COCU23A.Lent 5A

Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Ezekiel’s prophesy of restoration in which he sees a valley of dry bones, and is called by God to prophesy that the bones come together and be clothed again in flesh, and then that the wind/breath/Spirit blow into them and bring them alive. In this way, he proclaims, God will bring life and restoration to God’s exiled people.

Ezekiel’s words offer a prophesy of hope and restoration, where a valley of dry bones come together and are clothed again in flesh. The ruach (the Hebrew word for wind/breath/Spirit) blows into them and brings them to life again. Ruach is an active word and implies the wind/breath/Spirit rushes through the dry bones to fill them. In this way, God through Ezekiel offers new life and restoration to God’s people.
Ezekiel reminds us when all else seems to fail us, there is always hope, that spring will come, rain will fall, new life will grow from the old and the Spirit of God will flow in and around us.
(Source: Elizabeth Raine)

Psalm 130
A plea for mercy to God, with assurance that God does not keep a record of sins, but forgives, restores and rescues.

This week’s Psalm is a lament. The writer sees himself as sitting symbolically in darkness, waiting for the comforting presence of God, which will come like the morning light. It could have been written for a time such as we face at the moment (COVID-19. The psalmist offers us hope, in that the love of God will always be with us. (comment by Elizabeth Raine)

Romans 8: 6-11
God’s Spirit, and the spiritual attitude that it nurtures, leads to life, and will enliven us not just in our spirits, but in our bodies as well.
John 11: 1-45
Jesus, on hearing of Lazarus’ illness, returns after a short delay, to Judea, risking his own death, in order to raise Lazarus. After proclaiming himself as “the resurrection and the life” he raises Lazarus, and many people believe in him as a result.
(Summaries by John van de Laar, Sacredise)
Readings in A4 double sided format COCU23A.Lent5A.ReadingsA4.2020

Pilgrim’s ‘online’ service in 2020 (due to COVID19) – Order of Service to follow along with the online service, Sunday 29th, 10am COCU23A.2020
(feel free to adapt if it’s helpful to use in your own local context, using music familiar to you)

Across Six Feet of Separation (a poem for such a time as this)
Across six feet of separation
the virus can’t spread, but fear can run rampant –
you afraid of me, me afraid of you.
Across six feet of separation,
our world careens in tumult, our minds in shellshocked muddle –
too aghast to see the way ahead.
Across six feet of separation
my grandkids can no longer race into my arms –
banned from even nearing my house.
Across six feet of separation
one daughter is laid off from her restaurant,
one risks her health daily, nursing the disabled at her group home.
Across six feet of separation
our church can’t enact its five-amazing-minutes of Passing the Peace –
can’t even gather to pray or hear holy words of promise.
Inside six feet of separation
a presence pulsing with consoling calm and soothing balm,
whispering near our ear, “Be still…and know that I am God.”
Inside six feet of separation
is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen—
“Fear not, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Inside six feet of separation
are the outstretched arms of our Teacher, spanning the gap –
the Stillpoint of our turning world.
Inside six feet of separation
there is a voice in the storm, commanding, “Be still!” –
and in the ensuing silence…a peace so serene we weep.
Inside six feet of separation
a song fragment wells up within us, unbidden, transcendent –
till suddenly we realize why…and sing unabashed and free.
Spanning six feet of separation
I warmly greet each passing stranger formerly ignored: “Be safe!” –
and they reply, “We’ll get through this together!”
Spanning six feet of separation
I use American Sign Language to tell people, “Peace be with you,”
and as they mirror me, our hands caress across spider-web touch.
Spanning six feet of separation
I escape outside for a walk, blustery wind blushing my face,
then inexplicably burst into run – joy irrepressible.
Spanning six feet of separation
I sense tree roots beneath my feet, linked by fungal networks to other trees,
and I pause in awe at the anthem encompassing me.
Spanning six feet of separation
I see another world is possible – each soul a daughter or grandchild of mine,
each moment a trust-fall of reconciling hope.
Across six feet of separation generations of the faithful
join us to leap the rift, as fearlessly we sing a new song:
“We are held in holy hands, by a Love That Will Not Let Us Go.”
(from Gifts in Open Hands)

This week, the lectionary offers us the death of Lazarus and Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. While these texts aren’t filled with hope and comfort, I think the lectionary is inviting us to truly grieve all that is lost in this global crisis. We have lost jobs, income, childcare, social gatherings, school years, graduations, health, predictability, routines, connection. Some of us have lost loved ones. We have all lost life as we once knew it. There is so much to grieve. And Jesus weeps with us. If you are preaching from these texts this week, this article, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,” (from the Harvard Business Review) may be helpful in naming the collective grief we are experiencing right now. It also identifies a 6th stage of grief: meaning. This Lent, worship can be a space where we release and process our grief – and also make meaning of it with the promise that God holds us with care. Even in our grief and struggle, we remember that the wilderness is a place of new life, of resilient Life.
(Source: Sarah Are, Sanctified Art)

Ann Siddall reflections (in the context of COVID19), ‘Finding peace and strength within us’.

