March 26, 2023

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Ezekiel 37:1-14

1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Psalm 130

1Out | of the depths
  I cry to | you, O Lord;
2O Lord, | hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my | supplication.
3If you were to keep watch | over sins,
  O Lord, | who could stand?
4Yet with you | is forgiveness,
  in order that you | may be feared. 
5I wait for you, O Lord; | my soul waits;
  in your word | is my hope.
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch | for the morning,
  more than those who keep watch | for the morning.
7O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is | steadfast love;
  with the Lord there is plen- | teous redemption.
8For the Lord shall | redeem Israel
  from | all their sins.

Romans 8:6-11

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 11:1-45

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But 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.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus 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. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28When 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.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The 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. 32When 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.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Raising of Lazarus  —  Spanish, Cloisters Museum, New York City

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Death walks with Jesus in today’s Gospel as he moves in measured pace toward his own suffering and death.  The raising of Lazarus is the final and greatest sign of Jesus, a symbolic narrative of his victory over death at the cost of his own life.

Love and life are woven throughout the narrative. Hear again the message to Jesus from Martha and Mary, “Master, the one you love is ill.” Then we read John’s editorial comment, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”  No other passage in the New Testament speaks so often of Jesus’ love—and of his grief later. 

Though the story is commonly called the raising of Lazarus, the most profound moments are the conversations with Martha and Mary.  The sisters are models for disciples on their own journey following Jesus.  Martha meets Jesus and greets him with simple faith in his power as a miracle worker, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet she has deep trust that God will grant Jesus’ request. Jesus goes further and says, “Your brother will rise.” 

Jesus’ reaction, which stands at the very center of the whole story, is to speak those words that bring such consolation and hope: “I am the resurrection and life; whoever believes in me even if he [or she] dies will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die.” Jesus says to Martha, “Do you believe this?” 

Somewhat strangely, Martha’s answer has no direct connection with resurrection. She confesses Jesus in language stunningly similar to Peter’s confession in Mathew’s gospel: “You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” In this manner, we are told that to experience Jesus as the true life that conquers death; one must accept him as God’s anointed Son.

The story then shifts to the meeting of Mary and Jesus— moving and powerful.  Mary was home weeping but rose to greet Jesus with the other Jewish mourners. Falling down, she worships him but speaks the very same words of simple faith as Martha. Jesus does not respond immediately, but we are told that Jesus was “perturbed and deeply troubled,” strong language that expresses Jesus’ anger at death’s power and sorrow over its ravages. Jesus goes to the tomb, and—in one of the most extraordinary incidents in the New Testament—at the door of death, now the barrier between himself and one he loves, “Jesus wept,” shedding tears of loss over a loved one.

Arriving at the tomb, Jesus is again perturbed and orders the stone to be removed. Martha reappears. In the colorful words of the King James Version, she says, “Lord, by this time he stinketh,” which, like the realism of Jesus’ anger and grief, enhances the horror of death. After praying to his Father, Jesus cries in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” “The dead man” emerges totally wrapped in the burial shrouds. 

The larger view includes the narrator’s later note that the raising of Lazarus didn’t please everyone. Instead, it became the best reason yet for destroying not only Jesus, but also Lazarus. How odd that Jesus would raise his friend from death only to enroll him in a brief venture that would get them both killed. Jesus might as well have shouted into that tomb, “Ready or not, here I come! Get ready for some company, Lazarus.” That’s precisely where Jesus was headed. In a few more days, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would lay Jesus in a tomb, dead as a doornail but at the same time glorified almost beyond recognition.

Lazarus will die again, but Jesus, whose burial cloths are left in the tomb, is the giver of life who will never die. Jesus offers “eternal life,” which begins with faith, or trust, now and lasts forever. “Eternal life” in John is not primarily unending life, but authentic life, or life in its fullness, abundant life.  

Thinking about what authentic, full, and new life looks like, I kept returning to the story of Rubin “Hurricane Carter,” made famous by Bob Dylan’s song and Denzel Washington’s portrayal. Rubin, a champion middleweight boxer, is imprisoned for life for murders he did not commit. After exhausting every possibility for appeal, he tells his wife that he wants her to divorce him and to move on with her life, saying, “I’m dead. Forget about me.” The Hurricane uses his prison time to read, study, and eventually write a book about his life — a book that is published and becomes a best seller, but which is then soon forgotten. 

Years later, a Black teen from the ghetto finds a copy of the Hurricane’s life story at a used book sale and buys it for a quarter. Moved by what he read, the young man, Lesera Martin, writes a letter to the prisoner, and begins a relationship and a process that eventually leads to the overturning of the conviction. 

At a pivotal moment, the Hurricane notes that it was “no accident” that Lesera had come across that book. He makes note of the boy’s name, Lesera, a form of the name Lazarus, the one raised from death. The Hurricane tells Lesera that hate had killed Rubin and buried him, forgotten, in the prison walls, but Lesera’s love had raised him and given him life once again.  

 To us, Jesus’ summons at the tomb where each of us will one day lie sounds something like this: “Come out of there, friend.  Come with me. We’re going up to Jerusalem. So much for ordinary dying from disease, accidents or plain wearing out. So much for living with the sole agenda of not dying and desperately extending our days. Let’s go instead to where we can give our lives away. Come die with me.”

Of course, this command comes not merely in some final moment in a grassy graveyard, but every day of our lives. We die every day, as each day wears us down, defeats us and brings us ever closer to the first tomb Lazarus knew. But we also die in the waters of baptism. We die with Christ.

As one scholar (Neidner) wrote, “here the story of Jesus and Lazarus becomes an allegory about baptism. Like Lazarus, the baptized also rise and respond to the call to head out for some place in space and time where we can give away our lives. We find ourselves terribly hindered, however, by the grave clothes that still bind us. We can’t walk the walk of the resurrected when we’re still bound by the old habits that the fear of dying has taught us so well.”

Thankfully, you are in a community to which Jesus can say, “Unbind him. Let him go.” These verbs don’t merely refer to a way of undressing someone from an ancient burial dress in a baptismal rite. We find them as well in several of Jesus’ directives to go out and make the forgiveness of sins and love of neighbor the new calling of the community. So now the community, the body of Christ, assists us daily in stripping off the binding remnants of the old life in death’s power.

Prayers of Intercession

Sustained by God’s abundant mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.

You have breathed into us the breath of life. Enliven your church. Deepen our partnerships with our companion churches around the globe (specific synods, dioceses, or congregations may be named), and bless the work of missionaries who accompany them. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Your spirit brings life to creation. Enliven the natural world and restore ecosystems in need of healing (local natural places may be named). Uplift prophetic voices that turn us to the needs of the soil beneath our feet and the air all around. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

You redeem the world and its peoples. Free us from systems of oppression. Unbind nations and societies from the sins of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Raise up leaders at all levels of government who work to promote the dignity of every human life. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

You weep when we weep. Be present with those who grieve or who are troubled by illness (especially). You hear us when we call to you. Deliver us from the depths of our despair, and free us from the worries that bind us. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Your Spirit of life dwells in our assembly. Bless the music ministries of this congregation (specific ensembles may be named) and all who lead us in hymns of praise and thanksgiving and in songs of lament and prayer. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

You are the resurrection and the life. Even though we die, we will live. With thanksgiving, we remember all your saints who now live in your eternal love. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your steadfast love and your promise to renew your whole creation; through Jesus Christ our Savior.


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