- Rev. Daniel Benson
The church is closed? Lent 5 March 29th, 2020
Welcome to worship!
Preamble / info.
In the light of the good advice from health authorities that we practice ‘social distancing’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are not worshiping in person at the church.
However, Jesus promises that where two or three are gathered, He will be there. So, we can gather in spirit, sharing the Word, hymns, and prayers that bind us together as followers of Jesus and people of God.
We may not be in the same room, and we may not even be doing this at the same moment in time; but, along with millions of people around the world in any number of languages, we are worshiping God and caring for one another.
In preparation, you may want to have a candle handy (either a real candle or one of those little battery-operated ones). We always light candles in church because they remind of the presence and beauty of God.
Let’s pause before we begin (take a couple of moments to quiet yourself before proceeding further). Here is a chant from Taizé that we've sung at SPUC. "Ubi Caritas Deus ibi est," means 'Where care and love dwell, there also we will find God.' Listen to this wisdom (the picture in the video is from the chapel at Taizé in France).
Opening prayer for Lent.
We are your people, yet we don’t always show this to the world.
We are your children, yet we turn our backs on you.
We are your voice, yet too often we are silent.
We are your body, yet we easily walk away from you.
Forgive us for not trusting you.
Forgive us for ignoring you.
Forgive us when we cannot find the strength to speak up.
Help us praise you.
Help us find peace in you.
<<take a few moments in silence>>
With the love of God, the compassion of the Son, and the healing power of the Spirit, our weeping will be turned into laughter, our sorrow into joy,
and, in death we will find life.
All who are lost will be found, and the sick and the aggrieved will be healed.
All that is broken will be reconciled.
And, in this promise, may we find the peace of forgiveness, for in Christ we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
If you have a candle, this would be a good time to light it, using these words:
I light this candle, with the prayer that Jesus, the light of the world, will be my light; today, tomorrow, and always. Amen.
John 11: 6 – 45, the death and resurrection of Lazarus.
(Yes, it’s long, but it’s a powerful and inspiring story – read it as such, maybe even out loud!)
The Death of Lazarus
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,[a] “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[b] 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,[c] 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[d] had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] 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.[f] 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,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
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 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 upward 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.”
Reflection / Homily:
“Is the church closed?” This has been one of the most frequent questions that Rosie and I have had to field over the last two weeks. Whether by email or phone or in person, it’s not as simple as it might seem. Well, yes, the building is closed, but the church is still ‘open for business.’
That sounds confusing, perhaps, and could even be seen as a bit misleading. Because, really, we know the question is usually about whether the building is open or not.
As I’m writing this, Premier Ford has wisely ordered the closing of non-essential businesses to contain the spread of the virus (we’ll talk another time about whether churches are ‘essential’ or not…)
We closed St. Paul’s a little less than two weeks ago under the good advice that any gathering of people, regardless of how small, increases the risk of spreading Covid-19. And, as much as our job in church is spiritual welfare, we also care for each other’s physical welfare.
So, back to the question – the simple answer (and time-saving one) would be, the church is closed.
But, I think that would be a lie – and Mom taught me never to lie. It would be a lie because it confuses the bricks and mortar of 200 McIntosh with the Church. The church (notice the small letter c) is the building, which, as much as we love it and care for it, is simply one of the tools that make Church (big C) possible. The little c church is closed, but, paradoxically, the Big C Church is, in many ways, busier than ever. Rosie and I are hard at work – either at the (small c) church or at home, Emma is practicing, and many of the members are reaching out to one another and helping out in generous and kind ways (I love hearing those stories!).
Is this, I wonder, a story of resurrection, when we hear the church is 'closed?' Today’s reading from John tells the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead – a resurrection story that precedes (and perhaps is a precursor of) Jesus’ own resurrection.
