If you started Radical Presence in June 2020, your fifth session is not the one on this page, but ‘Womb’, which you will find by following this link. We’ve adapted it as an introductory session for the course for people who start in July onwards in order to reflect the government’s lifting of ‘stay at home’ measures. All the sessions are still otherwise in sequence.

What are the losses which this pandemic has visited on you? People you know and love? Financial security? Plans and assumptions about the future – or the present? Your own sense of meaning, identity and purpose?

All of these experiences of loss are a foretaste of the ultimate loss, the loss of life itself. Death is the great puzzle for humanity. Is it merely a cruel absurdity, or does it give life its true meaning? Perhaps sometimes the answer is not always evident. It certainly doesn’t seem to be evident to Mary and Martha in John 11, traumatised by their brother’s untimely death.

In this session we reflect on that story. It’s usually known as ‘the raising of Lazarus’, but it’s written through his sisters’ eyes – they are the ones who speak, who act and react. Lazarus himself, when he does finally appear, is mute. Read through the chapter, and imagine yourself in the scene. How do you experience the situation you find yourself in? Honour the feelings being expressed, by the women, by Jesus, at the various turns in the story. In particular, what do you see, and smell, and encounter as the stone is rolled away? Spend time with what you know.

As the story ends, however, what questions are you left with?

The film version of the story below takes less than four minutes. Like the rest of the film, it takes liberties with the original version, but suggests how touch-and-go the raising of Lazarus could have been.

Preparatory reading and reflection

In addition to John 11, two articles to read are Why I am not grieving the Covid-19 by Sara Max Granovetter, and our suggestion of a pandemic legacy memorial.

Opening liturgy

Together with all in Christ, we wait
Come Holy Spirit; soak into our deepest being
We reflect together with all your people
Come Holy Spirit; breeze through our staleness
We will hear the scriptures together
Come Holy Spirit; fire up our imaginations for good

There follows a moment of quiet. Our opening reading is the end of John 11:

Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’

Questions for exploration

Take a minute each introduce yourselves and how you are, and agree a volunteer to summarise your group’s conclusions.

  • Even after Lazarus had left the tomb he had to be unbound. How do we experience the process of our society, and perhaps ourselves, emerging from the confinement of lockdown?
  • What helps you to comprehend the loss of so many lives, especially as the number of cases grows in less wealthy countries in the majority world?
  • Will there be some kind of public memorial to ensure we safeguard the legacy of the pandemic, so that those who were lost did not die in vain? If so, what might it look like?
  • Sarah Max Granovetter finds that ‘this dying is but one face of the great dying, a dying that has been happening and will continue to happen if we do not take and extend this moment’s pause’. What are we having to let go of, as a society? What am I having to let go?

Closing liturgy

Here is a liturgy to close this session.