Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Psalm 130: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If you were to keep watch over sins, O Lord, who could stand? Yet with you is forgiveness, in order that you may be feared. I wait for you, O Lord, my soul waits; in your word is my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning, more than those who keep watch for the morning. O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love; with the Lord there is plenteous redemption. For the Lord shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
Gospel Reading: John 11:1-44: Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair, her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death, rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after that he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of the world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again, greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, your would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Sermon: Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites. After reading through it one can see why this reading is used for many funeral services. It speaks to both of our needs when a loved one dies: grief and hope.
Let’s start with grief. The grief in this story is palpable; especially from Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Not only have they lost a brother they loved; they have lost their means of provision and protector. No other male relative is mentioned in the lives of Martha and Mary; no living husband or father. In Jesus’ time women without a husband or father needed a male relative for support and Lazarus was it.
One can sense the urgency in the request Martha and Mary sent to Jesus: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” It’s not unreasonable that they would expect a quick response from Jesus since they knew how Jesus felt about Lazarus and how they had seen Jesus heal others. I can feel the hurt and anger in their response to Jesus after he arrives four days after Lazarus dies, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It is after Jesus hears these same words from Mary that we feel Jesus’ grief at the loss of his dear friend. In some translations it is the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”
Jesus weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus, at the pain Lazarus’ sisters and friends feel at his death and Jesus knows that in a few moments Lazarus will be raised from the dead! It is in these moments that we are given permission to grieve the death of our loved ones; because we will miss them until we meet again. We miss their smiles, their laughter, their insights, their love. Many is a time that I wish I could learn more about knitting from my Grandma Ziemer; that I could watch my Grandma Froelich make a favorite dish; that I could hear a joke from my Grandpa Ziemer. And when those times come; so do the tears because over time while the pain gets less sharp, it is still there.
But while we grieve, we still have hope. St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” And there is hope in this reading. When Martha tells Jesus that she believes God will give him whatever he asks, that she believes that Jesus is the Messiah, that Lazarus will rise again to new life at the last day. But we have more than that! We have the hope that Jesus is the one who will destroy the last punishment for sin–death. Jesus gives us that hope not only when he raises Lazarus from the dead, but especially when God raises Jesus from death through the power of the Holy Spirit on Easter morning–never to die again!
During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic we are grieving many things. We grieve a way of life that has now changed-we can no longer go where we want when we want. We can’t meet for worship, with friends or family, some can’t go to work, others can’t leave work. We grieve for those who are sick and for those who have and may die. Life is not the same as it was two short weeks ago and we grieve that.
But it is during this time that we need to remember our hope in Christ Jesus. We grieve on Good Friday knowing that Easter Sunday is around the corner (whether we’re in church or not) and Jesus will rise from the dead. We grieve the death of our loved ones knowing that Jesus has conquered death and we will meet again. We now are grieving the loss of a way of life but we know that Jesus is with us and supporting us so that we can support our neighbors. Yes, we can’t meet together for worship, but we can still be the church. We can pray for each other and the world. We can lend support when and however we can. For we know how the story ends.
Let us pray for the church, the world and all those in need.
Eternal God, amid all the turmoil and changes in the world, your love is steadfast and your strength never fails. In this time of danger and trouble, be to us a sure guardian and rock of defense. Guide the leadership of our nation with your wisdom, comfort those in distress and grant us courage and hope to face the future. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant your peace and reassurance. Where impossibilities close every door and window, grant imagination. Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination. Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
Merciful God, your healing power is everywhere about us. Strengthen those who work among the sick; give them courage and confidence in all they do. Encourage them when their efforts seem futile or when death prevails. Increase their trust in your power even to overcome death and pain and crying. May they be thankful for every sign of health you give, and humble before the mystery of your healing grace. We especially ask for your healing on Kim, Audrey, Arlene, Loren, Karen, Harlan, Daryl, Nathan, Madelon and those we name in our hearts. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
God of earth and air, water and fire, height and depth, we pray for those who work in danger, who rush in to bring hope and help and comfort when others flee to safety, whose mission is to seek and save, serve and protect, and whose presence embodies the protection of the Good Shepherd. Give them caution and concern for one another, so that in safety they may do what must be done, under your watchful eye. Support them in their courage and dedication that they may continue to save lives, ease pain, and mend the torn fabric of lives and social order. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
Merciful God, we ask that you look upon the members of Red Oak Grove with love and grace. We lift up to you by name this week: Sandra, David and Bridger Bjork; Paul Christianson; Doris Draayer; Karen Johnson; Darlene Lestrud; Dean and Dawn Peterson; RaeAnn, Daryl, Sally, Clint and Amy Peterson; Yvonne Spinler; John, Wendy, Tyler Trihus and Creighton Cadwell; Joshua, William and Jack Ulland. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord. Amen.