On Sunday April 6th I led worship at Starbeck Chapel. As the call to worship we read psalm 130 responsively. I led the opening prayers before the children’s address. I got some children to volunteer to help me by taking part in the dramatised reading based on Ezekiel 37v1-14, the Valley of dry bones. I had 2 readers and I asked the volunteers to come and lie down and be still. When the reading began and Ezekiel prophesied over the dry bones and the children wriggled as the bones came together and were covered in flesh. When Ezekiel prophesied as God told him to fill them with breath and the children then stood up alive. We then heard the Spiritual ‘Dem Bones’ and we sang and did the actions. I asked the children who had brought the bones to life and they replied God. I explained then that we all needed God in our lives to help us live as Jesus did. We only need ask Jesus to come into our lives and fill us with the Holy Spirit. Then God’s Spirit would help us know how to behave and love and help others as Jesus did. We then we sang, ‘The Spirit lives to set us free, walk, walk in the light.’ I then said a blessing as the children left to go to their groups.
Then members of the congregation took part in the dramatised reading based on John 11v1-4 the raising of Lazarus. I took the part of the narrator, person 1 and 2. Other members read the parts of Mary, Jesus, and Martha. I always feel a long reading comes to life when we have people reading the different parts. After the reading we sang ‘Breathe on me Breath of God’ before the sermon.
The exiles in Babylon had almost given up hope of returning to their homeland so God gave Ezekiel a vision of the valley of dry bones, brought back to life as Ezekiel prophesied over them as God commanded. When Ezekiel obeyed God’s instructions and the dry bones were restored to life, God told him to tell the exiles that he would bring them back to their homeland, so that they would know He was God.
The psalmist too was well aware of his guilt and recognised that only God could forgive him and he waited for that forgiveness as eagerly as a watchman waits for the morning. Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus telling him how ill Lazarus, their brother was, but he delayed a further 2 days before setting off, at the time when his Father prompted him. The disciples were not keen on going near Jerusalem as Jesus’ life would be in danger. When Jesus finally arrived at Bethany Martha rebuked him for not coming sooner. She believed that Lazarus would rise at the last day, but Jesus brought a new meaning to that hope, as everyone who believed in him would never die. When we come to know Jesus we are brought into a new relationship with God and we are filled with the Holy Spirit prompting us in the way we live our lives. Mary too chided Jesus and seeing all the extravagant weeping which accompanied the mourning Jesus was deeply moved and wept. He revealed a God who was not remote but a God who feels our anguish and pain and suffers alongside us. Jesus prayed aloud thanking his Father for answering his prayers and listening to him as he always did and then in a commanding voice he asked Lazarus to come out and he did. He was still bound up in the burial clothes and Jesus asked them to untie him. Jesus clearly showed that he had been sent by the Father and it was his Father who restored Lazarus to life.
Now Jesus knew the time was right and was set on the road to Jerusalem to meet his suffering and death. Many believed and perhaps many of those were amongst those who would greet him when he entered into Jerusalem on a donkey to great acclamation and shouts of Hosanna on Palm Sunday. However for others this restoration to life was the last straw and the plots were set in motion to bring about Jesus’ death. I challenged the members of the congregation as to whether they have ever felt despair, a loss of hope, and a sense that God too had abandoned them. Following my first husband’s death it took a while for me to receive the message that Stephen was indeed at peace and slowly my faith was renewed and deepened as God restored me. Help us to feel the suffering of those who are displaced by war, losing everything, homes, countries, livelihoods and families; those who need food banks in this country to feed their families, those uprooted far away from their homes for example from London to Birmingham because their welfare has been capped. Help us all to remember that as we wait like the psalmist on the Lord that our churches too can be refilled with His Holy Spirit, so that we can go armed in that Spirit to live and work to his praise and glory in a needy world.
We then sang ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’ to lead us into the prayers of intercessions. Worship concluded after we had sung, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling.’