This is the ‘virtual’ service for 29 March 2020, with there being no actual service due to the social distancing restrictions currently in force.
The resources here comprise prayers, Scripture and Rev. Geoff McKee’s sermon.
You can download these materials in PDF format, if you wish, by clicking HERE.
In future weeks, we hope to provide audio – as well as written – content, as part of these posts.
A Prayer for these Times
For all that is good in life, thank you,
For the love of family and friends, thank you,
For the kindness of good neighbour and Samaritan stranger, thank you.
May those who are vulnerable, hungry or homeless, experience support.
May those who are sick know healing.
May those who are anxious or bereaved sense comfort.
Bless and guide political leaders and decision-makers with wisdom.
Bless and guide health workers and key workers, with strength and well-being.
Bless and guide each one of us as we adapt to a new way of living.
And may the light shining from our windows across road and wynd, glen and ben, kyle and isle be reflected in our hearts and hands and hopes.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (New International Version)
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
A song of ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
The Death of Lazarus
11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Prayers for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
Prayers of approach
Out of the depths, we cry to You, O God.
Hear our voices, and be with Your people
as we join in worship at this time wherever we may be.
Come through Your Spirit, living God, and partner with us; lead us to paths of steadfast love; lead us to new life; and lead the world to the peace which You offer.
Breath through us; help us to hear Your words, and to become even more alive, filled with Your Spirit, and help us to look for the new, the unexpected, and to dream beyond our boundaries, striving towards a new creation as Your people.
Be with us; renew us; fill us; and open our hearts to Your presence, for Jesus’ sake. AMEN
We thank You for all Your gifts, loving God;
source of every good thing. We praise You for Your mercies, new every morning, and renewed in the evening.
We thank You, God, for uniting us as Your people, inspiring us through Your Spirit;
giving us ears to hear the words of the prophets, and voices to carry the message of Your continuing presence with us.
We thank You for people around us, caring, inspiring, and challenging; may we rejoice in their example and follow You more closely.
For Your love; Your persistent reminder that You will not let us go; Your people, flesh and bone, the body of Christ, we praise You and give You thanks.
We remember and give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us in the faith, those who have spoken Your word and lived Your love, that we may know You; those we have known personally, our family and friends, no longer present on earth but in Your closer company, those we have not known whose lives and words inspire us even now.
In gratitude we offer this and all our prayers, in, and through, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are in Your presence, Lord,
knowing that without You we can do nothing; without the breath of God, we are dry bones;
without the word of God,
we have stumbled and fallen;
without being part of God’s people,
we have put ourselves above contradiction,
and lived as though we only had ourselves to answer to.
We see that the world is not as it could be, and we confess the part we have played; things we have done which have been hurtful; things left undone, and choices which have been unwise or worse.
We have failed to see You in our neighbour;
we have misunderstood,
and we have not recognised Your signs,
Your work in the world through so many surprising partners; Forgive us God;
and hear us now in the silence as we make our own private prayers of confession, speaking those things which can only be offered in quietness.
By Your love, shown in Christ,
present with us through Your Spirit,
take away from us what we need carry no longer, and in the days which lie ahead,
give us what we need to know You more clearly, to love You more dearly and to follow You more closely. AMEN
We recognise that all is not well with the world; and so we offer our prayers for church, world, and people.
For Your church; that it may experience the new life which You offer through Your Holy Spirit; that it may be a welcoming and challenging place, witnessing to God’s love in the world.
For the world; we pray for people who suddenly find themselves in unexpected places; we pray for all afflicted in so many ways by the coronavirus.
We pray for those who are ill, at home or in hospital; those who care for them; family members, friends, care assistants, nurses and doctors; people at risk running essential services; for those who are in mourning, remembering the loss of someone close, suddenly reminded by everyday incidents of someone no longer there.
Living God, as we approach Easter.
May we journey towards Jerusalem,
knowing Your presence,
leading, guiding, challenging. AMEN
“De Lawd, He thought He’d make a man
Dese bones gwine rise again
Made ‘im outa mud an’ a han’ful o’ san
Dese bones gwine to rise again
I knowed it, indeed I knowed it, brother
I knowed it, dese bones gwine to rise again”
So goes the well-known African American spiritual song.
The consequences of God’s creation of humanity and humanity’s decision to disobey God would inevitably lead to the bones of humankind returning to the ground and drying out until only dust is left.
As I often read at a funeral committal from Psalm 103:
“For he knows of what we are made: he remembers that we are but dust. The days of man are but as grass: he flourishes like a flower of the field; when the wind goes over it, it is gone: and its place will know it no more.”
Our destiny – the destiny of us all – is to return to the ground from which we came.
But that is not the end of the story.
