26 March 2023

In this last week of Lent, we are given a prophecy of the resurrection to come for Christ. But, before Jesus can get to the glory, there is a lot of suffering and sacrifice to be endured.

Through Lent we have been called to journey with Jesus, to learn the steps of God’s life-dance from him, and we are not stopping now. It’s a challenging call, but, if we are to join Christ in his resurrection, we must also journey with him through the cross. Yet, even as we face the struggles and sacrifices of following Jesus, we will always find these moments of glory that sustain and strengthen us.

May our hearts be strengthened and prepared, and may we embrace both the glory and the sacrifice of our faith as we worship this week.

Ezekiel 37:1-14: Ezekiel’s prophesy of restoration in which he sees a valley of dry bones, and is called by God to prophesy that the bones come together and be clothed again in flesh, and then that the wind/breath/Spirit blow into them and bring them alive. In this way, he proclaims, God will bring life and restoration to God’s exiled people.

Psalm 130: A plea for mercy to God, with assurance that God does not keep a record of sins, but forgives, restores and rescues.

Romans 8:6-11: God’s Spirit, and the spiritual attitude that it nurtures, leads to life, and will enliven us not just in our spirits, but in our bodies as well.

John 11:1-45: Jesus, on hearing of Lazarus’ illness, returns after a short delay, to Judea, risking his own death, in order to raise Lazarus. After proclaiming himself as “the resurrection and the life” he raises Lazarus, and many people believe in him as a result.

The readings for Lent 5 are a prophecy. As we prepare to move into Holy Week, the transition point this week is a focus on resurrection. God’s people are given a vision of resurrection through Ezekiel. The Psalmist recognises God’s grace, mercy and rescue, and Paul proclaims that God’s Spirit gives us life in our whole being. John’s Gospel, also in a prophetic narrative, describes the raising of Lazarus, and demonstrates that Jesus is the one in whom life and resurrection are found. So, as we prepare our hearts for the coming journey through Jesus’ passion, we are reminded in advance that death does not have the last word, and that resurrection is promised and experienced in the midst of pain, threat and death. Jesus does not shy away from the threat of death, but offers himself as the one who brings life, even though he will ultimately die. And, yet, there is the hope, proclaimed even by Jesus himself, that he, as the forerunner, will be raised, assuring us that our resurrection is also certain. It’s a celebratory theme this week, but also a challenge not to shy away from the forces of death and evil, but to confront them – in ourselves and in our world – in the hope of resurrection.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: This week I find myself reflecting on the work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and how the dream of justice, of resurrection for their people, enabled them to embrace the deaths, the suffering, of working toward that resurrection. Jesus did not shy away from his death, and even Thomas, while doubting the hope of resurrection, gave himself to die with the Saviour in their journey to raise Lazarus. In the same way, in the work for justice, especially in terms of the massive human rights issues – human trafficking, violence against women and children, poverty, inclusion of gay people and immigration – we need to find the courage to embrace the persecution, the attacks on our reputation, and even physical harm – as we work to bring life and dignity to all others. The cost is often frightening, and yet, the cross is what we are called to bear, and our hope is that after the cost, we will nevertheless find life and joy – that is the hope of resurrection that continues to drive us and empower us. So, if we take the call and the hope seriously, we need to reflect on how we can engage with those who oppose and threaten us, and how we can deliberately and visibly bring life to those for whom we strive. And, as we lay down our lives, we must remain mindful of the signs of resurrection that are always around us.

LOCAL APPLICATION: For every follower of Christ, and every Christian community, resurrection is both a promise and a challenge. It is a promise that opens us to God’s life, which inspires and empowers us every moment. It is a challenge not to shy away from the sacrifices and struggles that we will inevitably face as we work for life and justice in our world. Daily we are called to lay down our own comfort and embrace simplicity for the sake of those who are poor. We are called to think carefully about what we buy and where, what we eat and how much, and how we do business for the sake of those who face oppressive trade restrictions and unfair exploitation by the wealthy and powerful. In our own relationships, we are called to give up our need to be right, our need to protect ourselves and our fear of those who are different and ‘alien’ to us, in order to bring life and grace to those who need it. Even our worship calls us to lay down our own preferences in favour of others so that they may encounter God in the way that is most helpful and transforming for them, rather than fighting for our own preferred styles and forms. All of this sacrifice can only be done if we truly believe in and embrace the promise of resurrection – for ourselves, that we will be led to life, and for our world, that our small contribution will make the world a more whole and alive place. In what ways can you embrace a small sacrifice this week in order to bring life to another?

Defiant Praise
Counting The Cost
We Choose Not

Hymn Suggestions:
Breathe On Me Breath Of God
Hark My Soul! It Is The Lord
And Can It Be
Saviour, Thy Dying Love
Christ For The World We Sing
Breathe (Link to YouTube video)
Lifesong (Link to YouTube video)
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice