The household gathers together. If you have a candle, light a candle to signify God’s presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to join you during this time of prayer.

GATHERING
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my thoughts.

HYMN – „In the Midst of New Dimensions“ by Julian B. Rash (1985)
(sing along with a YouTube version of the songhttps://youtu.be/icJs25Z09ws)

1. In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways. Who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering in their separate ways?

 [Refrain] God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar, We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and ever more.

2. Through the flood of starving people, warring factions and despair,Who will lift the olive branches? Who will light the flame of care?

3. As we stand a world divided by our own self seeking schemes, Grant that we, your global village might envision wider dreams

4. We are man and we are woman, all persuasions, old and young, Each a gift in your creation, each a love song to be sung.

5. Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain, May your blazing phoenix spirit, resurrect the church again.

PRAYER
Healing and Empowering God, we are convinced that things will not work out. We doubt even your ability to put right our lives. We lack such faith. But Jesus came to show us that our most dreaded enemy – death – can be overcome by faith. Heal our doubts and our longings for assurance and give us spirits of trust and hope. We pray in the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

PSALM 130 (CEB)
1 I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—
my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord—
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.
I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!
Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its sin.

Moment for silent reflection

JOHN 11:1-45 (NRSV)
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So 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?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

REFLECTION by the Reverend Dorothee Büürma (Salzburg UMC)

Dear friends,

This reflection addresses the theme of God’s love that reaches even beyond death. We are given a glimpse of God’s heavenly glory in today’s gospel story.

It is a story of life and death. It’s a story of great darkness and also great light.

Psalm 130, today’s reading, has set the scene for us already – especially because we are experiencing life in the face of catastrophic danger and death at the moment. In the moments of deep despair and hopelessness, the psalmist cries out: „Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice“ (verse 1). He1 places his hope in God in the face of hopelessness: „with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you“ (verse 4). His hope in God endures, even amidst the challenges: „put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption“ (verse 7).

This psalm reminds me of our current situation in the world. Every day, my husband and I look at the Covid-19 updates. On the web, it is possible to look at the countries most affected by the virus. The default setting shows numbers of infections as a measure of which country has been hit worst at the moment. My husband prefers to look at the overall death toll of each country as a measure of how bad things really are. Death is increasingly present in our news at the moment. It feels as if the world is walking through the valley of death. It’s not a scenario I had ever envisaged to live through.

Into the situation of our world, certain questions ring loudly: „where is God in all this? Why doesn’t God intervene and prevent all this suffering? What hope can faith give at the moment? Does prayer actually work? Why would God allow such a crisis to happen?“

These questions are also at the heart of the Gospel story in John 11.

Jesus and his disciples had dear friends: Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The Greek word used by John to describe Jesus’ love for them is „philia“. It is a love that goes deep, where friends become family, where social boundaries don’t apply as much, where hospitality is shared in the same way as it is shared with relatives. Jesus and his disciples had stayed with their friends before. Our story today focuses on a time after they had travelled on. News reached Jesus that Lazarus had been taken ill. Mary and Martha believed that Jesus could heal him. They had faith in Jesus, they trusted that he would be able to make their brother better. But Jesus and his disciples took their time to come back. And as they returned, they were greeted by a large crowd of mourners – Lazarus had been dead for four days already.

First Martha and a bit later also Mary came out to speak to Jesus. Their words to him were: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (verse 32) Because of their deep friendship with Jesus, in this moment of crisis, the women were able to share their deepest worries and their honest feelings with him.

Jesus’ reaction is equally unconventional and moving: He fell down in tears, Jesus wept, he felt the pain and the grief of the women. Although he must have known that there was going to be healing and resurrection (he alluded to it several times beforehand in this story), Jesus was overcome with emotion. In this passage, we see a rare glimpse of the deep humanity of Jesus. He cried out in empathy.

And then he prayed. This was the sign of hope for the people who were witnessing the spectacle. In this moment of agony and deep crisis, Jesus showed them how to respond: in prayer. He prayed not for himself, nor for Lazarus. He prayed for the people around him, for those stuck in this situation of grief. In effect, he prayed for them to have faith.

