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The Parish of Christ Church, Lancaster
A vibrant inclusive worshipping community
Sunday 29th March 2020
Fifth Sunday of Lent: Passion Sunday
Don’t forget to put your clocks forward an hour!
On the plus side – an hour less of pandemic to put up with!
Collect (Prayer for the week)
Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, delivered and saved the world: grant that, by faith in him who suffered on the cross, we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Refrain: My soul waits for the Lord.
1 Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; ◆ let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2 If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss, ◆ O Lord, who could stand?
3 But there is forgiveness with you, ◆ so that you shall be feared.
4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; ◆ in his word is my hope.
5 My soul waits for the Lord, more than the night watch for the morning, ◆ more than the night watch for the morning.
6 O Israel, wait for the Lord, ◆ for with the Lord there is mercy;
7 With him is plenteous redemption ◆ and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.
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 this 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 this 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 also go, that we may die with him.’
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for 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 for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards 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.’
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Our readings were chosen long before ‘pandemic’ was on everyone’s lips – a reminder that God’s words come to us in and out of season. They are old stories which spiral around us, and we join the story for a season and tell them the next generation who will hear it.
Take the 2500 year-old story of the Exile – it is one we don’t tell in church very often, perhaps because it is a sad and painful story. Yet it shapes much of the Old Testament, and our knowledge of what God is like during hard times. The story of the Exile goes like this:
God’s people lived in Jerusalem, and they knew that God was in the Temple in the midst of them. They thought that the city would protect them from everything. But then came the Assyrians. They attacked the city – people fought and died, and it was a terrible time. Finally, the Assyrians went away.
Then the Babylonians came, and they did not go away. They broke down the walls and burned the Temple, and took many of the people away so that only a few were left in the land. As the soldiers marched God’s people away, they looked back at the burning city and wondered if they’d ever see it again.
As they walked through the desert, they had to do everything the soldiers said. They grew weary, and some died – it took a long time. They were in exile, they could not go home. They sang sad songs, and dreamed of Jerusalem, but they could not go home. They even faced Jerusalem when they said their prayers – and slowly God’s people began to understand that God was in this new place too. God’s presence came to them as they gathered to read the Scriptures, to tell the old stories, and to pray.
The King of Babylon allowed God’s people to work, and life became normal. So it came as a shock when the King of Persia came and took Babylon for himself.
The King of Persia began to let some of the people back to Jerusalem. Some went with Ezra and they began to rebuild the Temple. More were allowed to go back, and they went with Nehemiah. They began to rebuild the walls around the city. The people of God were no longer in exile, they could go home. But do you know what happened? Not all of them went home – now they knew that God was in a strange, foreign land. Some stayed, because God was there too.
Imagine yourself in this story, what it would be like to be far from God’s Temple, living in a strange land under someone else’s rules and not knowing what the future would hold.
This is the situation which Ezekiel speaks into. Ezekiel is a prophet with strange and sometimes disturbing visions of what God will do. He lived in Babylon with the rest of God’s people, and he taught them that God was still to be worshipped in this strange place, and that God was working to restore the people to their homes and lives in the Promised Land.
Today’s story of a valley of dry bones coming to life is exactly that. The people thought that they were so isolated from God that their life had dried up, their prayers had died and they were scattered, never to be whole again. Ezekiel sees how powerful God is, and tells of how God will come to revive His people, to unite them and make sure that death and disaster don’t have the last word.
And God did exactly that. Perhaps as the people were returning to Jerusalem, they sang Psalm 130. It is an ancient prayer, yet fits perfectly with the prayers of many of us today. It can be said when angry, desperate, impatient – even as a quiet whisper. If you find yourself lying awake in the night, Psalm 130 is a friend and comfort – and has also been the daily prayer of our Grammar School for the last 800 years!
St Paul was steeped in this story of trauma, separation and pain – and its psychological effects on the Jewish people. The Exile (and indeed the Exodus centuries before it) showed God’s power to save people from danger – and to walk beside them when they found themselves in strange, desert places. St Paul’s assurance is that the Spirit that brought those dry bones to life is still in the world. God’s Spirit gives us life not because we do all the right things, but through grace: there is nothing we can do or say to make God love us any more or any less than how much we are loved right now.
That grace overrides the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Jesus restores him not only to life, but to the love of his community. Even Jesus grieves when he hears that His friend has died, He shows that God listens to the bold prayers of Mary as she demands His help and presence. One who was apparently isolated in a tomb, is restored to family and friends. What had seemed like death and disaster becomes a story of restoration, hope and joy.
And, because St John loves giving his readers ‘spoiler alerts’ for what will come later in the Gospel, Lazarus’ return to life points the way to Jesus’ own resurrection. Jesus too will be separated from His friends and family; enduring loneliness, pain and trauma, and desperate to know His Father’s presence as the cross tried to destroy Him. That exile too would come to an end – and the life and hope that came from Jesus’ resurrection would be shared with all who count themselves as a friend of Jesus.
So whatever this week ahead holds for you, these stories are reassuring good news. For all who are in exile from friends, family or even ‘normal’ life – be bold in praying for God’s Spirit of healing, wholeness, and peace to breathe across our world.
