Thank you to those who have responded to me following on the previous ‘editions’ of this blog, and those who have alerted me to prayers and reflections to share. This ‘edition’ contains a couple of these prayers, as well as some of my thoughts on the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-45), which is the lectionary Gospel for the coming Sunday. It concludes with a powerful personal reflection by Andrew Caspari, our Diocesan Secretary. The next edition of this blog will appear on Friday and will include references to online etc services that I become aware of which will be happening around the diocese this weekend.
Director of Lay Discipleship, Diocese in Europe
- Knowing God
- Growing in Christ
- Building Community
- Living Beyond Ourselves (Diocesan Rule of Life)
Lectionary reflection: Unbind us and set us free
This blog – http://faithineurope.net actually began in December 2018 as a weekly commentary on the lectionary. The biblical story selected as the lectionary Gospel for this coming Sunday – the raising of Lazarus as recounted in John 11.1-45 can, in its pain and perplexity, speak powerfully into the concerns of our present day. The physical distance between Jesus and Lazarus at the beginning of the narrative echoes the forced physical distance we are experiencing between us and many of our own relatives and friends. The story of Lazarus is of course the ‘hinge’ on which the whole life and ministry of Jesus turns in the Gospel of John.
Located at the very centre of the Gospel – for it is chapter 11 in a Gospel which contains 21 chapters – it is the ‘crux’ which leads us from the active ministry of Jesus (the powerful seven signs) towards his passion and death. Quite literally Jesus is going to die in order that Lazarus may live. To heal Lazarus Jesus has to travel back from the comparative safety of the lands beyond the Jordan to put himself in danger in the febrile atmosphere of Jerusalem, and the publicity generated by this ‘sign’ causes deep anxiety among the religious leaders who had the unenviable task of seeking to steer a safe course between appeasing their Roman masters and the desires and hopes of the people. This profound interconnection between the raising of Lazarus and the death of Jesus is echoed in an extraordinary painting by Caravaggio (below), ‘The Raising of Lazarus’. When one first looks at the painting it appears to be a portrayal of taking Jesus down from the Cross – and it is only deeper inspection that makes one realise that it is rather Lazarus being raised up.
I first came across the following song/hymn which focuses on the story of Lazarus, written by the Anglican priest David Mowbray about 25 years ago, but it came to mind again for these days:
Poor Lazarus is sick;
His sisters are afraid.
The world they knew is threatened now,
And Jesus is delayed.
Friend Lazarus, he sleeps;
He sleeps the sleep of death.
The Master knows that Lazarus
Has drawn his final breath.
Dear Lazarus is dead
And buried in the tomb.
And Jesus weeps, and after prayer
He says, ‘Roll back the stone’.
‘Rise, Lazarus, come out!’
God’s glory soon shall rise
And Bethany shall dance and sing
With open, sparkling eyes.
Yes, Lazarus, we die:
Our deeds, our dreams all fail
But God in Christ shall raise us up
And love’s design prevail.
(copyright David Mowbray, originally published in Story Song, Stainer & Bell, 1993, can be sung to many SM tunes)
Two lines – one from the first verse and the other from the last, particularly engaged me: ‘The world they knew is threatened now’ seems to speak into our experience of the present days. ‘And love’s design prevail’ expresses our faith that God’s ‘design’ for our world is good, and will ultimately triumph.
Love, indeed, is the engine which animates this story – not least as we are told in John 11.5 that ‘Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’ – they are the first individuals in the Gospel of John to be named as the recipients of Jesus’ love. I plan to come back to further reflection on this passage in the next edition of my blog – this Friday – but hope that the above thoughts and the prayer below will stimulate some thoughts for those of you planning worship for this Sunday. (I deliberately did not use the phrase ‘virtual worship’ – what we are seeking to offer at this time is indeed ‘worship’ to the best of our hearts, and minds and strength).
Resurrected and resurrecting Lord
You loved your friends so much,
That weeping, wounded and suffering you loved them to your end.
Through this love you have given us a sign.
Point us along your way,
Heal our hearts of stone,
Release us from all that binds us,
And welcome us into the fullness of life. Amen
Next a prayer by Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martins in the Fields, London, suggested by Andrew Caspari, our Diocesan Secretary, whose ‘home’ church it is:
A Prayer in the Midst of Crisis
God of searching and knowing,
your people Israel faced famine and wilderness,
and your church has known persecution and hardship.
Be close to all your children in this time of bewilderment and fear.
