Lent 5A, Reflectionary

Bring Out Your Dead

As we try to adjust to having four people at home all the time, one of our strategies is rotating the choice of post-dinner activity, to bring ourselves together for something that counts as play. On Friday night, my 24-year-old daughter picked a movie she felt was essential to the cultural education of my 15-year-old stepson, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m fairly sure the only time I watched it all the way through was at a campus screening in 1981, but I recognized the cultural touchstones. 

I vaguely remembered the plague scene, a cart being wheeled through the muddy streets of a village, while Eric Idle cries…

I’m sure it seemed hilarious in 1975, when an image like the one below would have been unthinkable, but I cringed to see it.

It’s Wednesday, and I have no idea how things will be this weekend, when pastors will do their best to share a good word with the people they serve. The lectionary for Sunday feels uncomfortably close to our situation. Lent is almost over, and we are approaching the top of the curve in Jesus’ story just as we are trying to flatten the curve in ours. We are living, most of us, one day at a time, even one hour at a time, waiting for the next news update, waiting for a million shoes to drop.

This week’s gospel lesson, John 11:1-45, is one of my favorite stories in the New Testament, because I love Martha and her family and their relationship with Jesus. He is intimately acquainted with them; the sisters feel free to be themselves with him, Martha jousting and Mary collapsing, both expressing their disappointment without reserve. We learn that their loss is his loss, too, even as he knows he will be bringing Lazarus back to the world of the living. 

We will be brought out of this eventually, but for now, we are in the tomb with Lazarus, waiting. Lives are being lost, along with many understandings about life we considered reliable in the First World in the 21st century. The close ties of all who live on this planet have never been illuminated so plainly. This week’s texts proclaim the hope of our faith: death is not the end. What will our lives proclaim to the world? I hope our testimony will be love and care, accompaniment of those who mourn, and space to weep for what we will lose and have lost already.


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Lent 5A, Liturgy

Make us ready

Holy One,

As we walk the road toward Easter,
we see earthly kingdom powers 
closing in on Jesus.
As we walk the road toward Easter,
we feel the viral spread of anxiety 
closing in on our lives. 

We are worried and afraid. 

Make us ready to go with Jesus.
Give us the courage of the disciples to follow him.
Give us the confidence of Martha to name his power.
Give us the trust of Mary to share our grief with him.  
Give us the vulnerability of Jesus to shed our tears, trusting he weeps with us.

Make us ready, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen. 

You are welcome to use the prayer or the image in any way that might be useful.

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Grief, John 11:1-45, Lent 5A

When Jesus Cried (a children’s message to accompany John 11:1-45)

John 11:35
“Jesus began to weep.”

Long, long ago, when Jesus was living on the Earth, he had three very good friends, who were two sisters and a brother. The sisters were named Mary and Martha, and the brother was named Lazarus. Now, Lazarus got very, very sick. He was so sick that his sisters were afraid he might die. They sent word to Jesus, but by the time he got to their town, Lazarus had already died. His sister Mary was crying. His sister Martha had been crying, too. They were both very sad, because they loved their brother very much. When Jesus saw them, he cried, too. Crying is a good thing to do when we’re sad. If we didn’t cry, we would still be holding onto the feelings that come out with our tears.

Jesus and his friend cried. But they didn’t just cry. Mary and Martha felt all kinds of upset. Martha even yelled at Jesus! Sometimes when someone we love dies, we feel sad *and* angry. Jesus still loved Martha even after she raised her voice, because that’s how it is between friends. When our friends are sad because someone has died, one of the best things we can do is just listen to how they are feeling.

And I want you to know it’s okay to be angry, just like it’s okay to be sad.  When you feel angry, you can tell someone you trust. Just remember you’re not angry with them! Sometimes when we’re angry – well, almost every time – we can feel it all over our bodies. That’s a good time to go for a walk or a run, or to ride your bike really fast (just be sure you put on your helmet…) or to punch a pillow, or even to ask a grown-up if you can hammer something.

Just be sure to talk to somebody. Even if you can’t tell them too much about why you’re angry, the people who love you will want to help.

You can talk to them, too, if you don’t understand why a sad thing happened. When someone we love dies, we all wonder why it had to happen. We understand that people’s bodies sometimes get sick and don’t get better, but it feels especially bad when it happens to someone we love. After someone dies, people like to tell stories about them, about the things they did and the people they loved. Those stories might make us cry a little at first, but the next time we tell them, we may start to feel like smiling when we remember. And that’s okay, too.

God sent Jesus to be with people and help them because God loves us so much and wanted to be closer to us. And God understands how we feel when we’re sad, because God remembers what it was like the day Jesus cried about his friend.

One of the ways we can feel closer to God when we’re sad, or we’re angry, is to pray. We close our eyes and make our minds quiet, and then we talk to God. It’s okay to pray out loud or to pray quietly, so that only God can hear. Let’s pray together.

O God, we thank you for loving us, even when we are angry. We thank you for loving us, especially when we are sad. Help us to talk to you and to talk to each other about the way we are feeling. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Adapted from a children’s message shared at the memorial service of a much-loved wife, mother and school volunteer, where many children were in attendance.)