Planning - Fifth Sunday in Lent
The valley of the dry bones -- and what God can do with even this!
Psalm 130 (UMH 848).
For the 1535 Coverdale version, use 516 in The United Methodist Hymnal; for a metrical version, use 515 in UMH. See "Out of the Depths, 2136, in The Faith We Sing, for a hymn that connects to this psalm and is related to congregational life. If you will be singing 848, use Tone 4 in G minor with the sung response.
Paul contrasts the life of the flesh, which draws from sin and leads to death, with the life of the Spirit, which draws from the Spirit of Christ and leads to righteousness. This is not a dualist rejection of the body, but rather a refusal to be controlled by its impulses. "God who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies through the Spirit."
Lazarus is dead, long dead, stinking dead. Jesus is resurrection and life, and he raises Lazarus from the dead.
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Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent, year A. It is technically the final Sunday "in" Lent. In today's gospel, we hear the story of the death and raising of Lazarus, a foretaste of Jesus' own death and resurrection and of what all of us buried and raised with Christ in the sacrament of baptism both acknowledge (our own spiritual "stinking deadness") and freely receive (the gift of new and eternal life).
Holy Weekm begins next Sunday with Palm/Passion Sunday. If you have not already done so, plan now for a complete celebration of the week, including services for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Great Vigil. (See BOW 343-376 for resources, descriptions and service orders, and the link above for thorough instructions and suggestions for The Great Vigil.) We also have a more contemporary version of the Great Vigil, including suggestions for music, readings offered around the worship space, and a dancer. Readings for each day of Holy Week are available on the Discipleship Ministries worship website. If you do not plan to gather for daily services in your worship space, consider organizing smaller gatherings at homes throughout this week (especially Monday-Wednesday), using these texts as guides for your prayer and reflection.
The Festival of God's Creation in 2011 falls on Easter Sunday (April 24). You are encouraged always to include the earth and care for the earth in your congregation's weekly intercessions (if not, start adding that now!), and of course on this day as well. If, during Lent, you will encourage folks to reduce their energy consumption, today may also be an occasion for folks to share testimonies or simply place something in the offering plate indicating the results of their efforts to save energy. But Easter should be the primary focus of your celebration this day, regardless of any other denominational focus. So while you may include recognition of the denominational day in worship, keep the resurrection of our Lord front and center, and consider offering other commemorations for the day at a time other than the worship hour.
As you plan beyond Easter Sunday, remember that Easter Season (or Eastertide) lasts a full eight Sundays, from the Easter Vigil (April 23 at night) through the celebration of Pentecost (June 12). This is seven Sundays to celebrate and teach the stories of Christ after his resurrection through his Ascension (June 2 is Ascension Day, but the readings and celebration may be transferred to Easter 7 on June 5) and the coming of the Spirit at the Day of Pentecost. While the purpose of Lent is to prepare people for baptism and help the baptized reaffirm their own baptismal commitments, the purpose of Eastertide historically is to help the baptized understand the mystery of the resurrection (mystagogy) as they discern their gifts and claim or reclaim their ministries in the world in the name and power of the Risen Lord. You may find "The Progression of Eastertide, Year A" helpful as you plan for this season.
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Atmospherics: Come forth from the Tomb and Help Others Do the Same!
This week's lengthy gospel reading, which sets the theme for all the others, is at once solemn and joyous. Lazarus has died -- a fact affirmed no less than eight times and with graphic (and olfactory!) detail. Everyone who knew him, including Jesus, weeps. But weeping is only for a few days, and great joy follows, because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life and calls him forth, alive, from the tomb.
All the Sunday readings in Lent, and especially the past three Sundays, bring us to this point. Like Nicodemus, we are so unprepared and even misprepared for God's kingdom by our life in this world that nothing short of rebirth can help us even see it. Like the Samaritan woman by Jacob's well, we are parched for living water but seek to satisfy our thirst by lesser things. Like the man born blind, we are spiritually blind until Christ heals our sight and sends to be cleansed in a place called "Sent," a sign of what we are to be when our eyes are opened.
This week, we acknowledge that we are Lazarus. We are dead. Stinking dead. And like him, we have hope of anything other than further demise and decay only through the power of Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life.
The call to Lazarus is to come forth, to leave the tomb behind. Jesus Christ calls us forth to no lesser destiny, in this age and in the age to come.
But Jesus did not raise Lazarus or us alone. He enlisted some to roll away the stone (verse 39). He commanded others to "unbind him and set him free" (verse 44). In raising Lazarus, Jesus not only restored him, but called the community around him to complete what he had begun.
And so it is in baptism. We are buried with Christ, dead to sin, and raised with him to walk in newness of life. But never alone. We walk together with all who have died and are being raised, that the fullness of Christ's resurrection may be known in our lives now and in the age to come.
We who were dead welcome and pledge to live eternally with and for the dead made alive in Christ.
And looking to the day when the new birth is realized in water and Spirit, we pray on this day over all who continue to prepare to come to the waters:
Lord Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life, call (Name/s) out of the grave of old hurts so they may enjoy eternal life with you and your people. Amen.
Lord Jesus help and deliver (Name/s) whom you have called to baptism. Lift them from the grip of death. Cancel the power of sin and fear. Unbind them, and set them free from the shackles of old patterns and addictions. We ask this by the power of the Holy Spirit you have breathed upon us. Amen.
(from Daniel T. Benedict, Come to the Waters, p. 119).
What are the images from the rich stories this week from Ezekiel and John that will best express these deep truths of our existence in your congregation, especially to those who are preparing for baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant?
What around you will most graphically remind your congregation that without Christ they are dead, as are all? What around you will remind your congregation that in Christ the power of death is overcome, though the flesh may still die? Who around you is a powerful witness of life in the Spirit, life that overcomes death, life that offers life to all who are dead?