Make this time of cessation and isolation
one in which your Spirit reveals new ways to be together,
fresh discoveries in worship, different gestures of care,
and innovative forms of compassion.
Encourage the vulnerable, comfort the impoverished,
inspire the anxious and give wisdom to those who govern.
Lift up our hearts that we may see
the abundance of what is still beautiful and true,
not be captivated by what is lost and absent,
and find new gifts in ourselves and one another.
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ,
who knew what it meant to be alone. Amen.
A prayer by Revd Graham Turner, a prison chaplain in the north-west of England. I am grateful to Sacristy Press, on whose website I found it, and who enabled me to be in contact with Graham to ask his permission for its use. Their website contains other useful resources for this time: www.sacristy.co.uk
A prayer for those – including ourselves – who are fearful
Lord of Life,
today we are a fearful and anxious people.
As the viral illness intrudes deeper into our lives
we feel its threat and the menace of its violence.
We are prone to panic, causing us to think the worst
and hoard resources that we do not need,
thus depriving others of vital supplies.
The daily breaking news makes us feel naked
in the face of this unstoppable sickness
that migrates across the globe.
In these difficult days, give us a viral love
that will infuse into others’ lives.
Heal the sick and use us as agents of hope.
Protect the vulnerable and strengthen us to take care of others.
Pour your abundant wisdom into our leaders and give us concern for their well-being.
For the sake of all humanity we pray,
Amen. (copyright, Graham Turner)
One of the features of our lives in the last few weeks, and probably for the weeks to come, both as individuals and as members of Christian communities, has been our reliance on digital technology and means of communications. When the ‘internet’ first became widely used in the 1990s there was considerable enthusiasm (in which I myself got caught up) to reflect on its possibilities for building wider community. Since those days we have also sadly seen the darker side of such technologies. But the present days are perhaps allowing its positive potentialities to resurface (though even now there are those who would seek to capitalise in negative ways – I first heard the expression ‘zoom-bombing’ a couple of days ago!). However the following prayer comes from the 1990s, written by a United Reformed Church Minister, Bob Warwicker and expresses his hopes and vision for what may be. It may be especially appropriate for our dispersed community in the Diocese in Europe:
God, make my prayers like a candle-flame,
Always aspiring, hoping, stretching for heaven.
God make my prayers like a light-bulb,
Drawing energy from a network
That extends far beyond my sight.
Thank you for the vision you give us;
And for the world-wide community of sisters and brothers
In which you place us. (Bob Warwicker)
And finally a personal reflection by our Diocesan Secretary, Andrew Caspari, who is certainly among those bearing a heavy burden for us at the present time:
Lent in the Wilderness
Last Sunday (March 15) I found myself at church at both 10am and at Evensong. I had not planned it that way but the extra worship provided solace at the end of a difficult week. I did wonder whether this was ‘stockpiling’ church services and therefore somehow illicit. People talked about being back together this Sunday, but from my experience as Chief Operating Officer of the Diocese in Europe I think I knew what was coming. Churches across Europe have been getting used to being closed for longer than in England and the concept of ‘giving up church for Lent’ is now well established.
Let us be clear though – We are not giving up church. We are finding a new way of being church. It is a unique opportunity to appreciate what it is to be without church. Absence makes the heart grow fonder of course but our calling is to continue to be church. We are learning how to connect digitally like we have never done before. We should probably have had our Facebook group years ago. It will soon become business as usual. What a privilege to be able to come out of our ‘upper room’ at the click of a mouse or a tap on a phone. And no it is not true that older people cannot cope with the technology. Some just need a friendly person to talk them through it. My 92 year-old mother-in-law is a star on Whatsapp. The next phase is to learn how to be church not just for each other but for society as a whole. It is truly shocking to hear that Islington’s Food Bank has run out of food. Islington!!! We should be ashamed.
What we are experiencing is something of the wilderness. We are walking through the land of the shadow of death. Many are self-isolated. That is a truly Lenten concept. Perhaps the time I am forced to be at home will give me the chance to read, to learn, to pray.
It is hard to focus on good news at a time like this but as Isaiah said ‘those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined’. At this time of the year we wait for the light to shine at Easter. In a Diocesan meeting today someone said ‘We don’t know when Easter will be this year’. I pondered this and concluded that what he meant was: we don’t know when we will celebrate together in church, but celebrate we will. Our faith is that the wilderness and the cross are followed by the resurrection and no virus can take that away. (Andrew Caspari)