Good morning! We’ve had quite a good response to these online worship services and I’m very glad you’re with us this morning. This week we’re adding something new to the worship service: music! Our music director, John Cavicchio, is going to play the organ. I would like to point out that the organ console is a good 12-15 feet away from the pulpit, so John and I are maintaining a healthy social distance. Also, he’s wearing a mask and gloves.
Here’s how this service will go. First, I’ll make some announcements, then John is going to play our first hymn, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” After that, I’m going to offer some prayers, read from the Gospel of John, then preach a sermon. After the sermon, John will play another hymn, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.” Then we’ll say the Prayers of the People and the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, I’ll close with a benediction—a blessing for all of you and then John will play the closing hymn, “Lord of the Dance.” But first, here are some announcements.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Next Sunday we will celebrate communion during our live broadcast. Please have bread or crackers, as well as grape juice or wine, as we participate in the celebration of this sacrament.
We will continue to hold meetings and classes online using Zoom meeting software. If you would like to join one of our Koinonia classes on Wednesdays, please call or email the church office or send me an email, and we’ll send you an invitation to the meeting. Also, if you have any prayer requests, please email me or the church office and I will add your prayers to the Prayers of the People.
Please remember that we need you to continue to make your offerings! We still have to make our mortgage payments. So, if you are not suffering a financial hardship in these times, please remember to send your checks to the church office or make your offering online. Information for online donations can be found on our website.
#610 O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Prayer of Invocation
Dear God, silence all voices within our minds but your own.
Help us to seek and be able to follow your will.
May our prayers be joined
with those of our sisters and brothers in the faith,
that together we may glorify your name
and enjoy your fellowship forever.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prayer for Illumination
O Christ, by remaining faithful till death,
you show us the road to greater love.
O Christ, by taking the burden of sin upon yourself,
you reveal to us the way of generosity.
O Christ, by praying for those who crucified you,
you lead us to forgive without counting the cost.
O Christ, by opening paradise to the repentant thief,
you awaken hope in us.
O Christ, come and help our weak faith.
O Christ, create a pure heart in us;
renew and strengthen our spirit.
O Christ, your Word is near;
may it live within us and protect us always. Amen.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 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. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28 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.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 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. 32 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Good morning. I imagine you were expecting to hear the Palm Sunday story this morning, but I decided to go in a different direction. As I was planning worship a couple weeks ago, it occurred to me that our expectations for Palm Sunday are very much tied to the physical space of the sanctuary—a space that we cannot occupy as a congregation.
Think about it. Every year, we wave palm branches. Sometimes we have the kids running up and down the aisles, waving their palms and shouting, “Hosanna!” We have the choir process in, leading us as we sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” But we can’t do that this year; we’re stuck in our own homes.
Our reading this morning from the Gospel of John was actually the Lectionary reading for last Sunday. I couldn’t decide between the reading from Ezekiel that you heard last week and the story of Lazarus that you heard today. Both texts speak a word of peace that we need to hear in this time. So, I decided it was better for us to hear both of these stories, as we occupy our temporary tombs on these Sunday mornings.
There’s a lot going on in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus—enough for several sermons. This story includes the shortest verse in the entire Bible, verse 35: “Jesus began to weep.” In other editions of the Bible, it’s translated as, “Jesus wept.” It’s short, but it’s powerful. It speaks volumes.
This verse reveals God to us, in the person of Jesus. This is God, in the flesh, feeling what we feel. This is God sharing our human emotions, our grief, our pain. This might be why the editors of the New Revised Standard Version chose to translate this verse as “Jesus began to weep.” Instead of using the past tense, “Jesus wept,” this translation doesn’t indicate that Jesus ever stops weeping. This is an ongoing action. It means that Jesus weeps for us, too.
