Virtual Worship – Dry Bones Rising

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

Welcome to this week’s virtual worship! Today’s readings seem very much at the face of our current crisis. I invite you all to join together in praying and reflecting on them. Though we are physically scattered, we can come together spiritually as we ponder the mysteries of God.

Opening Prayer

To these dry human bones, the Lord God says:
I shall cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
We wait for the Lord,
and in God’s word we place our hope.
The Lord says: I will raise you up from your graves,
And you shall know that I am the living Lord.
Come to us, O Lord.
Open up the tombs of fear and ignorance that imprison us
Fill us with your spirit
And we will live again.
May the peace of the Lord be with all of you.

Psalm 130 – a lament

This week’s Psalm is a lament. The writer sees himself as sitting symbolically in darkness, waiting for the comforting presence of God, which will come like the morning light. It could have been written for a time such as we face at the moment. The psalmist offers us hope, in that the love of God will always be with us.

  1. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
  2. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
  3. If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
  4. But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
  5. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
  6. my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
  7. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
  8. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

The Readings this week

Ezekiel 37:1-14 http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Ezekiel+37:1-14&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

-Albert Camus 1913-1960

Ezekiel’s words offer a prophesy of hope and restoration, where a valley of dry bones come together and are clothed again in flesh. The ruach (the Hebrew word for wind/breath/Spirit) blows into them and brings them to life again. Ruach is an active word and implies the wind/breath/Spirit rushes through the dry bones to fill them. In this way, God through Ezekiel offers new life and restoration to God’s people.

Ezekiel reminds us when all else seems to fail us, there is always hope, that spring will come, rain will fall, new life will grow from the old and the Spirit of God will flow in and around us.

The story of Lazarus

John 11:1-45 http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=John+11:1-45&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

Background to the passage

Mary and Martha face a difficult predicament here, as their brother Lazarus is dying. Lazarus is the only male in the household in a culture in which a woman without a man was profoundly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. Lazarus was not only a beloved brother, but was also the closest thing to ‘social security’ that Mary and Martha had, and he was slipping away.

Mary and Martha send word to Jesus, calling on him for help. After all, he is a close friend to Lazarus. They expect Jesus to behave in a manner in keeping with the society they live in. Jesus doesn’t. 

What does Jesus fail to do?

What, if any, are the implications of this in regard to understanding the passage?

When the sisters get word that Jesus is finally on his way, after the death and funeral, Martha impetuously and angrily runs out to meet him. She challenges him about his actions.

How would Martha’s conduct be viewed?

What do you think about Jesus’ reply to Martha?

If you want to read more on this passage, you can look at John’s blog at https://johntsquires.com/

Comparing with other passages

In the last few weeks of Lent, we have looked at the many literary techniques and symbols that John is fond of using, such as light/dark, day/night, living/dead.

Discussion: Think back to the stories of conversations which Jesus had with other people: Nicodemus at night, the woman by the well in the day, and the Pharisees and the family of the man born blind.

What were the important symbols that appeared in those stories?

What are the important symbols in this story about Lazarus, Martha and Mary?

What similarities can you find with these three stories?  

What contrasts can you find between the stories?

This passage has been described as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death, especially as Lazarus’ death and rising cause Jesus’ own death in this gospel.

How does this comparison help us to understand the story of Lazarus?

Responding to God’s Word

Imagine how life was different for Lazarus after his death and resurrection event. Were his priorities the same afterwards as before? Did he work less and spend more time with family and friends? Did he spread the word about Jesus? Could we imagine what his new life was like and then apply it to our own lives as resurrected people through our baptismal births from above?

A modern story of ‘understanding’: Hoping to Live, Preparing to Die (Alia Kazan)

High up here in my oak tree. Strong. Solid. So unlike me at this time… so small and frail… here in my sacred place I am nestled in giant branches. Free to dream and plan the life that lies ahead… the children I’ll have, and how happy I’ll be, and of course how healthy.

Twenty years fly by like the pages of a book turning… all the plans, schemes, hopes, dreams… loves and losses… I am happy with my life and have found joy and creativity working in theatre with disabled adults, and music therapy for children. But I have no children of my own.