It is important that we don’t miss what is evidently at the core of the startling prophecy of the dry bones.
They don’t remain as dry bones. They come rattling together and sinew and muscle appears and – finally – the breath of life is breathed into them.
In other words, they are resurrected.
“Dese bones gwine to rise again.”
Throughout the history of the Christian church there has frequently been a tendency to set the human body against the human soul. In that kind of distinction the soul always wins. The body is at best relegated to a place of secondary importance or, at worst, the body is reviled as being irredeemably corrupted and corrupting.
A theology of a divided human – body versus soul – is a theology which is at odds with the historic biblical witness.
We need to learn to view ourselves as human beings: full stop.
All of us: every part of us. In other words, body, soul and spirit.
We are a unity: a person made in the image of God.
If we are able to do that then we will be freed to understand the story of the dry bones and the amazing sense of liberation which we find in this story.
Remember one of the major repercussions of the fall of humankind?
Described in the book of Genesis, it was the expulsion of humanity from the Garden of Eden.
Human beings have been in exile ever since.
We are displaced from our home and therefore are sojourners in this world.
Ezekiel’s prophecy was directed to the whole house of Israel.
The dry bones were the exiled, displaced people of Israel, both living and dead, potentially.
The promise is that, with new life, they are going to be brought back to the land of Israel. Their exile will come to an end and their relationship with their God – and with one another – will be restored. That’s the promise of the dry bones’ prophecy. And we’ll come back to the fulfilment of that prophecy in a moment.
But, first of all, what about the ‘dry bones’ times?
We would be wrong to read this prophecy as time-specific to Israel exiled in Babylon. It doesn’t just offer a commentary on events 2,500 years ago.
We live too in the time of the dry bones. We live in Adam’s era under the curse and fully aware of its implications.
The stark words of Psalm 103 are on my lips frequently because I am often standing at a grave side, surrounded by dry bones, and so are we all.
And so the question that Ezekiel was challenged with is the same question that we are challenged with today. “Mortal, can these bones live?”
In one way or another, that question should be posed at every funeral service, whether it is explicitly asked or not. The question demands an answer and therefore – for those who have an answer – it is a perfect opportunity to share.
The home of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a noted poet, is open to the public in Dayton, Ohio.
When Dunbar died, his mother left his room exactly as it was on the day of his death. At the desk of this brilliant man was his final poem, handwritten on a pad.
After his mother died, her friends discovered that Paul Laurence Dunbar’s last poem had been lost forever. Because his mother had made his room into a shrine and not moved anything, the sun had bleached the ink in which the poem was written until it was invisible. The poem was gone.
If we stay in mourning, we lose so much of life.
If we cannot see beyond the dry bones our future will be confined to dust.
Let me put the question another way. “Mortal, can the bones of a crucified man live?”
In one of his lighter moments, Benjamin Franklin penned his own epitaph.
He didn’t profess to be a Christian, but it seems he must have been influenced by Paul’s teaching of the resurrection of the body.
Here’s what he wrote:
The Body of B. Franklin, Print Like the Cover of an old Book Its contents torn out, And stripped of its Lettering and Guilding, Lies here, Food for Worms, But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believed, Appear once more In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended by the Author.
The author’s bones did not remain in the grave. He rose on the third day to eternal life and in so doing he fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel because he is to be the first of the legion who will find sinews and muscle and new breath.
The Bible holds out the great and glorious hope of a resurrection for us all.
But what will the resurrected body be like?
Theologian Harry Blamires offers the helpful illustration of the butterfly. As the caterpillar is to the butterfly, so our present body is to the resurrected body.
There is continuity but there is also difference.
Just as the caterpillar’s body is suited to the realm of the ground, and the butterfly’s to flight through the air, so our present bodies may be suited to this world of sin, but our resurrected bodies will be suited to the life of the Spirit, in a world that is eternal and without limit.
And just as it would be difficult for even an intelligent caterpillar to imagine what life would be like as a butterfly, so we struggle to imagine the resurrection life.
It may be helpful to remember that when we think of the caterpillar we think of its life in terms of its becoming a butterfly. We define its present existence by its future. So too, our present existence is defined by the future God has for us.
I hope you do see that all of this has a strong, forward-leaning emphasis.
We are not stuck in the trials of our present circumstances.
We may find our fears for our families, our friends and ourselves overwhelming.
All of this is magnified by the lockdown and the sense of isolation that many will feel.
However, this is not journey’s end. We are on our way somewhere. We are moving from displacement to our true home.
And it’s not a return to Eden.
Eden had within it the potential for displacement. That potential is removed forever in the victory and new life of Jesus Christ.
“Can these bones live” this Lent? Of course; they must!