And with that prayer, Jesus opened the eyes of the people. He showed them where to place their hope. He was at the entrance of the tomb at this moment. The stone, which was separating him and the people from the realms of death inside the tomb, was rolled away. Jesus had opened the pathway from death to life. At this moment at the tomb, the line was thin between the two realities. Jesus showed people a thin place, a place where they could glimpse eternity, they could glimpse heaven reaching out into their lives.

As a visible sign of this re-connection that Jesus opened up, he called Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus was raised from death to life. The gospel passage emphasizes the fact that he had been dead for four days. There was a scent of death that was already present and overpowering.

But the crowd witnessed that even the certainty of death was not a reason to lose hope. In raising Lazarus, Jesus provided such a glimpse of God’s heavenly glory, which can transform the world.

Here is the focus of the narrative: we are not told how Lazarus felt or reacted to first dying and then coming back to life. That is not the emphasis. Instead, the story focuses on Jesus’ journeys to come. His own death and resurrection are introduced through this story. The pain of grief and despair would return – but the raising of Lazarus was a sign of hope for Jesus’ followers.

It is a sign of hope for us too. When the world seems to be falling apart, we trust in the God who transforms our crises and gives new life.

This is a message for our times too. God gives us the gift of new life. We can see glimpses of it in our world even now.

Our natural world is visibly recovering from human exploitation at the moment, because humanity is learning to step back and to reconsider its ways of living.

People are re-evaluating their priorities. We are searching for news to connect with each other, and certainly in my congregation, we have been blessed by spending more time in conversation with each other than we would normally do on a Sunday after church. We are getting to know each other better – either in spite of the new boundaries that are imposed on our lives, or maybe because of them!

There are signs of hope in the news too. One such sign of hope for me was the recent article about the Italian priest Giuseppe Berardelli, who was taken ill with Covid-19. He had been given a respiratory machine to aid his breathing. Yet, aware of the shortage of these machines, he chose to pass it on to a younger patient. The priest died because of his selfless gift. He gave the gift of life to someone else. This is a sign of hope – we see true love shared selflessly in our world. These are glimpses of heaven!

I remember a dear friend, Brian, who we knew back in the UK. We got to know him through a Methodist Church we attended for a while in Manchester. Brian was a special person, he was full of energy and life. He offered hospitality and helped out where he could. When Brian was diagnosed with lung cancer, he was given six more months to live. And instead of focusing in this illness, Brian chose to make the most of life. He travelled, he visited friends, he signed up for new exercise classes – he lived life to the full!

A year later, I was in conversation with him. I will always remember him saying to me: „I feel like such a fraud! I told everyone that I wasn’t going to live much longer, and yet, I’m still here…“! Brian’s good spirit, his love for people and his genuine care, were an inspiration to his friends and family. He passed away three years after the original diagnosis – but his memory continues to give hope to people. Brian was someone who had felt God’s love poured into his heart – and he responded by pouring it out into the world!

When we meet people who give us such hope and such a gratitude for life, we too encounter signs of heaven in our world. We see glimpses of hope, that can transform the situations we find ourselves stuck in. God gives us hope of renewal, a hope of new life – let’s carry this hope into our lives and into our world. Amen.

1 I am using the male description of the psalmist, as it is the scholarly assumption that the Old Testament writers were male. This does not negate our contemporary use of inclusive language.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (read aloud)
We are not alone, we live in God’s world. 
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating;
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new;
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God. 
We are called to be the church:
to celebrate God’s presence;
to live with respect in creation;
to love and serve others;
to seek justice and resist evil;
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope. 
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us. 
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (silently or aloud)

Today, we pray

  • for those affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus— for those diagnosed with the virus, for medical professionals who care for affected patients, for those in quarantine and unable to be with family and friends, and for those who feel isolated and distressed;
  • for all the nations of the world, that God bring healing and restore normal life;
  • for those persons who lives are changed due to recent unemployment, that God provide for all their needs.
  • for those affected by the 22 March earthquake in Croatia, that God restore damaged communities.
  • for those who are working in essential shops and services that God grant them protection and good health;
  • for our leaders in Austria—President Van der Bellen, Chancellor Kurz, government ministers, justices of the courts, members of parliament—and all the leaders of the world that God grant them wisdom, prudence, and foresight to make good decisions;
  • for the witness of the churches in Austria, that the light of Christ shine through them.

We also pray for (add your personal prayers)……

Gathering the prayers of our lips and the prayers of our hearts, we pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

BLESSING (read aloud)
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.