Then things change. A lump in the breast, but I’m only 32! And I’m a vegetarian, and I meditate, and pray!

Two men in white coats enter the ward, looking at the ceiling.

“I, er, don’t know how to say this.”

“It’s okay,” I tell him, “I think I know what you’re trying to say” (always ready to comfort others.) “Am I going to die?” (My heart is pounding but I don’t flinch.)

Silence.

“It’s a tumour,” says the other man. A lump rises in my throat.

“Well, I would plan three to six months at a time,” he speaks bluntly. “There are cells in the bloodstream.”

Agonizing silence. They turn on their heels and leave. An eternity passes. A nurse arrives. She takes my hand and I collapse into tears. Tears of self pity, tears for every loss I’ve ever known.

I’m told I have a two percent chance of living three more years without treatment. Perhaps five years with it! It’s too late for anything but chemotherapy.

Of course I ask, “Why me?” I hear of miracle cures and think, well why not me?

I decide that cancer happened to a particular “me”, so I’ll simply change that “me”.

Twelve long years pass… years of solitude and contemplation, then times of torment and pain. Days of stillness…nights of terror…until the breath was leaving my body and life slowed down enough for me to appreciate the simple turn of a leaf.

I live my life like a prayer, learning to let go of trivial concerns… each pain-free day a bonus. Focusing on quality, rather than quantity. One day at a time.

Now I endeavour to say “Yes.” To remain open… listening to my body’s signals, moment to moment… trusting in God’s plan, the unfolding of my destiny. Finding the faith and courage to continue to live with uncertainty. Asking “What really matters?”

I remember the oak. In my heart I feel a tiny acorn gradually beginning to awaken slowly, steadily as the light starts to reach it!

Reflection (from Spill the Beans Issue 34)

Life-giving God, we wonder at the life
we find in this universe which you have created.
A life that is fragile, short, unique to each one of us,
a life that is given for us to enjoy and live fully.
Jesus lived a full short life,
and we are invited to live
like him, sharing, caring, loving all creation.
Jesus died when he was young,
we do not fully understand the
sacrifice he gave, and yet we trust
that God was at work in both his life and death.
Jesus rose again and is alive
and with God in heaven and also here with us through the Holy Spirit,
we do not claim to understand it
but we are glad of it.
Jesus has a lot to teach us about life,
but also a lot to teach us about dying
and the life to come.
Help us to reflect on the life Jesus lived,
to want to be more like him,
to follow in his ways and to live fully.
Help us not to dwell on death, but to focus on living
here and now.
Amen.

Prayer for others and ourselves (from Spill the Beans Issue 34)

Loving God, thank you for life,
for all the people who bring joy to our lives,
for all the people who make us angry,
for all the people we disagree with, for all the people who love us.
Life is a wonderful mystery, given as a gift for us to savour.
Death is a strange mystery, given to us as a gift
which leads us into the next phase of eternal life.
Facing death, our own or another’s, is difficult and something
we would prefer to avoid, if we could.
Grief consumes us at times and makes it difficult to continue to live life to the full.
Hear our prayers, Lord, for the people who are facing their own death today.
For those people who are coming to terms
with illness or facing long and difficult treatments or investigations.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord, for the people
who are already grieving the loss of a loved one.
For those people caught up in the anger and despair that loss can bring.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord, for the people who care for those at the end of life,
in hospitals, hospices and care homes,
for the doctors and nurses, the health care assistants,
the porters and the clerks.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord, for the people who care for people in their homes,
for the staff who travel to their patients and provide a way for people to be at home.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord, for the people who live in places where there is no Medicare,
where health care is limited and end of life care non-existent.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Hear our prayers, Lord, for the people
who are forced to provide care themselves for their loved ones,
who struggle to cope with their own feelings and lack of experience.
Lord, may they know your presence around them and within.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers this day.
Give us patience to await your answers and
strength to be the answer when you ask it of us. Amen.

Blessing

May the God who shakes heaven and earth,
whose Spirit blows through the valleys and the hills;
whom death could not contain and
who lives to disturb and bring us life;
bless us with the power to endure,
to hope and to love. Amen.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018. 

Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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