In once full arms
I hold a wreck of sorrow.
I am ruined.
And you, Beloved,
you who see
to the bones
of my heart,
you who stride waves,
who order winds
and shame demons,
you to whose authority
the universe bows,
you stand
not apart
from this grave darkness
but here
in the pit of me,
and wield your greatest power,
calling forth,
bringing light
up out of the terrible depths,
commanding life itself
with the one force
to revive me,
the heart of God outpoured:
with me, in me
you weep.
I am unbound.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

In John’s gospel, Jesus’s friend, Lazarus, died.
Lazarus lay in a tomb.
In our world today, many are entombed in isolation,
and too many have died.
In the shortest verse in the bible, Jesus wept.
The gospel of John paints
Jesus weeping for his friend, Lazarus.
In these days on our planet, Jesus weeps,
for the death and disease,
the distance and isolation,
the stresses and tensions.
We pray for all those who are sick,
who suffer,
who grieve.
for all those in front line positions
for all those affected economically, socially, mentally, physically, vocationally and spiritually.
The gospel promise is newness and hope,
is resurrection,
is life.
May the world know the peace of this promise.
May the promise come soon.
(Source: Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd, United Church of Canada)

Elements of worship for Easter 5A (a compilation) Worship elements 5A

RCL readings Easter 5A

Resources: Rex AE Hunt, Bill Loader on 1 Peter 2:2-10, Acts 7:55-60

Lyn Seils Robertson: Gospel Feelings

To these dry human bones, the Lord God says:
I shall cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
We wait for the Lord,
and in God’s word we place our hope.
The Lord says: I will raise you up from your graves,
And you shall know that I am the living Lord.
Come to us, O Lord.
Open up the tombs of fear and ignorance that imprison us
Fill us with your spirit
And we will live again.
May the peace of the Lord be with all of you.
(Source: Elizabeth Raine)

God said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
Then God said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37.3-5)
There are parts of you,
maybe great parts,
that have withered and died.
Maybe spiritual gifts that you have buried,
a face of yourself you have closeted,
wounds ignored, hopes starved.
Some have passed on, forever.
But some, God may breathe life into.
God may bring bone to bone and sinew to sinew.
You may be aware of it; a daily ache.
Or it may be unknown to you,
a hidden mystery.
What part of you is God bringing back to life?
Where is God’s breath blowing,
the dry bones moving?
Don’t direct the wind.
Don’t even worry where it is.
Just prophesy to the dry bones.
Speak hope.
Be open to the miracle.
Let God breathe, and wait.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

When Lazarus heard his name
he took a sudden breath.
With visceral trembling blood resurged.
But then, as when awakening some days,
he lay a moment, mired,
reluctant to rise from the familiar
swaddling of his death
Rising, even more than dying,
there could be no return:
for if he chose to stand,
all he knew would then be lost
And still now every morning,
each momentary wish for healing
is a risk, a wakening call
to change, to choose,
to leave so much behind,
and be again made new.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light, 1996)

Here’s a fabulous story on a congregation that saw themselves as the ‘living stones’ rather than a building: ‘The church is not the building. It is our faith and the people’. Full text below (scroll down) – would make a great story to tell as part of a sermon.

Arlington Presbyterian Church Housing

Arlington Presbyterian Church sold its church to make way for an affordable-housing project. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

