5th Sunday of Lent 2017

The Raising of Lazarus
Brian Reader
John 11, 1-45.

Today, the fifth Sunday of Lent, is also called Passion Sunday, and we had a long reading about Jesus’ friend, Lazarus and his two sisters. What did you make of it? We all get disappointed in this life when we think that friends have let us down, and if you are like me, then you too may show your annoyance. Did you feel annoyed like Martha that Jesus did not come immediately he got the message about his friend’s illness? Why did Jesus delay? Perhaps he was delaying so he could then do an even greater miracle of healing? I don’t believe that for a second.

When I have difficulty trying to unravel a passage from the bible, as well as praying, I also read a commentary by Bishop Tom Wright on the subject which usually gives a different point of focus. The bishop believes that the story gives us an insight into prayer. We pray for justice and peace, for prosperity and harmony between nations and races, and still it hasn’t happened. Why?

God doesn’t play games with us. His ways are not our ways. His timing is not our timing.

One of the most striking reminders of this is in verse 6 of the passage. When Jesus got the message from the two sisters, the cry for help,
the emergency-come-quickly appeal, he stayed where he was for two days. He didn’t even mention it to the disciples. He didn’t make preparations to go. He didn’t send messages back to say “We’re on our way”: He just stayed there. And Mary and Martha, in Bethany, watched their beloved brother die. What could be harder than that?

So what was Jesus doing? If we think about the rest of the story we can find the answer. He was praying. He was seeking to find the will of his father. He wanted to do what was right.

The disciples were right: the Judaeans had been wanting to stone him, so surely he wouldn’t think of going back just yet? Bethany was, and is, a small town just two miles or so from Jerusalem, on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Once you’re there, you’re within easy reach of the holy city, and who knows what would happen this time if he had returned.

It’s important to realize that this wonderful story about Lazarus, one of the most powerful and moving in the whole Bible, is not just about Lazarus. It’s also about Jesus. And when Jesus thanks the father that he has heard his prayer, I think he’s referring to the prayers he prayed during those two strange, silent days in the wilderness across the Jordan. He was praying for Lazarus, but he was also praying for wisdom and guidance as to his own plans and movements. Somehow the two were bound up together. What Jesus was going to do for Lazarus would be, on the one hand, a principal reason why the authorities would want him out of the way. But it would be, on the other hand, the most powerful sign yet, in the sequence of ‘signs’ that marks our progression through this gospel, of what Jesus’ life and work was all about, and of how in particular it would reach its climactic resolution.

The time of waiting, therefore, was vital. As so often, Jesus needed to be in prayer exploring the father’s will in that intimacy and union of which he often spoke. Only then would he act – not in the way Mary and Martha had wanted him to do, but in a manner beyond their wildest dreams.

This story is all about the ways in which Jesus surprises people and overturns their expectations. He didn’t go when the sisters asked him.
But he did eventually go, although the disciples warned him not to. He spoke about ‘sleep’; meaning death, and the disciples thought he meant ordinary sleep. And, in the middle of the passage, he told them in a strange little saying that people who walk in the daytime don’t trip up, but people who walk around in the darkness do. What did he mean? He seems to have meant that the only way to know where you were going was to follow him. If you try to steer your course by your own under- standing, you’ll trip up, because you’ll be in the dark. But if you stick close to him, and see the situation from his point of view, then, even if it means days and perhaps years of puzzlement, wondering why nothing seems to be happening, you will come out at the right place in the end.

There is a great deal that we don’t understand, and our hopes and plans often get thwarted. But if we go with Jesus, even if it’s into the jaws of death, we will be walking in the light. The prayer of Jesus at the grave begins with thanksgiving as all prayer should; we take too much for granted. But if, like the Psalmists or Job, you have a complaint about arbitrary injustice or the unfairness of it all, it is right to tell him so. Martha certainly spoke her mind, and, feeling neglected, bluntly reproached Jesus.

A prayer of protest is quite proper. Prayer is a dialogue of learning; in the stillness you learn more about yourself, and God, and the way things really are. You may come to understand ‘Why should it happen to me?’ is answered ‘Why should it not?’ and ‘Why me?’ becomes ‘Why not me?’

