I was blessed by the worship service this weekend at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston, where I was completing five Sundays of Bible teaching, and I wanted to share some of that blessing with you. Both Scripture readings reminded us that we are less in control than we like to think, and that there are powers beyond our human ability to manage or to resist. In Romans 6:16-23, Paul observes that we all serve something or someone. Either we yield our lives to God or we place ourselves in the service of sin. We need a new heart spiritually and we cannot provide it for ourselves. By his victory over Satan, Jesus liberated us from the dark power and now enables us by his Spirit to obey God in freedom and with joy.
The second reading, John 11:17-44, recounts the story of Jesus’ friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany. When Lazarus falls sick, his sisters send for Jesus in faith that the Savior can heal him. Jesus delays his coming, however, and Lazarus dies. Four days later Jesus arrives — weeping the loss he also shares, deeply troubled by the intrusion and disruption of death, but also empowered by the Father to call Lazarus back to life as a sign of God’s authority and future final victory over death.
The sisters first greet Jesus with remorseful expressions of “if”: if Jesus had come sooner, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus wants them (and us) to understand that no surprise in life, however dreadful or sudden, is beyond God’s ability to control — not even death itself. We are not in control of our circumstances but God is, and he loves us as he loves his son Jesus Christ. God regenerates our spiritual hearts now, and one day he will give us bodily immortality and eliminate death forever.
With this message ringing in our ears, we received the emblems of Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine, God’s sacramental promise and pledge of new and unending life in him. We then departed into this week, with whatever it brings, fortified with the following prayer which weaves together the themes of the morning. “Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affection of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.”