Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
The Fourth Sunday before Advent
Text: John 11.32-44 "The Man who Died Twice "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share experiences of visiting a recently bereaved person.
What did you do, and what did you say, that could be of comfort to the bereaved?
A Window on the Text
In his gospel, John sets out to convince his readers that Jesus is the ‘anointed one’, the Christ, (John 20.31) and ‘that by believing you might have life’. To do this, he selected seven miraculous ‘signs’, each illustrating a different aspect of Jesus’ teaching and ministry.
Throughout the gospels Jesus, by his words and actions, challenges those he meets as to his true identity (eg Mark 4.41: Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him? Mark 8.27: Who do people say I am ... who do you say I am? Matthew 4.3 ‘If you are the Son of God ...’). The story of Lazarus gives us a glimpse into the God revealed in Jesus who shares our humanity, and every aspect of our lives, the sorrows and joys common to us all. Jesus is showing God ‘on our side’: he is deeply moved and weeps with his close companions at the grave of his friend Lazarus.
Death is one of the experiences of life we all share: an ever-present reality. When faced with it we have a choice: we can say death is the end, or at best an impenetrable mystery; or, we can see in the experience of Lazarus, and the comforting words of Jesus, a promise to be accepted on trust that death is not the final switch-off, and that there is more. Here, John shows that Jesus the Christ is also Lord of death as well as life, and is to be trusted. In the end we each have to make up our own minds about him. All of us will experience death of a loved one – none of us will be exempt. Death is a normal part of life.
We can identify with the natural reactions of reproach and disappointment from Mary and Martha. Perhaps the lesson for us is that God does not always answer our requests as quickly, or in the way we would like. It is only afterwards, sometimes, that we can see the hand of God in the events as they unfolded. It may be only then that our faith and trust, which has been stretched to the limit, is vindicated and strengthened.
Responding as a community
- Death is a reality we all have to face. What good news can we offer others in the face of it?
- What do you find in this story as a source of comfort in time of bereavement? Does your faith community have any ministry to those who are bereaved? Do you have a organised team that visits, or are there other ways you help the bereaved?
- When an unbeliever faces a terminal condition, what can you do or say?
- This story is outside all our experience. What do you make of it? Do you believe that it rings true?
Co-ordinator says: Jesus said, I am the light of the world.
A candle is lit.
Co-ordinator: The Lord is here.
All: God’s Spirit is with us.
Someone reads John 11 verse 25, followed by a time of silent reflection.
Co-ordinator: In silence we name before God those who have died in the faith of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, who have inspired us on our own Christian journey.
All: Merciful Father, hear our prayers and comfort us; renew our trust in your Son, whom you raised from the dead; strengthen our faith that all who have died in the love of Christ will share in his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Co-ordinator: We pray for those who are bereaved in our community, and ask that God will show us how to minister to them.
Co-ordinator: We pray for our own loved ones, those near and dear to us, our families and friends, and thank God for them.
All: The Grace
For the full story, begin at Mark chapter 11 verse 1.
It comes as a surprise that Jesus doesn’t respond at once to the request to come when he gets the news that Lazarus is seriously ill, but delays for a further two days (v6). By the time he gets to Bethany, he is greeted by Martha with what sounds like a reproof for arriving too late, yet tinged with a lingering hope that Jesus whom she recognises as ‘The Christ ‘(v27) can still do something. When Martha then calls Mary, to say that Jesus has arrived, she too greets Jesus with what sounds like a reproach: ‘If only you had been here, but you were not!’ (v32). Lazarus has by now already been buried and sealed in his tomb for four days. It seems that Jesus has arrived too late. However the impression (from verses 4, 11 & 12) is that Jesus is well aware of the situation and is master of it. The ‘body’ has not begun to decay, and Jesus goes to the cave tomb and calls to Lazarus to come out!
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion