Reading, homily and prayers for Passion Sunday
By Rev Mandy Young
Gospel reading, ‘The raising of Lazarus’
(John 11:1-45 New International Version)
Click on the following link for the reading…
Today is Passion Sunday, a day which marks the beginning of Passiontide in the Christian calendar; when we journey with our Lord those last two weeks to the Cross that first Good Friday, a time of loss and suffering, of pain and of death. Indeed, the word passion is from the latin, patior, meaning to suffer or endure. But then, with the first Easter day, comes victory over death in the Resurrection – and everything changes.
Dark and light, pain and joy, death and new life. Nowhere in the liturgical year do we get to experience the full and intense range of human emotions quite as we do in these last weeks of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Some of that intensity is there in microcosm in our Passion Sunday reading.
In today’s Gospel passage Jesus learns about the sickness of Lazarus; he seems in no hurry to get to him (that’s another sermon!) and then, while he is still journeying there, his beloved friend dies and is buried. Jesus goes to the family and to the grave and weeps with Mary, the dead man’s sister. Most of those close by are moved by Jesus’ tears; they see how much he loved Lazarus. But others, more cynical, say, in effect, come on, what’s he crying for? He’s healed the sick, cured the blind, if he really cared he could have kept Lazarus from dying. They’re saying, in short, these are the crocodile tears of someone who doesn’t seem to care that much; if he did, wouldn’t he do something?
What a few of those gathered ask of Jesus many today often ask of God – if you care, do something; if you’re real, stop this pain. In this story of the death and raising of Jesus’ friend Lazarus we find the question all thinking people ask sooner or later, but we also see the answer – we see something beautiful and profound that exists in the nature of God and is revealed, Christians believe, most completely in the person of God’s Son, Jesus.
So what is the relationship between suffering and a God who is all knowing, all powerful and all loving? The questions may be put in different ways, but in a world seeking for meaning, it is always there, simmering beneath the surface, especially in a time of personal or national, or indeed global crisis such as we face now:
‘Doesn’t suffering prove that God is either cruel or indifferent?’
‘If God is real and just, why do good people suffer?’
‘If God is real and loving, why does God let this or that happen?
Or, sometimes it is put more baldly as a statement,
‘Suffering proves there is no God’.
The theological word for this apparent conundrum is theodicy: how to ‘square’ human experience of pain and of suffering with faith in God as both all-loving and all-powerful.
But nowhere in Scripture, nowhere at all, does it say God is a magician, waving divine arms, saying magical words and stopping all pain in its tracks. That would make God an arch manipulator and free will could have no meaning. A better metaphor to describe God is more like that of a loving parent, protecting, guiding, loving and sustaining us, even when we are at our very worst, never turning his back on us; like a loving parent, our heavenly Father may get frustrated with us, weep with us and for us, as he sees the danger coming and we take no heed. But God will hold us and walk beside us through anything and everything. The key two words in this Gospel reading today are these - Jesus wept. God cries too.
Suffering is a reality of being human, but so too is laughter and love, so too is grief and joy, loneliness and empathy and community. Jesus experienced it all – the whole range of our human emotions. Here he weeps with grief. On the Cross he will cry out in loneliness. ‘My God, why has thou forsaken me’. Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us. And he weeps with us and shares our pain as he shares our joys.
David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham, once wrote: ‘God is, as he is in Jesus, and therefore we hope’. Christians do not claim to ‘know’ God but we can claim to grasp God’s nature through the life, teaching, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. In this
story of the death of Lazarus, he shows us his humanity, his vulnerability and his love; in the overcoming of death he will show us his divinity and his power and his love. The defining nature of God is love and therefore, this Passion Sunday, we turn to the Cross, to all suffering, and can say with confidence, death and suffering do not and never will have the last word.
We thank you that in Jesus Christ you came to earth and showed your great love for us.
In this time of worry and uncertainty
May we feel your presence beside us.
Enter our homes and our hearts,
Bringing peace and calm and confidence.
And may we always know you more clearly, may we always love you more dearly, and may we always follow you more nearly, day by day.
We pray for our NHS ad all those using their gifts and talents to care for the sick.
We pray for our scientists, our researchers, seeking a solution to the Covid-19 outbreak.
We pray for our shopworkers, and delivery drivers, our postmen and women; our emergency services; our army, all those who, in any way and often unknown to us, are playing their part in keeping this community functioning, looking out for the vulnerable and isolated, and caring for all its people.
We pray for our community and for our neighbours, for those who feel afraid or alone; may we each be good neighbours to one another. We remember too and pray for people in the developing world, places like Syria, who do not have the capacity to cope with this virus without support; may we never forget that to love you we must show that love in our care for every human being in need when we can and where we can. Keep us faithful.
In the name of Jesus Christ, your son, our Saviour, Amen