Sunday Worship 26th March 2023 – Passion Sunday

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our circuit and with the congregation at Thackley Methodist Church, and led by Jackie Marshall, one of our Circuit Local Preachers.

Click on the blue links to follow them for bible readings and associated links

Call to Worship – Life After Life

A very warm welcome to worship on Passion Sunday.

I am Jackie Marshall, a Local Preacher in the Circuit, and along with my home church family at Thackley, we begin by taking the Psalm for today, Psalm 130,

We continue worshipping as we read, sing or, if you are able, view on YouTube, a hymn more often associated with Advent than Lent, which reflects the Psalmist’s theme.

Song – StF 188 There’s a light upon the mountains


Father God,
We worship you
Self-sacrificing Son,
We worship you
Holy Spirit here with us,
We worship you


Lord Jesus,
Christ on the Cross,
on this Passion Sunday,
we have come to recall again
with awe, wonder and humble thanks
how far you were prepared to go
to rescue us from the consequences
of our human selfishness and folly,
and to remember and be reassured
just how much we are loved.
Holy Spirit,
Breathe your life into our worship,
so that it may be a time of blessing
and a worthy offering of praise.

The Old Testament reading set for today is obviously one that God really wants the congregation at Thackley to hear, as it is only a couple of weeks ago that Martin Bashforth referred to this famous story about a valley of dry bones in his service!

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Ezekiel was speaking to his fellow Israelites who had been deported to Babylon and were living as exiles after their Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, feeling abandoned by God, with no hope for the future. Ezekiel reassures them, prophesying that God has plans to breathe new life into his Chosen People.

Now for a meditation by Marjorie Dobson, inspired by that reading.

Vision – And I looked as I led worship
And I looked as I led worship
and saw the dried and brittle bones
of the scattered few before me
 and there was no life.
Too old,
too desiccated,
too worn out,
or lived out
ever to be able to stir again.

And I wept as I looked
and prayed for answers,
but my heart told me it was too late;
the life had gone.
There was acceptance
of an unchanging future;
the stillness of lethargy
and emptiness of spirit.

And I looked again
and saw my prayers
were not to empty air
for a breath of God
moved among the weary;
new energy began to stir;
movement was discernible
and purpose was born again.

And God had shown me,
in spite of all my doubts,
that hope is never completely dead
and there can be new life,
even in old bones.                                                                                                                   

©Marjorie Dobson

Let’s sing, read or watch our second hymn.

Song – StF 415 The Church of Christ, in every age

In our Gospel reading we hear St John’s very human account of Jesus’ divine power over death.

John 11: 1-45

Imagine that you were there, standing by Lazarus’ tomb. What can you see, hear – even smell?

What would your response have been?

Dramatic monologue: ‘I don’t believe it!’

They said he was dead, but it seems a bit suspicious to me. How can they prove it?

I know we’d had all the weeping and wailing and the body put in the tomb and the door sealed to keep him in and the animals out, but they could have played a trick on us, just to make it look good.

After all, they’re great friends with this so-called miracle worker – they’d want to try to fool those of us who had no time for him, wouldn’t they? Their brother couldn’t possibly have survived if he’d really been in that tomb all that time. Unless they’d made some kind of secret way out, of course! Maybe all the time we were feeling sorry for them and supporting them in their loss, they were hiding him in the house and feeding their faces and laughing about the way they were going to play out the miracle return.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all. They’re just trying to convince people that their friend is a marvellous magician who can bring dead people back to life. They’ve already convinced hundreds of other people that he’s a healer, but how do we really know that? There are always people who will put on a performance of the blind who can suddenly see, or the deaf whose ears have been unblocked – as long as someone slips them a coin or two to play along.

I think it’s all an act. And I think those three were in on it. I know the women did a lot of dramatic weeping, but most women can cry convincingly at a funeral. As for Lazarus – he may have seemed rather pale and sickly when he came out from the tomb, but he would have had to be in there for at least a few hours, so that none of us saw him go in.

