While we can not gather in person during this time, we can gather online for a time of sharing in the Word, prayer, and reflection.
This week, Vicar Jordan Smith provides a reflection on how emotion is presented within scripture and the power of the Word to nurture our faith.
Sunday March 29, 2020 YouTube Video Online Worship: [PDF] Vicar Jordan Smith
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It is the beginning of a strange time for the Martin Luther Community. Last week we said goodbye to Pastor Dr. Christian Ceconi as he departs to his new call in German. This week we have learned that Vicar Caroline Raddatz will not be able to return to Canada from Germany to complete her internship and our planned interim, Pastor Gerhard Hille, will also not be able to join us. Amidst all this, our community is no longer able to meet in person.
Communities around the globe have been changed dramatically by the constantly changing adaptations that COVID-19 is requiring us to take to protect the people we love dearly. And while we are cut off physically from each other for the foreseeable future, it has been a blessing to be able to connect with many people over the past two weeks. Whether it is phoning people from the congregation, those connected to our ministries, or increased communication with my parents and sister, in some ways I feel more connected than I have in a while. I also realize those feelings will shift as the weeks of physical distancing continue, and there are many in our communities who are already feeling overwhelmed by missing those they care about.
The two readings I will focus on from the lectionary both talk about a time of waiting, of bones laying dry in a valley and of Lazarus laying dead in a tomb. From that time of waiting comes a spoken word that leads to new life. I hope these passages will bring you comfort for the days ahead.
Prayer of the Day
Let us pray:
Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
1Out of the depths
I cry to you, O Lord;
2O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
3If you were to keep watch over sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
4Yet with you is forgiveness,
in order that you may be feared.
5I wait for you, O Lord; my soul waits;
in your word is my hope.
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning,
more than those who keep watch for the morning.
7O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love;
with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.
8For the Lord shall redeem Israel
from all their sins.Readings:Ezekiel 37:1-14
The dry bones of Israel brought to life
Baptismal image: the raising of Lazarus
Sermon by Vicar Jordan Smith:
On days like this, where we have two powerful stories from scripture presented to us in the lectionary, and where we have so much happening in the world, there are so many things that could be said. What I want to focus on today are two pieces of these passages – emotion, and word.
Emotion – because in times like this, emotions are high among many of us. While we have heard in our phone calls that many are doing well, that those who have lived through war and hardship are ready to face another challenge in life, we have also heard from others who are feeling a range of emotions. Loneliness, sadness, despair, but also times of joy, and celebration, and contentment. It is in our emotions that we feel the full breadth of experience of humanity. And in our passages today there is a lot of emotion.
I also want to talk about the word, the spoken word, because it is this word that changes things in our readings, and it is the word that has a chance to change us in the days and weeks ahead. While our community at Martin Luther gathers for Holy Communion once a month, many Christian communities celebrate at the Lord’s table each week. We have entered a time where we can not gather for this sacrament, and while we will miss this way of receiving God’s grace, we now have the opportunity to spend time centered on the Word and the benefits it brings.
For it is in the word that we hear receive comfort in knowing that God is with us and understands out emotions. That God is with us when we are living in a situation that is uncomfortable. Ezekiel is a priest in the old testament, whose role involves performing ritual acts, and is also a prophet, which requires “powerful truth telling.”  We are hearing a lot of powerful truth telling right now, from our government officials, health administrators, our leaders – who maybe in normal times it might feel like they are performing their ritual duties, going through the motions, but at this time are telling us some uncomfortable truths. Telling us things we don’t want to hear. Giving us advice or updates that might seem scary, or negative, or irritating. These are the types of prophecies that Ezekiel was called to share throughout his career. And while these messages weren’t fun to give, Ezekiel knew that God was guiding him, that God was present. In chapter 37 verse 1, he says “the hand of the lord came upon me”, and in verse 2, “he led me all around them (the dry bones)”.
