Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us, forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may serve you in newness of life to the glory of your name. Amen.
May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.
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 lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
First Reading Ezekiel 37:12-14
God prophesies that the dry bones will find life and a home through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Second Reading Romans 8:8-11
Our lives are Spirit-filled because Christ is living within us.
Gospel John 11:1-45
When Jesus restored Lazarus to life and to his family, he hinted at his own resurrection and at its transforming effects on our lives and relationships.
Today’s scripture readings are given us to show that even in the darkest times of life there can be hope.
For about 60 years in the 6th Century BC, the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah were held in captivity in Babylon. This deportation, known as The Exile, remained in biblical memory as the great trial, the punishment for sin, where God revealed himself in all his holiness and faithfulness. Ezekiel, priest and prophet, was among those deported. He is the herald of God’s faithfulness and power, & in today’s O.T. reading we have the culmination of the Ezekiel’s famous vision of dry bones – “Can these bones live?” Everything seems lost, all the visible signs and guarantees of God’s favour have disappeared, dwelling in the Promised Land, having a king in the line of David, the Temple, the only valid place to offer sacrifice to God destroyed. There are clear parallels here with our own time. Normal life is completely changed. We have no idea how long present troubles will continue. Many of us feel held in some kind of captivity. Our places of worship are no longer accessible to us. We are cut off by social distancing from those we would hold close. Ezekiel message proclaiming that for the people of Judah God remains faithful and is capable of creating a new future for his own people is a message for us too. The people will live for they will have God’s own spirit within them.
It is the same Spirit that Saint Paul reminds the Romans, in our Epistle, that they have within them. Paul does not conceive of the human person as separable into a soul/spirit and a body/flesh, either term stands for the whole person. Rather Paul uses the term body/flesh/person as standing for the person marred by sin, and spirit/soul/person for the person redeemed by Christ. The flesh is human nature, closed in on itself and its sin. The spirit is a force of new life given to the believer by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, and so the faith of the Christian believer will be lived out in their way of life, in every aspect of their behaviour.
The first two readings prepare us for the Gospel narrative of the raising of Lazarus, which itself points us forward to the death and resurrection of Christ.
Martha and Mary nursed Lazarus through his final illness, death and burial. The two sisters had sent a message to Jesus, telling him of the imminence of their brother’s death. They also knew that if Jesus and the apostles were to travel immediately, they would see Lazarus before he died. When Jesus eventually arrived, Martha and Mary were not only mourning their brother, they were also bitterly hurt that Jesus had made so little effort to be with his close friends when they most needed him. That is why Martha’s words express both a reproach and a hope that Jesus could still do something. But Martha’s reproach draws from Jesus the wonderful words, “I am the resurrection and the life. …. Do you believe this?” Even so, her belief in Jesus was still rudimentary. Instead of expecting Jesus to bring Lazarus to life, she stated the obvious: Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days and “he will smell”. (It was the common belief that once a person was dead for three days they were truly dead, there was no mistake about it. And this underlines the significance and importance of Jesus’ resurrection on the third day.)
Jesus, however, asked the bystanders to roll back the stone at the entrance of the tomb. He prayed to his Father and commanded Lazarus to come forth. At Jesus’ words, Lazarus emerged from the tomb, still wrapped in the cloths in which he had been buried.
It took the raising of Lazarus from the dead for Martha to understand that Jesus possessed the power over life and death that pertains only to God. When Jesus restored life to Lazarus and returned him to his family, he also pointed forward to his own resurrection. Just as he changed the sorrow of Martha and Mary into joy, so Jesus’ victory over death would give new meaning and hope to life.
Their sorrow changed into a profound joy but also into an appreciation of the worth of a family member whom they had sometimes taken for granted. This would mean a massive readjustment of their understanding, their relationships and their whole future, which could never again be the same. Lazarus would have to die again, for he had been raised back to this life, the resurrection of Christ is something altogether new, a resurrection into a new and better life. Nevertheless, the raising of Lazarus tells us not to despair when we lose someone whom we love, for our loved one is still living, albeit in a way that we can neither see nor fully imagine.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a foretaste of the impact that his resurrection will make in our own lives. We are not living merely with a memory of someone who died. We are accompanying a living Jesus, whose ongoing love is alive and active. The raising of Lazarus is a sign to which each of us must try to relate and the question put to Martha “I am the resurrection…..Do you believe this?” requires from each of us a personal answer.
As we move towards the most sacred time of the Church’s year, we place our prayers before our heavenly Father, confident that, as we accompany Jesus to Calvary, so we will also share in the hope of the resurrection.
“Spiritual Communion” is recommended at any time we cannot physically receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood. It means that God gives us the grace of the sacrament in response to our real desire to receive it. This does not mean that we can get on just as well without receiving Holy Communion, but rather, if the opportunity of receiving it is denied to us for whatever reason, God will not withhold its grace and blessing from us. Here is a form of prayer we can use.
O Lord, with the faithful at every altar of your Church where your passion and death are pleaded before the Father, I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving: I present my whole self, spirit, soul and body to you, with the desire that I may be always united with you. And since I cannot receive you sacramentally, I pray that you will come into my heart spiritually. I unite myself to you, let nothing ever separate me from you, let me live and die in your love. Amen.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me:
Body of Christ, save me:
Blood of Christ, invigorate me:
Water from the side of Christ, wash me:
Passion of Christ, strengthen me:
Cross of Jesus, protect me:
Good Jesu, hear me:
Within your wounds, hide me:
Never let me be separated from you:
From the deadly enemy, defend me:
In the hour of my death call me
and bid me come to you
that with all your saints I may praise you
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore.
Copyright notice: As well as my own words & material I have drawn on a kaleidoscope of material from internet sources including websites of The Church of England for Common Worship and The Dominican Friars, electronic sources including those of Redemptorist Publications, and on printed sources including Days of the Lord The Liturgical Press, Minnesota, and The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall, & This is the Word of the Lord Bible Reading Fellowship 1980.
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