“I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who have faith in me shall live,
even though they die;
and no one who lives and has faith in me shall ever die.
Do you believe this?
‘Yes’ Lord, she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God,
who has come into the world.”
St. John 11: 25.
Good morning, we are very good in this country at holding our nerve and steadying one another. A couple of weeks ago our world looked very different from how it does today. Our society is currently undergoing a severe seismic shock to the system.
The shift has been so rapid that it feels to some of us that the ground beneath us has given way - and, yes, it is both very disconcerting and disorientating.
Some of us are harbouring unanchored feelings of frustration and despair - and even grief; we are all feeling locked in an international human trauma.
Human nature being what it is, when we are feeling uncertain we tend to equate uncertainty with the worst outcome.
The creative forces in nature which brought you and I into existence in the first place also have an out-of-control side. So viruses which play an essential role in the balance of the human body can - if they come from another animal - sometimes do damage to us.
I know what living with anxiety is like. I’ve probably been a life-long catastrophiser, despite knowing, with hindsight, that in every single instance, my worst case scenarios never even had a chance of coming true.
My anxiety doesn’t feel totally unwarranted at the present moment - but the question is, “how helpful is it? The answer, of course, is not very useful at all!
So let’s all just try to stay as calm as we can and focus on what we’re doing. We’re not denying reality; we’re just recognising that this current unpleasantness will surely pass, albeit, we don’t yet know just when.
I guess we just all want to be assured that the way our world looks when we go to bed at night-time is the way it will look when we get up in the morning.
In times like this our relationship with others becomes ever more important.
So it might be best to concentrate on what is real and meaningful in our lives.
Anxiety is contagious - but so is kindness! One of the amazing results of this time of national emergency, as so many have already experienced, is that we are discovering a new depth and compassion in life, which has already led so many people to be really concerned for those around them.
The coronavirus pandemic is teaching us the worth of people, people like our NHS staff, fighting the effects of the virus each and every hour of each and every day;
But also our delivery drivers, our supermarket workers, our cleaners, the men and women on the front-line of the funeral business... and countless others...
Their commitment to the community they serve guards the borderline between civilisation and chaos - and society must re-evaluate their worth when this is over – and, be sure, it will be over!
And when it is over we must not conveniently forget their self-giving service!
It’s on all of us now us to look at our own contribution. Our own behaviour is the most effective way to slow down the rate of infection so we must all head the advice we are being given about social distancing recommendations.
So, please, heed the public health advice on public gatherings, transport and working.
Taking sensible precautions against infection spares the vulnerable from a potentially life-threatening - if not life changing - illness.
For a little while our corporate lives are going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday and our many activities through the week, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.
We may not be able to pray with people in the ways that we are used to, but we can certainly pray for people - and we can certainly offer practical care and support wherever possible.
There are many very encouraging schemes happening right across our communities to focus on caring for the most vulnerable;
So do please continue to play your part in those schemes where you can and please check our website regularly to see how you might help, or be helped, as the days and weeks unfold us…
And let’s continue to pray, to love, to care for the vulnerable, and build our communities, even while we’re temporarily separated.
By our service, and by our love, Jesus Christ will be made known, and the hope of the gospel - a hope that will counter fear and isolation - will spread across our land.
Our country has a culture of caring, this is expressed through the NHS, in social care, the Church and in many other ways and all are working hard together for the wellbeing of all.
All of us, now, face a common threat, Covid-19. The question this morning is, how do we find hope in these difficult circumstances?
Well, hope comes both from what we can do and who we are.
We are perfectly capable of bearing the truth of this difficult situation.Honesty strengthens our hopes, so we need to listen to the science.
Through listening we already know how to reduce the risk: washing our hands meticulously;
Self-isolating even if we are not actually ill but have come into contact with the virus;
Resisting the temptation to rush to a doctor’s surgery where we might infect others;
Resisting the temptation, too, to panic buy!
And, at some point in the very near future we’ll go after the virus itself with vaccines and treatments.
The gospel message for today is from John’s Gospel and tells the story of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. You remember how Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead?
I have sometimes seen this story of the raising of Lazarus as an inaccessible and, in some respects, unappealing story.
Lazarus is not fleshed out as a character so we don’t really get to know him All we know about him is that Jesus loved him and he got sick and died. His sisters, whom we have met in Luke’s gospel, seem a little passive-aggressive. Their initial note doesn’t ask Jesus to come! It just informs Him of their brother's illness.
Then, when Jesus approaches their town, they each, separately, run out and lay the identical guilt trip on Him, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”
As for Jesus, He is never more certain about the panoramic big picture than here. Lazarus’ illness will not end in death, and it will be for the glory of the Son of God.
But Jesus is, at the same time, seldom more disturbed and moved by the sights and sounds of a specific scene: the sound of mourners wailing and the stench of death. So for many years, I have read this text and thought hmm, this is odd - and read on.
But how about seeing ourselves in Lazarus and accepting the miracle of his restoration of physical life as the beginning of our entry into the eternal life that begins the moment we accept Jesus’ offer of relationship with us?
Lazarus, whose name, a shortened form of Eleazar, means “God helps” is from a town whose name, “Bethany”, means “House of Affliction.”
So God helps one who suffers from affliction.
Lazarus, we’re told, is the “one Jesus loves”; and he represents all those whom Jesus loves, which includes you and me and all humankind!
This gospel story for today, then, on this fifth Sunday in the season of Lent, is the story of our coming to life from death in this present moment, not just in a future event.
So let’s substitute our own name for that of Lazarus; Let’s hear Christ’s command, and walk into the bright light of day, pulling free of our grave-clothes as we go.
Please remember that Jesus wept with those He loved, and He still does!
Please remember that Jesus raised people up, and He still does!
Please remember that Jesus included others in the healing process… and He most certainly still does!
Thank God, then, for the glorious promise that even the darkest night will end - when the Son will rise!
A Moment of Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, You taught us to love our neighbour, and to care for those in need as if we were caring for You.
In this time of anxiety, give us strength to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick, and to assure the isolated of our love, and Your love,
Creator God, be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.
In their loneliness, be their consolation;
In their anxiety, be their hope;
In their darkness, be their light;
This we ask through Him who suffered alone on the cross, but now reigns with You in glory, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His loving hand.
And the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be among you, and remain with you;
this Lenten season and for evermore.