While things appear before us to be a valley of despair, God is present, acting through those called to lead us. God is present, witnessing the situation of us and those around us, being a part of the emotions we are feeling. John writes that Jesus travelled to visit Mary, Martha, and the deceased Lazarus. As he talks to Martha, and then Mary, and sees the sadness of all those gathered, we read that “Jesus began to weep.” John 11:35, is commonly known to be the shortest verse in the King James Version, two words, “Jesus wept,” and in these two words we hear that Jesus comes amidst our pain, witnesses our emotions, and feels them, being present with us as we grieve.
In our gospel reading, it is grief over the death of Lazarus. As the story is told, there is again powerful truth telling. Lazarus is dead. There is no confusion or potential that he is sleeping. In ancient Jewish belief, it was thought that the spirit of the deceased person hovered around the body or resting place for three days. In verse 39, Martha recoils at the thought of opening the tomb at Jesus’ command because Lazarus has been dead for four days and there is already a stench. Lazarus is dead, his spirit is gone, there is only a body left, wrapped in rotting rags and surrounded by a stench.
But when the tomb is open, after calling out to God, Jesus cries with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” I imagine the next moments must have been anxiety ridden for everyone. Did they hear a shuffling sound of footsteps first? Did they see slight movement in the shadows? Or were they quickly greeted by the sight of the dead man walking, “his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth.”? The words spoken by Jesus have brought a dead man back to life.
It is the spoken words of Ezekiel, prophesying the words of the Lord, that cause the dry bones in the valley to come together, for sinews to grow, for skin to come upon them. But Ezekiel notices – there is no breath in them. And again at God’s command, Ezekiel orders the four winds to breathe upon the newly formed bodies, and to put breath within them. Through this image of a field of bones forming life, God reminds Israel that God will always be in their presence, that God’s spirit will be placed in them, and as verse 14 states: “you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”
God speaks and life is formed. Jesus speaks and life is resurrected. The word of God changes lives, and at this time of fasting, where we can not gather to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we can still share in the Word. The reformers who shaped the early Lutheran church understood the importance of the Word of God. They write that “Faith is sparked by the word.” Luther writes in his large catechism that “we believe in him who daily brings us into this community through the Word, and imparts, increases, and strengthens faith through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins.” Or from Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”
We receive the Word when we can’t receive communion. So I urge you to take advantage of this time apart from each other to nurture your faith through the word. Listen to the weekly reflections offered on this YouTube channel. Read your Bible. Read the daily devotional that was mailed out to every family of the congregation. Put your children to bed each night with a story about Jesus.
And know that amidst all that is going on around us, God breathes life into us. And Jesus weeps. Knowing that Lazarus will come out, Jesus shares in the grief of that moment, of those around him. We are called to do that in these days, to come together in this time and support each other, as God and the Word support us. Amen
Our prayers this week come from the Lutheran World Federation. We pray together with people around the world. In times of restraint and physical distancing, when the body of Christ cannot meet in one place, we gather through the Holy Spirit in our many different places – house, apartment, room – and call out to you. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Give courage and wisdom to national governments and local authorities to enforce public health regulations for the welfare of all and increase efforts to stop the spread of the virus that affects every human being. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
God, have mercy! Heal the sick, strengthen the elderly and vulnerable, protect all from the spread of COVID-19. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
God, have mercy! Support and protect all health care workers and all who serve the sick and those at high risk of infection. We remember in particular refugees and those serving them today. Reinforce all agencies that support public health. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
God, have mercy! Comfort and uplift those who are alone, isolated, oppressed by solitude and anxiety. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
God, bring us peace. Be with those who are celebrating their birthdays amidst in ways they could not have imagined. We remember all who are celebrating birthdays this week, including Ortrud, Patricia, Theodor, and Ashley. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Fill each and every heart with that trust in your grace that frees us and binds us together in communion in the one body of your son, Jesus Christ. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Send your Holy Spirit. Renew your church in its prayer and in solidarity with all its neighbors. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Remember in your mercy all those who have died and will die today. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Trusting in your great compassion and unconditional promise always to be with us, we pray. Amen.
Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.
Holy God, speaking, spoken, and inspiring,
☩ bless you, unbind you,
and send you in love and in peace.
Go in peace. Share the good news.
Thanks be to God.