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Related Bible reading(s): Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8

Bible study

A selection from this week's resources to help you plan and run a Bible study.

Welcome and opening prayer (5 mins)

A gathering prayer

With all our hearts, we come to worship you.
With all our minds, we offer you our praise.
With our whole being, we honour you.
May all that we do, all that we say,
all that we think and all that we feel,
bring glory to you: our creator and redeemer.
Amen.

 

Read the text (10 mins)

Consider different ways to read the text. For example, sharing parts between several readers, or hearing it more than once using different versions, or using/adapting this suggestion.

Present the Gospel

This monologue is a reflection, from Lazarus’ perspective, on the events leading up to those described in this week’s Gospel reading. It can be used to set the scene for the reading.

From Lazarus’ seat at the table

I never seem to get a word in. That’s what comes of having two sisters!

Even when I shuffled my way out of that tomb – and don’t get me started on how weird that was – after they had unbound those grave clothes, I never got a chance to speak out. All those people crowding round me, asking questions:

What had it felt like?

Did I see the face of God?

Did I know I was supposed to be dead?

And not much has changed since. I’ve become something of a celebrity – an object of interest. And plenty of folk keep coming by the house, wanting to touch me.

Today, Jesus is here again.

When I think about Jesus, I really am speechless. I have no idea how to express my feelings – even to him. But he knows that I know what he did. I sometimes wonder ‘Why me?’ He was a friend of the family, of course, but even so... I feel there must be something he needs me to do, with this ‘extra life’ he has given me. Inviting him to dinner seems hardly to scratch the surface of saying thank you.

Martha has prepared a lovely meal, giving her best energy and effort to make everything perfect for him. It’s what she does, who she is.

Mary is…well, Mary is the one more on a wavelength with Jesus. She gives herself wholly to listening to him, being attentive, being fed by his presence as well as his words. But I’m not sure what’s she doing today, because earlier I saw her take out the jar of nard. It has been in the family for decades, added to when we could afford it, to be used when we needed it.

Just the sight of the jar reminded me of those grave clothes, scented from that very jar. I know Jesus said that ‘whoever lives and believes in me will never die’, but I still think we should keep it safe for when our time comes. Mary’s got it with her now. She needs to be careful not to spill it – we’ll never get that smell out of the rug! I wonder what she’s going to do with it.

 

Explore and respond to the text (30 mins)

Use the Bible notes as a way into Bible study. For example, you could read a section, then allow time for people to discuss issue raised and respond.

Bible notes (Adult & All Age version)

Old Testament: Isaiah 43.16-21

As Isaiah announces that the Israelites’ exile in Babylon is about to end (see Bible notes on page 18), he celebrates God’s new act of salvation in terms that recall their exodus from Egypt and their journey through the wilderness. God looked after them then, and God will look after them now, restoring their original calling to be ‘the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise’ (v.21).

The importance of this calling was highlighted by the English and Scottish reformers who drafted the Westminster Catechism in the 1640s, saying: ‘Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever’. In what ways do we glorify and enjoy God? How might we develop our worship and grow in our devotion to God?

 

New Testament: Philippians 3.4b-14

In Philippians 2, Paul described how Christ ‘emptied himself’ to take human form and die on the cross, before being exalted once again to reign with God. Here, Paul describes his own journey of faith in similar terms. He has emptied himself of all the things he once held so dear – his status, his zeal, his righteousness under the law – regarding them as rubbish now that he has found the ‘righteousness…that comes through faith in Christ’ (v.9). That is not the end of the story, however. He wants to keep moving forward towards his goal, which is ‘to know Christ’ (v.10), and to complete with him the rest of his journey through suffering and death to resurrection. For Paul, faith

is never static. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backwards – that is why he twice emphasises the importance of ‘pressing on’, constantly striving to keep on growing in Christ. Given the athletic imagery underlying the passage, we might like to reflect on our own levels of spiritual fitness, and set some specific training goals that will keep us moving forward.

 

Gospel: John 12.1-8

In John’s Gospel it is Mary of Bethany who anoints Jesus with perfumed oil. Presumably she had bought the nard to anoint her brother’s body, but now that Lazarus has been raised from the dead she finds another purpose for it. Judas is shocked by her passionate display, and asks angrily whether the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Even though John doubts Judas’ integrity, it is a fair question. Many of our churches are full of ornate statues and paintings that glorify God, but have we enhanced our worship at the expense of those in need? Our devotion to God needs to be held in tension with our calling to serve the poor.

Mary’s action is prophetic in two ways. First, as Jesus says, it is a sign of his own imminent burial. Like the women who follow Jesus to the cross and the tomb, Mary does not look away as Jesus’ suffering and death draw near. Second, this may well have been the act that inspired Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet in the following chapter. Acts of love and kindness often prompt those who receive them to show the same love and kindness to others – and this infectious principle underlies the new commandment that Jesus then gives his disciples: ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ (John 13.34).

 

The links between the lectionary readings

The season of Passiontide begins with three readings that examine our passion for God. In Isaiah, the emphasis is on worship. The Israelites are called once again to be the people God made them to be, ‘so that they might declare the praises of God’. In Philippians, the emphasis is on faith. Paul celebrates the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, and challenges us to keep on growing as that faith matures. In John, Mary’s passionate act of anointing Jesus’ feet is both a sign of his burial and an inspiration for him – and for us – to wash the feet of others.

 

For more discussion ideas, and practical and active ways to explore and respond to the readings, choose from:  Sermon ideasActive worshipPicture pointers; or PostScript

 

Pray together (10 mins)

Prayers of intercession

Let us pray for all who serve their neighbours: we remember those who put their lives at risk in providing emergency services – ambulance, fire brigade, police, coastguard, medical, and others. Uphold and strengthen them, loving Lord.

Let us pray for all who serve their neighbours: we remember those so often taken for granted – those working in shops, cafes and restaurants. May they know that they are honoured and valued, generous God.

Let us pray for all who serve their neighbours: we remember those who travel overseas to work for aid agencies and charities. Give them wisdom and compassion, gracious God.

Let us pray for all who serve their neighbours: we remember those whom you call to serve you in the Church. May they be sustained by your unending love, anointing Lord.

Hear our prayers, in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

 

End the session (5 mins)

A sending out prayer

Go and worship God in the world through your prayers,
through your words, through your actions,
and through your living.
And know that he receives your love with joy.
Amen.

 

Live your faith

Look for opportunities to give generously of time, money or possessions – and do so cheerfully, because God has given so much for you.

The ROOTS resources include a range of materials that can be put together to plan and run a Bible study, either leading up to a service based on the reading or in the following week.

The Bible study above is a selection of this week's resources and the timings are based on a Bible study session lasting one hour. This can be printed off and used as it is, or modified to suit your situation.

If you prefer to make your own selection from the weekly materials, please see our guidance on preparing a Bible study. You will also need to include a copyright acknowledgement as follows:
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

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