A Church Without Walls

Fifth Sunday in Lent


Breathe deeply as you gaze upon the image on the left. Imagine placing yourself yourself in this scene. What do you see? How do you feel? Get quiet and still, offering a silent or spoken prayer to God.

This Week’s Scripture:

Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14

“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he 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. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

John 11: 1 – 45

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. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

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

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.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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 for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 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.’

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

Prayer of Confession

Gracious God,
You invite us to plant a garden of love and harmony, but we grow weeds of prejudice and hatred. You invite us to sow joy and gratitude, but we scatter seeds of greed and envy. You call us to tend the soil of fear and denial, but instead we close our eyes and let the earth suffer. Forgive us. You invited us to plant a garden, and we lost ourselves in the wilderness. Clear our hearts.
Breathe life into these weary bones and grant us a fresh start.
Gratefully we pray, Amen.

Hymn Break

Please follow this link to sing Just A Closer Walk with Thee

Poem on Wilderness

A prayer by Sarah Are

I used to think the wilderness would never end.
I called my mom and asked—
“Does time really heal all wounds?
Do the pieces ever fall back into place?
Does the wilderness go on forever?”

So she told me about the horizon.
She said, “There is an edge,
Where the earth meets the sky.
And when you’re there,
You will see daisies in the sidewalk
And the sun after the rain.”

I asked her to draw me a map
And she cried,
Because she knew this road was mine to walk,
But she promised to wait for me,
Day in and day out,
For as long as the wilderness raged.

So I walked.
And it felt like forty days and it hurt
like forty nights.
And I waved to the people I passed there
in the wilderness.

We tipped our hats to one another,
Silently recognizing the weight we
each carried,

Until one day, I realized—
The earth always kisses the sky.
And this wilderness has turned into a garden,
And I have made it out alive.

And my mother hugged me,
There at the earth’s edge.
And she whispered in my ear,
That God was that gardener,
And that I had nothing to fear.

So if you ever ask for a map,
Know that God and I will be planting seeds,
Hoping to turn your wilderness into a garden.

For as long as the wilderness rages on,
I will never stop looking for you
Where the earth kisses the sky.

Reflect on Scripture

We don’t expect life in the wilderness. It is easy to think of the wilderness as empty, barren, dead. But the truth is: there is life in wilderness, in desert, in the arctic. In every place we dismiss as hopeless, there is life.
Just as the resurrection of Lazarus changed the perspective of those who witnessed it, this account of the miracle begins to introduce us to one of the central ideas of Christianity: death does not have the final word. Most of us have heard the story of Christ’s resurrection our whole lives, and we run the risk of forgetting the miracle of it because it has become so ingrained in our lives. But this telling of the resurrection of Lazarus can bring us back to the wonder. The miracle is preceded by lengthy descriptions of Lazarus’ illness and death, conversations with those in mourning, even a discussion about what will happen if you open the tomb that holds the body of a person who died four days prior. The details of Lazarus’ death are clear, and so is the message: there can be life even where you least expect it.
But part of the beauty of this story is that it does not erase our mourning. Sometimes we want to skip over grief—our own or the grief of others—to get to the promise of resurrection and new life. We use the promise of life to try to erase the pains of death, but this passage shows us that we can hold both at the same time. Through the whole story, Jesus has plans to resurrect Lazarus, but still weeps when he witnesses and experiences the pain of his friend’s death. This reading holds the tension that life springs forth from unexpected places, and the pain of loss is still real—a tension many of us grapple with in our lives. —Slats Toole

Journaling Prompt

What seeds planted in your wildnerness have grown into a garden? What are the seeds you are planting now that you pray will one day bloom?

This devotional resource is created by resources from  a Sanctified Art