‘Jesus wept’ is not an oath; it expresses his grief at the death of his friend and the distress of his sisters; for John it stresses the reality of the Incarnation. This man is truly flesh and blood, who understands a cry of pain and anguish, and shares the pain and hurt of bereavement; if ever you are almost overwhelmed by grief, he understands and shares; and comes to you as he came to Martha and Mary.

The long story about Lazarus whose name so aptly means ‘blessed by God’ is the crowning sign of victory over death. Here Lazarus is dead and buried and decaying, and this resuscitated corpse is a further sign. Jesus not only speaks of the word of life but he himself is the Resurrection. Often we hear a voice that reminds us that in the midst of life we are in death; but Jesus’ commanding voice insists: In the midst of death we are in life. Don’t worry about what happens when you die for he is Resurrection. And there is more to come.

Offering you a chalice, a minister may say: ‘The blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.’ – in other words – keep you where you already are. That’s John’s new theology and understanding after sixty years of prayer and meditation.

Eternal life is here and now; we have passed from death to life already. Yet sometimes you may feel half-dead through bereavement or despair, divorce, or disappointment, redundancy or being told about a life threatening illness and yet you find a new lease of life
that seems like resurrection, a life that is fuller and richer, more satisfying and fulfilling, eternal in quality as well as quantity, here and now. I certainly found that when working in the hospice.

As Easter makes plain, God is in the business of raising the dead. Life is a succession of deaths and resurrections; and when you come to the end of your days and he holds you through death into Life, it will be but one more in a whole series of resurrections.

May we pray. Lord Jesus, give us the courage and strength to follow you, especially when times are hard, so that we may experience your love and help through all our days. Amen

Vicar’s Letter – January 2017

vicars letter003God willing, when we see the signs of Spring in a few weeks’ time, I will have served a whole decade as your Vicar here in the Parish of Bollington! Doesn’t time fly! During the course of these past ten years, together we have experienced all sorts of new developments both in the content and shape of our buildings and in the styles of worship we are fortunate to be able to offer to our community. I realise I personally have seen a whole generation of children move on within our church life from Reception to RiCH! And thanks to many gifted colleagues, both lay and ordained, we have ministered to the needs of young and old in a whole variety of circumstances and in many different ways. My task of being a Vicar has only been made possible by the friendship and support (and occasional challenge!) offered variously by a series of dedicated Churchwardens, patient and diligent Treasurers and Secretaries, a whole variety of PCC and Congregation members, Sacristans, Sidespeople, Vergers, Sextons, Flower Arrangers, Door Keepers, Intercessors, Administrators of Communion, Magazine Editors and Distributors, Group Leaders, Project Managers, Diocesan Officers, Mothers’ Union members, Head Teachers, School Governors, Readers, an occasional Assistant Curate, a very wise and experienced fellow Canon, a dedicated and energetic Children and Families’ Worker, a swell group of Organists, a tuneful bunch of Choristers, a willing and imaginative group of Praise & Play leaders, a long-suffering and compassionate group of RiCH volunteers, a whole hidden army of Cake Bakers, Church Cleaners, Gardeners, Floor Polishers, Linen Launderers, Brass Cleaners, Money Counters and Bankers, Furniture Movers, Maintenance Workers and Jacks of All Trades, not to mention all those essential people who step up regularly to become Fund-Raisers, Caterers and Prayers! Thank you! May God bless all of you in your different and complementary ministries in the service of Christ in this place!

Looking forward, no doubt this coming year will bring its own unique challenges and opportunities, sorrows and joys. As the seasons turn, so I reflect on the loss over the course of ten years of so many friends and family no longer beside us here, whether they have moved away or died. As we continue to hold in our hearts the precious memories of them all and as we entrust the living and departed to God’s safe keeping, we know that, whatever our personal situation, we are all still called by God to build up and nurture new relationships amongst people in our community. As companions on life’s journey, we have uniquely been given the unchanging task of finding ways to plant seeds of hope, love, joy and peace in the world around us and to share the Gospel afresh with each new generation. May we continue to be inspired and encouraged in all we undertake in Christ’s name, now and always.

