Certainly we have had an extraordinary week and my thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Having worked in my early days in the priesthood in Sheffield in some very deprived areas, my heart goes out to those who are isolated in blocks of flats or in poor conditions. I don’t know what I would do if I could not walk in the garden and breathe in some fresh air. Hopefully this time will soon be over and we can get back to some semblance of normality. What has amazed me is the extraordinary kindness being shown to everyone (if you exclude panic buying at supermarkets). What I have seen and heard gives me great hope for the future in the Wayland Group of Parishes.
During the week I had a telephone call from the Bishop of Lynn asking me to carry on with my work with you until a way forward can be found. I have agreed to this because I will do anything that will help. My new title will be Priest-in-Charge. So you have me for a little longer!
Passion Sunday begins the very important week known as Holy Week and during that I will write a short meditation each day for you to use, and then on Easter Day we will add another service online. Do please also use BBC Radio and TV to listen and watch the Easter Services. We will be having a short service at home here on Thursday and will send out communion to those who usually have Home Communion.
Today we have the amazing story of the raising of Lazarus which is a wonderful introduction to the story of Easter and the raising of Jesus Christ.
There was no doubt that those in authority saw Jesus as a threat. The Pharisees and Sadducees and all the leaders of the Jewish Church saw Jesus as a threat. All of them argued amongst themselves about faith and belief, and especially the Jewish law, but when they saw Jesus they were in agreement that he was a threat. In many ways they could cope with his teaching and his healing power, but when it came to actually raising a young man from the dead who it was well-known had been dead for days in a very hot country, this was a real threat.
Picture the scene of Lazarus who had become ill and had died. He lived with his sisters Mary and Martha and they were obviously fairly well off. Lazarus would have been buried in a family burial chamber which often would be carved out of rock and having steps down. Many of our medieval churches have similar vaults and people are placed on ledges within the vaults or on the ground in stone coffins. Jews were especially careful about disease and contamination and so people would be carefully wrapped in cloth and sealed to avoid the spread of disease. Many people died young in those days and Jesus being about 30 years of age would be seen as at least middle aged.
For me the raising of Lazarus tells me that Jesus offered the wonderful gift of eternal life to all those believe. We may fear death through this dreadful virus but personally I fear the act of dying more than actual death. I have seen many people at the point of death and without exception they are always very peaceful.
Also it tells me that Martha and Mary had great trust in Jesus and at this time we have to trust those around us to guide us. Instructions we have received from the Government, the NHS and all our scientists must be adhered to without exception.
Martha wondered why Jesus was not there when her brother had died. So many times in my ministry I have had a call from a neighbour or a member of a family to say that someone is ill and I have this inner knowledge which I think comes with the job, to get straight there and to pray with the person knowing that they are going to die. Jesus delayed coming to Lazarus, but maybe it was all planned. I do believe that this great miracle in St John which began with the important but not vital changing water into wine, and ends with Lazarus emerging from the burial tomb after 4 days and being alive was certainly a miracle.
For me the reading has two great statements. One is that, finding Lazarus dead, it is reported that Jesus wept. Well I know that there is going to be so much crying in the world during the coming days and it is right to cry. We clergy cry – I have sat in a car after taking a child’s funeral and cried my eyes out. Nothing I could do or say would change the fact that parents had lost their child and would always grieve. The fact that Jesus wept shows his humanity.
But then we have the great acclamation used at the entrance door of churches at funerals…
I am the Resurrection and the life for those who believes in me, even though they will die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Finally the reading on Passion Sunday shows me that our God is not only a God of compassion but a God of great power and above all the source of life.
I do believe that after this virus has been conquered or simply fades away, each and every one of us will look at how we live. I know personally it will teach me to give thanks to God for each day, use the world’s resources carefully and to prioritise what is really important in my life. Obviously Lazarus’ life changed for ever and soon would Jesus’, but in each case there would be a new day. Through utter despair will come light – so please look to the future.
How glorious it was this week seeing children in Leeds and Coventry and other parts of the country creating rainbows and putting them in their windows. You will as a child have read the story of Noah and when the dreadful flood had gone a rainbow appeared. Rainbows always give encouragement and hope.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.Amen.