and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

Sermon

When my children were small, they – like many children – would be utterly delightful for everyone else, but save their temper and tantrums for me. I found this quite disheartening until the day I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, who is a trained psychotherapist. “How wonderful!” she replied, “it means that they feel safe and loved and don’t have to be on their best behaviour with you!” She was right, of course, and while it didn’t make the tantrums any more fun, it did reassure me that I wasn’t a complete failure as a parent.

I was reminded of this by our story today. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were some of Jesus’ closest friends. And when tragedy struck, and they feel Jesus has let them and their brother down, Martha and Mary are able to be utterly honest with Jesus. Where were you? You could have stopped this happening? And yet, even in her accusations and questions, Martha still trusts Jesus. I believe you are the Messiah, she says. Grief and questions, faith and hope all bundled up together. She brought them all to her friend.

We are living through a crisis unlike anything we have experienced before. There are worries about health and work and schooling and finances and the future. Some parts of the crisis are very hard to bear. In other ways the crisis has brought out the best in people. It has been a bewildering few weeks and we do not know what lies a head. But Jesus longs for us to be like Martha – to bring our griefs and questions and hopes to him. Jesus loves us dearly and is a safe place to take all sorts of emotions in these difficult days.

In this story, we also see Jesus himself experience a range of emotions. There is compassion and courage as he travels back to a place of danger even though he knows his friend is already dead. There is anger and sorrow as he comes face to face with the reality of Lazarus’s death. Jesus as a human being knew the pain of grief and parting. Jesus as God rages and weeps at the hold death has over God’s creation. And finally, there is Jesus’ utter hope and trust in his loving heavenly Father. Perhaps it is some comfort to you this week, whether your are feeling compassionate and courageous, grief-stricken and angry, hopeful and trusting, that Jesus has known these feelings too.

But most importantly, in a time when fear and death are more present than usual in our lives, this story reminds us that Jesus comes to bring life. The raising of Lazarus pointed to what Jesus would do for each one of us soon after on the Cross – defeat death and all its destructive forces forever. And while there may be sadness and grief in our lives still, we know that through Jesus no one need be lost to us forever and no situation need ever be hopeless. So let us bring all our emotions, hopes and fears to the one who holds us and all we love and treasure in his love and indestructible life. Amen.

Reflection Music

Intercessions for Passion Sunday

Fill with your Spirit Christ’s broken body, the Church.
Make her a people of honest lament and unshakeable hope
in these times of anxiety and trouble.
Give to Christian people everywhere a deep longing
to take up the cross and to understand its mysterious glory.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Bless those who lead the Church’s worship at this solemn time.
Grant wisdom and skill to all who seek to bring comfort to your Church dispersed.
In the preaching of the word and the prayers we share
draw your people close to you.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Look in your mercy upon the world you loved so much
that you sent your Son to suffer and to die.
Protect the vulnerable, comfort the fearful
give wisdom to all who lead.
Strengthen all who serve, especially our key workers
in these challenging times.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Bring healing by the wounds of Christ
to all who are weighed down by pain and injustice.
We remember those around the world encountering this virus
alongside other forms of crisis:
conflict and violence, extreme poverty, climate change, oppression.
Stand with them, fight for them, deliver them we pray.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Help the lonely and the isolated, the suffering and the dying,
to find strength in the companionship of Jesus.
We remember before you those known to us today…
Enfold them in your love and care.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Welcome into paradise all who have left this world in your friendship.
According to your promises,
bring them with all your saints
to share in all the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection.
By the Saviour’s cross and passion,
Lord, save us and help us.

Holy God,
holy and strong,
holy and immortal,
have mercy on us.

Amen

Closing Hymn

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