This has long been one of my favourite stories of Jesus. Not just because of the miracle of Lazarus coming back to life, but because of its very realistic overtones. Behind Martha’s words of welcome to Jesus when he (finally) shows up, I suspect an angry, disappointed woman who has lost her brother. She’s probably more than just a bit p.o.’d at Jesus because he didn’t come more quickly. Next, she plays her faith card: “I know God will give whatever you ask,” implying that she wants Jesus to restore Lazarus to life. Lastly, she affirms her faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
Nowithstanding her confusion, confidence and affirmation, Martha still hesitates when Jesus commands the stone closing Lazarus’ grave be removed, “Lord,” she says, “already there is a stench because he has been there four days.” The harsh reality of death cannot be described more clearer and viscerally than this!
Yet, despite the stench, despite Martha’s frustration, anger, and disappointment, and despite the four days lapse since Lazarus died, the stone is rolled away and Lazarus emerges from the tomb. What was lost is found; what was dead is alive, what was unexpected but hoped for, is true. Faith, even faith tinged by doubt and frustration and even anger, has opened what was closed.
Faith moves mountains, it is often said; it rolls away the stones, overcomes our doubts, and restores us to life. Faith survives a closed building we call a church, but gives us the strength and courage to ensure the Church is always open, in our hearts and souls, in our love for God and one another.
In these darkest days of Lent, as we struggle to make sense of things like Coronavirus – things we’d hardly heard of a month or two ago – may we all be like Martha: in our confusion, fear, and doubt, remembering that Jesus has come to us to help us roll away the stones and open us to new possibilities.
Prayer for Lent (you may want to read this silently or aloud).
Calming and loving God, we are living in difficult times. We don’t know what the morrow will bring, and worry and anxiety are filling our hearts. Things are changing so fast and sometimes the changes are more than we can follow let alone grasp. Help us, O God, in these times to feel your calming presence. Help us to listen to Jesus loving words that worry and care will not save us, and will, in fact, move us away from you. Help us live the gift of your grace, and not be afraid.
Healing God, we pray for all those who are in need of your sustaining strength:
· those of us who are ill, in body, mind, and spirit;
· those of us who are isolated and alone;
· those of us who suffer on the edges of society, who are hardest hit by this pandemic: the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the outcasts;
· those of us working to slow the spread of the virus, and those of us who are taking care of us: our friends and family, doctors and nurses, ministers, and pastors, city workers and government officials.
And we pray for the world beyond our homes and walls, where this crisis adds to other crises of famine, refugees, war, and climate change.
And, we pray for our church, our friends and family here at St. Paul’s. May your care, O God, knit us together even more tightly as a Christian community committed to follow in the steps of Jesus, working for a healed world.
In our church family, we particularly lift up the Boileau family, the Catibog family, and all those facing grief, sadness, and challenges.
And so we continue to pray in the words of Jesus:
Our Father, who are in heaven,
hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.
Our offering is a both a practical and symbolic act of our commitment to serve Christ and build His church. Although we can’t actually ‘pass the plate’ online, you are encouraged to continue your gift to the church, as the work of the St Paul’s and the staff continue:
· Drop your envelope (cheque or cash) at the church;
· Mail your cheque to the church;
· Go on PAR (call Rosie for details);
· Use the Donate button at the top of the page (it will take you to SPUC’s Canada Helps page where you can donate online and get an instant tax receipt).
May my gifts of time, talent, and treasure generously and lovingly offered be used faithfully to do build God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven!
Let us listen closely to God’s assurance: “I am with you; together we will roll away the stones”
Therefore, let us go into the world, full of God’s love, knowing that we are blessed and a blessing. Let us go into the world, to love and serve the Lord. Amen.
· Don’t forget to extinguish your candle!
· As an exercise in keeping in touch with your SPUC family, we’re inviting everyone to open their Church Directory, find your own name and then count down the list by FIVE names and call that person. They might be a good friend, they might be a casual acquaintance at church, or they may be someone you don’t know. Give them a call and wish them peace in the name of Christ, and just see how they’re doing.