‘The Church is not the building. It is our faith and our people’
by Patricia Sullivan
(published December 2015)
The church members asked themselves, “For whom are our hearts breaking?” They set out to find the answer by quizzing the waitresses, teachers and store clerks who bought from the food truck in the church parking lot or shopped at the nearby farmers market in Arlington’s ­fast-gentrifying Columbia Pike neighbourhood.
Again and again, they heard the same worries from working-class residents, many of them immigrants: “I work here, but I can’t afford to live here anymore.” Eventually, said elder Susan Etherton, she and other members of the Arlington Presbyterian Church’s vision committee came to believe God was calling them to action.
The century-old congregation decided to sell its building, parking lot and grounds to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, which will tear down the stone structure and replace it with 173 affordable apartments.
It was not an easy or speedy choice. Church membership, which was 150 when the Rev. Sharon Core arrived 17 years ago, has shrunk to about 65. But Core said that wasn’t the main reason the congregation decided to sell. The process started in 2012, she said, when the church began seeking to renew its mission and build better ties to its neighbors along Columbia Pike. It took months of prayer and reflection, and then years of work.
The church members had to be persuaded, and some were not. Church leaders needed approval from the National Capital Presbytery to sell the property, and their first proposal was turned down. They had to find a developer willing to work with them and secure the permits required to turn the expansive site into a multi-family building.
“People have been married here, had their children baptized here and held memorial services for loved ones ,” Core said. “We had serious, serious discussions, and it’s not something we did lightly. But we know in our heart of hearts the church is not the building. It is our faith and our people.”
This church is not the first to sell or reduce its worship space to facilitate the building of homes for those in need. About a decade ago, the First Baptist Church of Clarendon decided to build a 10-story affordable apartment house around a new and smaller sanctuary, triggering years of conflicts with neighbours. This fall in Alexandria, St. James United Methodist Church agreed to sell its three-acre site in the Beauregard neighbourhood to the nonprofit developer AHC, which plans to create 93 affordable apartments and sell the rest of the property to a market-rate developer. AHC is in talks with another Alexandria church that is considering a similar project.
The churches’ goals are twofold: to ensure their own financial viability while easing a growing crisis for low-earning people in a region where the cost of housing keeps going up. As land becomes more valuable and rents increase, fewer privately owned apartments are affordable to those earning less than half of the area’s median income, which is $107,000 for a family of four.
Two years ago, 3,600 people ­applied for a chance to rent one of the 122 apartments at the then-new Arlington Mill affordable housing building. Three months ago, the Arlington County Board said ­nearly 1 in 5 residences built in the county over the next ­quarter-century must be affordable for low to moderate income households.
Arlington Presbyterian Church members have understood the problem intellectually for years. But it wasn’t until they began speaking to their neighbours that the crisis made an emotional impact. Etherton, one of seven church members who did the outreach, said when the group reported back to the congregation, she could almost see people’s perspectives shift. “When they heard those stories of heartbreak, there was head-nodding and agreement,” she said. “When you tell personal stories, they have a resonance.”
The congregation was not unanimous in support of the decision, Core and Etherton said. Some members objected and then stopped coming to church. One unsuccessfully applied to have the building declared a historic landmark, which would have made redevelopment extremely difficult.
The first proposal, in 2013, was to rebuild the existing church with a coffee shop, day-care centre and community space and attach ­affordable-housing units to it. But the National Capital Presbytery, which holds the property in trust, turned down that idea.
A year later, the church members returned with a plan to sell the property to the Arlington Partnership, a well-established nonprofit group that has built similar projects in the community. Representatives from the partnership helped explain to the Presbytery how selling the building would further the congregation’s spiritual and moral missions. This time, the oversight group gave its unanimous approval — and a standing ovation.
The church is in the process of selling the land to the partnership for $8.5 million, 20 percent below market value. Arlington County is lending the partnership about $18 million for the purchase and construction.
The new apartments will be named Gilliam Place, in honor of former elder Ronda Gilliam, the church’s first African American member and the founder of a clothing donation program for neighbourhood residents in the early 1960s.
Nina Janopaul, the Arlington Partnership’s president and chief executive, said the design will incorporate stone from the church into the street-level facade. Sixty percent of the apartments will be studios or one-bedroom units, and the complex will be marketed to low-income senior citizens. The County Board recently approved rezoning the land for multi-family residential use.
The church will turn the property over to the Arlington Partnership by August; Core said the last Sunday services probably will be held there in late May or early June. She has begun clearing out furnishings and giving away the pews, the organ console and hymnals to other churches and homeless shelters.
The congregation is looking for temporary rental space along Columbia Pike; it plans to rent ground-floor space in the new apartment building so it can worship at the church site once again.
The vote by county lawmakers to rezone the property and award the loan took place on a Saturday in early December. The next day, the scheduled Gospel reading was Ezra 3:10-13, a passage that describes the Israelites rebuilding their holy temple in Jerusalem after returning from exile in Babylon.
“No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise,” the passage says. “And the sound was heard far away.”
For Core, the imagery was fitting. “I found it powerful,” the pastor said, “that when the people saw the new temple, there was weeping and shouts of joy.”

11am Music (Common Praise) 150, 405 tune 1, 140, 142 (2011)

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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