The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos basados en el leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé.
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 this Psalm 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 raises him 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 (their own spiritual “stinking deadness”) and freely receive (the gift of new and eternal life).
Holy Week begins next Sunday with Palm Sunday/Passion of the Lord. 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). Readings for each day are available on the Discipleship Ministries worship website (click on April at the top of the list, and scroll down slightly). If you do not plan to gather for 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. And once again, I will offer a Holy Saturday service via Twitter at 10 AM ET. Watch for it at #holysat.The Festival of God’s Creation in 2014 falls on Easter Sunday (April 20). 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 have encouraged 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. The resurrection of our Lord 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.
April 13-19 Holy Week
April 13: Palm/Passion Sunday
April 17: Maundy Thursday
April 18: Good Friday
May 5-11 Christian Family Week
May 17-18 Change the World Weekend
May 24 Aldersgate Day
May 26 Memorial Day (USA)
May 29 Ascension of the Lord
As you plan beyond Easter Sunday, remember that Easter Season (or Eastertide) lasts a full eight Sundays, from the Easter Vigil (April 19 after sunset) through the celebration of Pentecost (June 8). This is seven Sundays to celebrate and teach the stories of Christ after his Resurrection, through his Ascension (May 29 is Ascension Day, but the readings and celebration may be transferred to Easter 7 on June 1) and the coming of the Spirit at the Day of Pentecost.
While the purpose of Lent is to prepare persons 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 Keeping Easter Season in Year A helpful as you are planning for this season.
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Atmospherics: Come forth from the Tomb and Help Others Do the Same!
Death is in our faces in this week’s readings, all of them. There is the valley of the dried out bones of Judah’s slain in Ezekiel. There is Lazarus, dead for four days, stinking in a tomb in the gospel reading. And there are our bodies, dead because of sin in Romans. Death, death everywhere.
But also new life everywhere. The dry bones live when Exekiel calls for the breath of God to inhabit their newly-fleshed forms. Lazarus comes forth from the tomb, alive. And Paul reminds us “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Romans 8:11).
Death first, then life.
Baptism is an obvious parallel: burial in the water first, then raised to walk in newness of life.
As we continue to walk with those preparing for baptism and to strengthen the commitment of the baptized to live the baptismal covenant faithfully, this week we focus in worship and in daily disciplines on this stark reality: we are (or have been) dead. Only the power of God can raise us so we can truly live.
So this week, we acknowledge that Lazarus is us. 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: To leave death and all its ways behind.
And as he calls us to leave the tomb, we see in the story of the raising of Lazarus, he truly calls us, calls us as a community, and not simply as individuals, to support the deliverance of others from death as well.
Jesus enlisted some to roll away the stone (verse 39). What stones are you helping to roll away from those who are dead or left for dead?
He commanded others to “unbind him and set him free” (verse 44). What bonds are you loosing from those kept in long captivity to sin and death?
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.
This is why our baptismal vows include a call to live “in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations and races,” and, again, “According to the grace given you… remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world.” Christ raises us to walk in newness of life with one another and on mission with one another in and to the world.
So 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).
In Your Planning Team
Death is everywhere is this week’s texts. So is being raised from the dead. Not “Zombie-raised” to become “undead,” but truly raised to live as we had never lived before.
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 of 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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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 the 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—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” would be a good accompaniment for John’s gospel—UMH 267).
- Do the reading with readers for the various parts as has been suggested in the previous three Sundays' Planning Helps.
- 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.
- 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.
Confession and Pardon:
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 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,
we 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.
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)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: East Timor, Indonesia, Philippines
Dismissal with Blessing
Continue to use the sign of the cross and inviting each to sign himself or herself on the last line of the prayer.
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