Every blessing,

Veronica

Advance Notice! Lent is traditionally a time for thinking together about our personal faith journeys and sharing some of the experiences and challenges we face as Christians in the modern world. We are planning to hold our popular weekly Lent Lunch Hours once again in St Oswald’s on Tuesdays from 12 noon till 1.00pm for six weeks, starting on 07 March and finishing on 11 April. As usual we are asking for volunteers to provide simple “food for the journey”, such as bread and soup, cheese or pate, offered in return for a gift of money from those who participate in the meal. We’ve not yet decided to which good cause the proceeds will be given this year, but any suggestions are welcome. I’m very pleased to say that Canon Roy Arnold has kindly agreed to offer us another little series of “Food for Thought” to mull over during our lunches! When the list appears in due course at the back of church, please do sign up if you’d like to be catered for, or if you are willing to host any of the lunches. Come along and bring your friends and enjoy good food and one another’s company in an informal and friendly setting.

Veronica

 

Lent Lunches 2016

COME IN OUT OF THE COLD…

We will be asking for volunteers again this year please to sign up to provide a simple Lent Lunch in St Oswald’s on Thursdays between 12.30pm and 1.30pm. It is hoped to raise money for the Refugees Project we supported last autumn with our clothing collection. Refugees Aid in the North West of England is still sending out container loads of equipment, clothing and provisions to needy refugees, and the cost of transporting these goods needs to be covered too. There will be a list to sign up as a “customer” for these Lunches, as well as a request for volunteer cooks/providers! The Lunches will happen on 11/18/25 February and then on 10/17 March (i.e. not on 3 March). Please support this very worthy cause and also come along and enjoy good simple food and excellent company! Thank you.

Veronica

Our Lent Groups this year

Don’t let yourself be miserable this Lent! Join a new Lent Group instead!

On Shrove Tuesday 9 February at 7.00pm, those who have decided to join in the series of Lent Groups this year (jointly with Rainow parishioners) will have the chance to watch the epic film “Les Miserables” together at Holy Trinity Church, Rainow (even to sing along perhaps?!) and to enjoy one another’s company over light refreshments. Don’t forget to bring your hankies! The Lent Course we’ve chosen to follow explores some of the themes and characters from this moving and well-known story, and has been put together in a little book entitled “Another Story Must Begin” written by Jonathan Meyer, a parish priest in Oxfordshire.

Following on from us all watching the film together on Shrove Tuesday, Steve Rathbone, Michael Fox and I will between us lead one session each week over the next five weeks, and anyone from either congregation will be most welcome to sign up to take part. Over the course of five weeks, we will each be offering the same content for that week’s session but on different days and at different venues and times, to offer flexibility for those taking part alongside your other commitments. You’ll be able to mix and match if you like! So, as mentioned in the Winter edition of Church News, the pattern will be as follows:

  • Mondays 1.30pm till 3.00pm, at Holy Trinity, Rainow: led by Revd Steve Rathbone (from 15 February to 14 March incl.)
  • Tuesdays 7.30pm till 9.00pm, at a variety of homes across the two parishes: led mostly by Revd Michael Fox (from 16 February to 15 March incl.)
  • Wednesdays 7.30pm till 9.00pm, at St Oswald’s, Bollington: led by Canon Veronica Hydon (from 17 February to 16 March incl.)

It promises to be an engaging course, reflecting on God’s grace worked out in our own lives and in the lives of Victor Hugo’s characters as portrayed in the film. You’ll be singing all the songs by heart before we’ve finished! It will also be good to meet with our Christian companions from across the parish boundary in Rainow and so be able to look up at White Nancy in future from a different perspective when we greet the Easter dawn and celebrate the time when Jesus brings us all home! If you haven’t already done so, please sign up on the sheets at the back of the church to say you’d like to join in with this Lenten journey. Thank you!

Veronica