That would account for the way he looked. But they’d timed it right, so that it didn’t do him any permanent damage. They then tried to pretend that this Jesus had turned up late to make it even more dramatic.

They’re saying that the authorities are out to get Jesus and they’re waiting for the timing to be right. I can’t say I blame them. I think he’s a rogue and a con-man.

And I hope that they’ll do the right thing when they catch him. They either need to lock him up and throw away the key, or make sure he’s good and dead before they seal his tomb – if he has one. They should post a couple of guards as well.

Then let his friends try to get him out of that!                                                                

©Marjorie Dobson

In the verses following the passage we have just heard, St John makes it clear that, as far as the religious leaders in Jerusalem were concerned, this miracle was absolutely the last straw, whether or not Lazarus really had been raised from the dead. In their eyes, Jesus posed too great a threat to the Temple, and to their authority. The Sanhedrin met and Caiaphas, the High Priest that year, declared that Jesus had to die.

Song – StF 272 From heaven you came, helpless babe

In our last Bible reading, St Paul is writing to the church in Rome, encouraging the beleaguered believers to trust in the Spirit to breathe into them new life and strength.

Romans 8: 6-11

Life After Life

As Christians, the concept of life after death, seen in the resurrection of Jesus, is key to our faith and the common, golden thread that ties together our Bible passages this morning, relating to events that took place hundreds of years apart, is God consistently offering new life and hope where there is death and despair.

First, he worked through his Spirit in specific times and places in history, building towards his costly rescue plan – the life and self-sacrificial death of his Son. Then the ultimate demonstration of power over death – the resurrection of Jesus, followed by his ascension into heaven and the release of his Spirit into all times and places.

But in the story of Lazarus, we also see something else.  Lazarus is restored to this life, not to an afterlife. What must that have felt like for him?

There are conflicting stories in the Eastern and Western traditions as to what he did in his new life. Both traditions have Lazarus, Mary and Martha fleeing from the religious authorities in  Judea  after Jesus’ resurrection, with the Roman Catholic church claiming he eventually became Bishop of Marseille and the Eastern Orthodox church that he went to Cyprus and was later appointed Bishop of Kition by St Paul and his friend and helper, Barnabas. Both traditions agree that Lazarus lived around thirty more years before finally dying.   

Life After Life is the title of a novel by the author Kate Atkinson, about a fictional character called Ursula Todd who is given the opportunity to live her life over and over again, with different outcomes. In a way, that was what Lazarus did.

What about us, here and now? Jesus has rescued us from the mistakes of our past lives and his Spirit is here with us now, giving us all as individuals and as churches the opportunity to live new lives full of hope. Not just the promise of ‘pie in the sky when we die’ life, new life now.

Dare we believe in Life after life – and live that new Life to the full?

Song – StF 397 The Spirit lives to set us free

We come to our time of prayer for others. There are so many situations around the world and in our own individual spheres of influence where our prayers are needed, so please include those that lie heavy on each of your hearts today in the appropriate places as we pray together.


Gracious God,
we know that we can come to you at any time, but we especially need your help in times of suffering, or trouble.
So we come to you today to bring our prayers and thoughts for all those who are troubled, or who are suffering….
Gracious God, bring your light, healing and hope into these places.
We also bring our own troubles and difficulties to you….
Sometimes we have brought those troubles on ourselves by our own behaviour and we ask for forgiveness and for guidance in putting things right…
Sometimes those troubles are not of our making, but have been forced upon us by circumstances beyond our control.
God, help us to cope…
Loving God, remind us that Jesus knew and experienced suffering and that you fully understand all our difficulties.
In his precious name we offer our prayers as we say together Jesus’ own prayer

Our Father who art in heaven;
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil;
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever.


With our final hymn this Passion Sunday, let’s affirm and celebrate our Christian faith.

Song – StF 351 In Christ alone!

Greet each new day with hope.
Live each new day with courage.
Share each new day with others.
End each new day with prayer.
Sleep and peace will bless us

Credits: Copyrighted items downloaded from The Worship Cloud, with permission to use in local services of worship.

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