Reflection for Sunday 29th March 2020 – Fifth Sunday in Lent
Grace, mercy and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
be with us all.
Welcome to worship at home on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, Passion Sunday.
Take time to read these verses from Psalm 103, which tell of God’s forgiveness and his love for us.
8.The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (Psalm 103: 8,11-13)
As we did last week, take a moment to pray these familiar words, praying them slowly, stopping after each line for a short pause. Say the prayer in this way a couple of times:
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord.
The Collect for Fifth Sunday in Lent
Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This Sunday’s theme is ‘Building God’s Dwelling Place’, based round Exodus 25:1-9; 31:1-11 and John1:1-14. I have picked two verses from those readings to focus on.
Exodus 25: 8
‘Then let them make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell among them.’
‘The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’
I had been due to preach in church this Sunday, but as John Crutchley said in his reflection last Sunday, I find myself in the odd position of sending out some thoughts online.
I can’t be with people in church. I can’t meet with others. It goes against everything we normally expect, for we are social creatures, and we need each other!
So … we have instructions about the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place, in Exodus 25. It might seem an unlikely topic to get everyone on the edge of their seats (!), let alone seem relevant when we are experiencing the present crisis. However, as I have read and prepared for this I have been struck by the way the instructions show us a God who wants to be a part of our lives, a God who cares deeply about us.
The tabernacle was a large tent. It was going to be the place where God was present among his people. The instructions for its furnishings, the clothes of the priests, and the construction of the building, occupy a big chunk of the book of Exodus. Why? Because the God whom the Israelites worshipped was going to be right in the middle of their camp. For the people of Israel God was coming down to be among them.
The people of Israel had just escaped from Egypt. There were hundreds of gods in Egypt, many of them connected with forces of nature. Earlier in the Exodus story, the plagues inflicted on Egypt had shown that Israel’s God was greater than all of the gods of Egypt. Now this one God whom the Israelites were to worship was going to be close to them at all times. Certainly God was holy, and different from them, but he also wanted to be close to his people. The tabernacle in the middle of the camp was the sign of his closeness and his love for them.
Before giving the Ten Commandments, the Lord had said to them through Moses, ‘you will be my treasured possession’ (Exodus19:5). The tabernacle was a sign of God’s desire for his people to be his treasured possession. We matter so much to the Lord that he wants us to be his ‘treasured possession’!
This shows us a God who really longs to be with us, and this theme runs all through the Old Testament. It is picked up by John at the beginning of his gospel, where he says ‘the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (John1:14). The word translated ‘made his dwelling’ in Greek actually means ‘put up his tent’. But this time God was not going to be in a tent, but appearing among his people as one of us, a human being who lived, taught, healed and preached among people. While Jesus was here in his earthly ministry people had the experience of seeing him, meeting him and listening to him in the flesh. God was right among them, as he had been in the tabernacle in the desert. But now he lived as one of us. Small wonder that his disciples needed time to fathom the incredible way God had moved among them!
When he rose from the dead, Jesus soon appeared to most of the disciples, but Thomas happened not to be there. He refused to take the others’ word for it, but said he would not believe until he had seen and touched the risen Lord. When he did meet and touch Jesus he was convinced. Jesus said, ‘Because have seen me you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ (John 20:29) These are encouraging words for anyone who may be uncertain about believing! We have the witness of the first disciples, the historical evidence on which to base our belief in Jesus as God. Like Thomas, our first step is to recognise him as Lord. The next step is to worship. It may be no more than saying with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God’, but that is the beginning of worship.
And at this scary time in our history there is no better person to turn to than Jesus. He has lived among us as one of us. He understands what it is to be human. We can be sure of his loving care for us, even in the most difficult times. We can turn to him and cast all our cares upon him. When faced with alarming events hundreds of years ago the prophet Nahum could say, ‘The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.’ (Nahum1:7) We can still say that today!
In confidence that the Lord cares deeply about us, we can approach him in our time of need and pray. St Paul, no stranger to hardship, said ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
So having cast our cares on the Lord, let us turn outwards to bring comfort to others. Let us pray for others: for those suffering from covid-19; for those who have lost loved ones; for the frontline staff in the NHS, putting themselves at risk; the admin staff behind the scenes; for all those with responsibility in government, that they may make wise decisions; for those whose jobs are at risk, or have simply ceased.
Take a minute or two now to remember before God those in need of his healing, his strengthening and his comfort.
O Lord accept our prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
… and keep remembering
‘The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.’ (Psalm 145:18)
In the same way as we finished last week, say this prayer. It is worth saying out loud!
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
With prayer and best wishes to everyone,
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Prayers and Liturgy: copyright © The Archbishops' Council of the Church or England