How is your congregation, the body of Christ that you are, a living witness of resurrection life in the Spirit? Who is rolling away the stone for others, so they can respond to Christ's call to "come forth"?
As you prepare for this service in your worship planning team, keep your eyes and ears open for these signs -- signs of the dead and decaying flesh, and signs of the quickening Spirit -- where you are and among the people where you have been sent. Build the focus of this service, as through all these weeks, around the gospel reading, but be sure to include the elements from all these powerful texts in some ways as well, so your worshiping community can find themselves so named in them that they cannot but acknowledge their death and respond to Christ's call to "come forth."
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- We are close to Holy Week and Easter now, and the readings almost propel us to the joy and delight of the paschal mystery -- the dying and rising of Christ. However, we are not there yet; and the function of the readings in the liturgy is to confront in us the thirst, blindness, and death that "is hostile to God" and keeps us bound in death's strong bands. (See "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," The United Methodist Hymnal, 319.)
- The readings. Remember that Christian worship is the work of the people and is shaped as call and response. God speaks, and the assembly responds. Think of that in terms of these readings: God speaks to us from Ezekiel; we respond with a moment of silence and with the psalm. God calls to us again in Romans, and we respond with brief silence so the call to life settles in and we sing a hymn or song. Then the gospel from John is proclaimed in reading and sermon, and we respond with creed, hymn, or coming forward in renewal or for prayer over baptismal candidates or to offer a new commitment.
- Confession and Pardon: If you are going to celebrate Holy Communion, use the invitation (UMH, p. 7) to lead into this confession and pardon sequence.
Please sing the response at the direction of the leader.
Let us name before God and one another
our dry bones and grave stones,
and cry for mercy.
Stones in our ears: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Stones of our prosperity for some: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Bones of dry busyness: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Bones of opportunities refused: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Partnerships resisted: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Church without martyrs: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
World without justice: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Cities of the faceless: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
The poor unheeded: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Gospel waiting for disciples: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Nations waging war and not peace: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Sin unforgiven: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Love ignored: Kyrie, Kyrie eleison.
Here all may name before God and the community other things needing resurrection and mercy.
Hear the good news:
Thus says the Lord God, I am going to open your graves,
O my people; and will bring you out.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven and alive.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
you are forgiven and alive.
Glory to God. Amen.
Copyright 1999, 2001 Discipleship Ministries. Written by Daniel Benedict.
Congregations are welcome to use or adapt this as long as the copyright line accompanies the piece.
The sung Kyrie is number 484 in The United Methodist Hymnal.
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Embodying the Word: The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A
The readings for this Sunday are as tight in alignment as any set in the whole lectionary, and yet one of the longest in the lectionary as well. Expect the readings themselves to take at least 10-15 minutes. It is easy to say, "It is too much to read; people just can't take that much in." My response: That depends entirely on how you read these texts in worship!
If you just read one text after another and do not accentuate the underlying movement of call and response throughout these texts, yes, this will be deadly dull. You will illustrate the power of death in the very reading of the texts.
But if you do keep that underlying rhythm of call and response clear, the congregation's experience can be very lively indeed.
Call: Ezekiel; Response:The cry from the bones in the form of Psalm 130.
Call: Romans; Response: A hymn that seeks the Spirit's stirring and reviving power in your midst.
Call: John; Response: Various possibilities, depending on your congregation and context. It could be a creed affirming Jesus as resurrection and life, or a time of prayer and commitment to roll away the stone for others, or a hymn that engages either of those responses or others your congregation may need to make.
If you have candidates for baptism over whom you have been praying during these weeks, be sure to pray over them again today and to invite the congregation to extend their hands toward them as you do in prayer and blessing, as suggested above.
Additional Possibilities for heightening the engagement of the people in the readings:
- Accompany the reading of John with organ, piano, or other instrument, using music that is suitable to the mood of the reading and not so familiar or so loud that it calls people away from listening to the story. ("O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How Wide," UMH 267, would be a good accompaniment for John's gospel.)
- Do the reading with readers for the various parts as has been suggested in the previous three Sundays' Planning Helps.
- Gospel Dramatization: Use pages 26-32 of "Gospel Proclamations" from Who Calls You by Name by Victoria Tufano and David Haas (GIA, 1992; order number G-3662; call 800-442-1358 or order from the website). This has a wonderful, vigorous refrain for the people to sing at points through the reading (with permission to print it in the bulletin).
- For the Psalm, consider The Work of the People's video "Out of the Depths," or a film clip that expresses the Psalmist's cry as our own or that of others in our contemporary situation.
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- BOW 331
- BOW 332 (Psalm, Romans)
- BOW 344 (Romans)
- UMH 870 as opening declaration preceded by "The Lord be with you ..."
- BOW 196, "Call to Prayer" (Psalm)
- UMH 353
Act of Praise
Canticle: 516, "Canticle of Redemption" (Psalm)
Invitation, Confession, and Pardon
- BOW 486; add words of pardon or mutual forgiveness.
- BOW 375, "New Life for God's People" (Ezekiel) use the prayer as a prayer of pardon and assurance.
- See the confession and pardon in "Compass Point" above.
Concerns and Prayers
- UMH 460, "In Time of Illness" (John)
- UMH 461, "For Those Who Mourn" (John)
- BOW 337 (Romans)
- BOW 163-164, For an Untimely or Tragic Death (John)
- BOW 167-168, Ministry Immediately Following Death (Psalm, John)
- BOW 169, A Family Hour or Wake (John)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan.
Dismissal with Blessing
BOW 529. Continue to use the sign of the cross and invite each to sign himself or herself on the last line of the prayer.
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