Think about that. As Jesus is confronted with the reality of his friend Lazarus, lying dead in a tomb, Jesus begins to weep. As we are cooped up in our homes, Jesus continues to weep. As we sit in places of anxiety, wondering if we might lose our jobs, Jesus continues to weep. As we get furloughed from our jobs, Jesus continues to weep. As we sit with friends and loved ones who are sick, Jesus continues to weep. As we sit in the anxiety of waiting for this period of social distancing to end, Jesus continues to weep. As we weep and ask the question, “How long, O Lord,” Jesus continues to weep. With us. Jesus weeps with us.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. But surely, this reading shows Jesus at his most human. This is God the Son experiencing human pain and loss in a way that God the Father does not. This is one of the central reasons for the incarnation; this is one of the reasons why God becomes human.
Jesus responds with empathy and patience. Jesus listens to Martha and Mary. Jesus listens. Jesus weeps. And only after spending time in those uncomfortable places does Jesus speak. “Lazarus, come out!” And then the dead man walks. Lazarus emerges from his temporary tomb. He is restored to his sisters. All are made whole.
Beloved, we will be made whole again, eventually. The shelter-at-home orders will be lifted, eventually. And for most of us, our jobs will go back to normal, eventually. But like Lazarus, we have no choice other than to remain in our temporary tombs for a while. That’s an uncomfortable place to be.
What strikes me most about this story is the empathy. We need to know that Lazarus’ death truly hurt Jesus. We need to know that Jesus sat with Martha and Mary and heard their pain. He listened as each of them said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus doesn’t argue with or rebuke either woman. He listens; he sits with their pain. Jesus practices empathy.
Beloved, as we sit in this uncomfortable space of social distancing, we must practice empathy. We must reach out to others, in their temporary tombs, and listen to their stories of social distancing. We must offer them the opportunities to tell their stories, even if we can’t do much to change their circumstances.
To put this another way, we can’t raise people from the dead, as Jesus raised Lazarus. But we can remind people that these tombs are only temporary—not by telling them that everything will be better, but by showing them that you are willing to sit with them in their time of need.
We can start this practice of empathy with our families and our closest friends, but we need to go the extra mile. After you’ve reached out to those people who are closest to you, reach out some more. Reach out to the people that you only see in church on a Sunday. If you don’t have a church directory, call the office. Christie can send you one. I would also encourage you to reach out to our elderly members who are homebound. If you need a list of our homebound members, call the office or reach out to one of our excellent Deacons. I’m sure that all of our current Deacons will be happy to deputize you into service.
I realize that this may not come naturally to all of you. It might be outside of your comfort zone. I get it. I understand. I empathize. I also know that true growth happens when we step outside of our comfort zones. Trust me on this. As you practice empathy, you will develop more empathy, and you will probably feel less isolated. This is important.
The sad truth is, even before this period of social distancing, which is a healthy response to this pandemic, there were a great many people in our society who suffer from social isolation, which is not healthy. We are called to reach out to those people, to minister to them. We are called to share the love of Christ with them—the Christ who breaks us out of our temporary tombs. We can do this. We can start by picking up the phone, writing a note, or sending an email. Please join me in this holy work. Thanks be to God. Amen.
#286 Breathe on Me, Breath of God
OFFERING / PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
Prayers of the People
First, we lift up everyone who is suffering from the coronavirus and the families and loved ones who suffer with the sick.
We also lift up all the medical professionals who are on the front lines of this struggle, who are busy diagnosing and treating this disease.
Prayers of thanksgiving for Chris, who is one of my fraternity brothers. Chris underwent a kidney transplant last week.
Finally, we lift up all the other people who work to keep us safe in these trying times: the first responders, especially the EMTs who have to transport all kinds of sick people. We lift up all the non-medical staff in the hospitals: the lab technicians who process all of the medical tests, the housekeeping staff, the people who transport patients around the hospitals, and the custodians who struggle to keep hospitals clean and free of germs. We offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all they do.
The Lord’s Prayer
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are called to be the Church, the body of Christ. We are called to be instruments of God’s love and peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!
#157 Lord of the Dance