Sermon for Lent 5 2020

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“Jesus wept.” This verse, found in this morning’s Gospel, is famous for being the shortest in scripture, though taken in its context I believe it has much to say to us today. Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died, and yet Jesus knows how this story ends. Just in last week’s Gospel, in which Our Lord says the blind man’s condition allowed God’s power to be made manifest, so does he say of Lazarus’ condition: “This… is for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” Jesus, who tarries two days in Jerusalem upon hearing of his Lazarus’ sickness, knew by the time he had left for Bethany that his friend has died. Upon his arrival he informs Martha that he intends to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet, upon approaching the tomb, Jesus weeps. He knows Lazarus will live again, yet his grief is no less real.

My friends, none of us knows how God, in his Providence, has determined to use our current crisis to his own divine ends. None of us knows how long this will last, who will become ill, who will survive and who will die. God knows and will transform whatever the power of evil throws at us to mysteriously and miraculously work his own purposes out. Even so, because we have a God who is not only high and lofty, but who has chosen in Christ Jesus to take on our very nature, we also have a God who despite knowing the ultimate triumph of life nonetheless weeps with us in our grief. I said last week that having a God who suffers with us is not sufficient if that’s all we have to say about God. But thanks be to God, we also have a God who is in control, and this reality of having a Lord who is both provident and incarnate is, I believe, the only thing that can satisfy the longing of our hearts for hope in the midst of adversity. To put it plainly, I don’t know how one gets through our present reality without utter despair without Jesus; thank God we have Jesus, who is our help and our salvation.

Now let me turn to something I want to say to you as your pastor along very practical lines, which I assure you has spiritual significance as pedestrian as it may seem. Our hope remains in the work of God-in-Christ alone, not in anything we do, yet there are some things which we must be doing to express our faith and hope in the providence which we trust. And forgive the moment of levity, but this struck me due to another verse in today’s Gospel. When Jesus approaches the tomb Martha, always the practical sister, warn him, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” Perhaps some of us feel like we might be a bit like Lazarus, in our tomb-like rooms for at least a week now. But, friends, we’re not dead yet, so this need not be the case.

So, here’s my godly counsel, pedestrian though it may seem, and this is likely the most directive any of you have ever hear me be. Get out of bed when you normally would, even if you don’t have to right now. Shower, shave if you’re a man, brush your teeth. Dress yourself. Eat nutritious, balanced meals. Go outside (maintaining appropriate physical distance from others, of course) and walk or jog or do something to get your heart rate up. Telephone or “skype” people you’d normally see on a daily basis (and consider “zooming in” to coffee hour immediately following this liturgy). Don’t have your televisions on and tuned-in to news broadcasts all day long.

If you find yourself constantly anxious and engaging in what psychiatrists call rumination (that is, focusing on your negative thoughts) pay attention to your breathing and slow it down, focus on a prayer that you can repeat with those breaths. And consider the following, which is not just my own barmy idea, but a suggestion from a mental health professional I trust: you may need to let yourself ruminate and worry a bit (or more than a bit), but find a place and a time–a chair you don’t normally sit in and a set half-hour period in your diary, for example) and try to limit your worrying to that place and time. Then when that niggling anxiety pops up out-of-hours, as it were, say, “I’ll have to worry about that in the old armchair between 3:30 and 4:00 this afternoon.” Maybe you’ll need to attend to that worry at that time-certain and maybe you’ll have forgotten it or realized it’s resolved itself, but it’s worth a shot.

Finally, and most importantly, say your prayers. Many are tuning in to our daily morning prayer live-stream and that’s a great start, but find additional ways to do this. Say the Lord’s prayer when you wake up, right before you get out of bed and as you lie down before you fall asleep. Consider using the “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” found in your Book of Common Prayer starting on page 136. There you will find very brief devotions for morning, noon, evening, and night. If you’re like me, you have a calendar on your smart phone that beeps at you when you’re supposed to do something; maybe set those times of prayer in that calendar and be faithful about stopping and praying at those specified times.

And once you’ve got into that habit,(and I know this is something many of you have heard me say before) consider expanding that practice to include the more fulsome offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. Unfortunately, the current prayerbook has so many options that how to do this is not as readily apparent as it was in the 1928 and earlier Books of Common Prayer, but neither are the rubrics impenetrable if you’ve got some spare time to figure it out. I posted a primer on how to do this from the Society of St. Nicholas Ferrar on the parish’s facebook page a few days ago which you may find helpful. There are some good websites, my favorite of which is St. Bede’s Breviary, which I will link to you, and believe me when I say, nothing would make me happier than to start fielding a lot of phone calls and “Zoom” meetings to teach people personally or in small groups how to pray the Office. Take me at my word on that, please, and let me know if I can help. These services of prayer are not primarily intended as “just the thing you do on Sundays when the priest is on vacation”, neither are they intended to be something clergy and “spiritual athletes” do because the former are required and the latter are just “better than the rest of us” or something. When Cranmer produced the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, his intention, and that of the church, was that it would be an expectation of all the faithful to keep these times of prayer. So ponder that in you hearts, and let me know if I can help.

I realize this is one of the stranger sermons I’ve ever given you. These are strange times. Please remember, God is with you in the midst of this. God loves you and will, as the psalmist says, “bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Likewise, the church is with you, I am with you, and am holding you I my prayers before God every day. Please, of your charity, do the same for each other and for me. Your prayers are coveted, and I am certain they avail much.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.