Whatever fears you face; whether the illness or loss of those close to you, fear of change, fear of being far from God and unable to pray, or fear of your own/others’ close company – stories of Exile show us that it will not be easy, but God longs to bring us back to community, prayer, and life again. And will defy death to make that possible. Amen.
Post Communion prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for you: give us the will to be the servant of others as you were the servant of all, and gave up your life and died for us, but are alive and reign, now and for ever. Amen.
Some suggested hymns you may like to follow at home:
– When I survey the wondrous cross
– Glory be to Jesus
– How deep the Father’s love for us
– Lift high the cross
From the Vicar:
It is a joy to come to Lancaster and serve as the new Vicar of Christ Church. Back in September, three clergy friends of mine each suggested that I apply for this post (they hadn’t talked to each other!) When I saw the parish and all that happens here in worship and care for the community, my heart started singing even though I’d never been to Lancaster before!
I’ve just finished my curacy in Northallerton (North Yorkshire), and before that, I worked as a nurse in York. My calling to ministry came amidst a time of multiple bereavements among family and friends; although I’ve been going to church since I was 7, I’d never have imagined I’d become a Vicar!
My licensing service on Monday felt strange with only 5 people allowed to be there – yet I’m encouraged by all the cards, flowers, emails and kind words I’ve received in recent weeks. To know that so many were praying and following the service came as a reminder that church is not bricks and mortar, but all the people, regardless of where they are.
I’m grateful for that inheritance of people who pray and love and show kindness. So my particular thanks go to each and every person who has helped and served the church community during the interregnum. Much work happens behind the scenes, so, as Bishop Julian said on Monday, it is important to be thankful when things continue seamlessly, not least to clergy, Churchwardens, PCC members, sacristans, musicians, (you too!) and all who have kept praying, and kept groups and organisations running.
So what will my first few months here look like? The answer has changed a lot in recent days! Firstly, I look forward to getting to know you all and the wider parish, and hearing your stories and what your joys and fears are at present. Because of all the restrictions, this will be via phone and email in the first instance – and please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, prayer requests, pastoral concerns, enquiries about services or advice. Where circumstances require, I will visit (e.g. pastoral crises, severe illness, end of life) and offer the sacraments.
Secondly, I have been and will be praying for all who live and work here in this parish, and the wider world. At 8.30am and 6pm I say morning and evening prayer each day: if you wish to pray too at those times, it can be a comfort knowing that ‘the voice of prayer is never silent’. And each Sunday I will say the Eucharist at 10.30am – again, I encourage you to use this time for prayer and worship at home.
Thirdly, there will be a weekly notice sheet, with the prayers, readings and a brief reflection for the week from myself, Pat and Brenda, as well as other thoughts and suggestions for personal prayer and spiritual growth during the coming weeks. As we approach Easter, we’ll try to find ways for people to have Holy Week at home, and to share prayer and hope in time, if not in space. If you would like to keep in contact with the church community (or you know someone who would like to), please let myself or Jacqueline Stamper know your email address; or your postal address if you prefer a paper edition.
There are many other things which I will be doing as I begin ministry here, so I ask for your continued prayers for the church as it adjusts to life under pandemic restrictions and tries to be hopeful and faithful.
The national prayer for this outbreak:
Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy. Sustain and support the anxious, be with those who care for the sick, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may find comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
With prayers and blessings,
Please also remember in your prayers:
Those who are ill: Olive Niccolls, Youngblood McCray, Len Fletcher, Ernie Wilson, Pat Brooks, Freya de Lysle, Bill and Ivy Buckley, Michael Greenhalgh, Frank Jensen
RIP: Josef Pidliswyj, , Ogie de Ruerda, Aida Reyes, Robert Calti, Sister Barbara Maud OHP
PRAYERS AND HELP
If you need prayer for yourself or anyone else, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need/can offer help, please call/text 07539 583638 or
Eco-Church Group Action for the Week
Go zero waste or at least avoid single use plastic as much as possible.
The Olive Branch and other food banks urgently need additional supplies as more and more people go into food poverty. We are prohibited from having a collection point in church any longer, you can take donations to: The Olive Branch (1 Westbourne Road, LA1 5DB – M, W, Th, Fri 11-1), to Dalton Square Pharmacy (who now have a collection point), or (w.e.f. 30 March) to St Paul’s Vicarage (Scotforth Road, LA1 4ST).
SAFEGUARDING – PCR2
Please look at last week’s “pewsheet” for information about the need to report any past cases in respect of children and vulnerable adults.
Vicar: Revd Carol Backhouse 942105 email@example.com
Associate Priest: Canon Brenda Harding 66071
Lay Reader: Dr Pat Allen 39552.
Churchwarden: Dr Paul Thompson 34949
Churchwarden: Mrs Jacqueline Stamper 64083 firstname.lastname@example.org
Parish Safeguarding Officer: Ms Jane Lippitt 07930 979503 email@example.com
Children’s Church: Mrs Liz Mills 67005