Life follows Death

CREATE A SACRED TIME AND SPACE
Leave all screens turned off and outside of the gathering space/room.
Set a single candle in the center of your space or on a child’s nightstand or headboard.

As you light the candle, you might sing or say, Veni Sancte Spiritus (Holy Spirit, Come to Us)1
Latin:
Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Veni Sancte Spiritus.

English:
Holy Spirit, come to us.
Holy Spirit, come to us.

Add the verses as you feel called to do so:
Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth with your glorious light.
Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Come from the four winds, O Spirit, come, Breath of God;
disperse the shadows over us, renew and strengthen your people.
Veni Sancte Spiritus.


TAKE A MOMENT
This is a time to become fully present with one another and with God.
Invite everyone to take a deep breath in and exhale fully.
Repeat this deep breathing for about 20 seconds, everyone at their own pace.

LET GO & RECEIVE
Excitement over past or future events - or, worries, pain and/or guilt - can keep us from immersing in God’s loving Presence, right here and now.

You might invite participants to Let Go as follows:

“In one or two words, how have you lived as your little self, today?”

Allow time for a response from each individual.

Breathe in: know that you are, right now, being filled with the Holy Spirit and the light of God.
Breathe out: release into grace any guilt, shame or pain caused by letting your ego be your guide, today.

Pause

You might invite participants to Receive Grace as follows:

“How have you lived as your True Self, today?

Allow time for a response from each individual.

Breathe in: notice how the Spirit is as close to you as your breath.
Breathe out: thank God for living within you each day.”

Pause


READING SUMMARY
Before moving on, take two more deep breaths.

Then share a summary of this evening’s text. Using your own words is strongly encouraged. If that feels uncomfortable or overwhelming, or if you would like a young person to lead this portion, here are some thoughts on this story:

In continuation from last night’s Gospel reading, Jesus has arrived to grieve with Mary and Martha: Jesus loved Lazarus and feels sorrow and loss at his death.
Both Mary and Martha state a belief that had Jesus been present, Lazarus would not have died. Yet, Jesus says that their belief in him is all that is necessary.
Now, “belief” can mean and look and feel and be experienced many different ways.
And it seems strange to think that the belief of Mary or Martha or any other person would have an impact on whether or not Lazarus was alive or dead, ill and suffering, or healthy and fine.
It seems like Jesus is saying that belief helps us experience death a new or different way: for Jesus, Lazarus was only “sleeping”, after all. Jesus knew/believed that Lazarus would not stay dead, even though, when Jesus says to remove the stone, the professional mourners are concerned that Lazarus’ body has already begun to decay: in other words, Lazarus was truly dead.
But Jesus brings life from death and Lazarus lives. Christians believe this is foreshadowing (that means, it’s a hint of something else that’s about to happen) for Jesus’ own death and resurrection. It also means that we who follow Jesus can also experience life after death. It’s a promise that Jesus made to those who grieved at Lazarus’ death; it’s a promise that Christ makes within us, every day: death is always followed by new life.


SHARING THE READING
Readings can be shared around the circle by verse, or a different reader can lead each night.

A reading from John 11:17-412
17 When Jesus arrived [in Bethany], he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, ‘[Rabbi], if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27She said to him, ‘Yes, [Rabbi], I believe that you are the Messiah, [God’s Only Begotten], the one coming into the world.’
28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29And when she heard it, [Mary] got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘[Rabbi], if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘[Rabbi], come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep.36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘[Rabbi], already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’
41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When [Jesus] had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.


DISCUSS
At the close of the reading you might begin with basic questions, such as:
Did this reading have any words or ideas that anyone doesn’t understand?
Let’s explore what those might mean, together.

If you are ready for further discussion, you might consider these questions:
*Have you ever had to grieve the death of someone you love? Talk about that person 
and remember their life in some way.
*Have you experienced death in any other, less literal, way? Talk about that/those 
experience(s).
*When you have experienced death, have you seen a new life come about, afterward?
If not, look for where there might have been new life that you missed because 
of your sadness.
If so, what did that new life look like? How were you able to see it or experience 
it as “new life”?



CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE
From your devotional basket, please take the following items:
~Notebook or binder for everyone
~Drawing or coloring utensil(s) for everyone

Be sure notebooks/binders and utensils are handy but not a distraction.
You might invite the group into prayer with these or similar prompts:

I invite everyone to find a comfortable posture appropriate to prayer and I encourage everyone to close their eyes.

Allow a few beats for the movement to settle down.

Let’s all take a few deep breaths to settle our minds:
~let go of the discussion questions and conversation;
~let go of the Bible story;
~let yourself rest for a moment in the love of your family and the presence of
God.

After a few deep breaths, share the following:
Notice your breath.
Pay attention to each breath in and each breath out.

Pause

Notice how your body responds to each in-breath.
Notice the physical sensations of breathing in: in your nose, your esophagus, your 
lungs and abdomen, your rib cage and back.
Notice what’s happening in your body as you inhale.

Pause for a few moments.

Notice how your body responds to each out-breath.
Notice the physical sensations of breathing out: in your rib cage and back, you lungs 
and abdomen, your esophagus, your nose.
Notice what’s happening in your body as you exhale.

Pause for a few moments.

Notice how each breath in brings you life:
Acknowledge that with each inhale, you draw into your body the oxygen you 
need to fuel your brain, to drive your muscles, to empower your whole body to 
function.

Pause

Notice how each breath out is a small death:
Acknowledge that with each exhale, your body is expelling the waste it no 
longer needs, the spent fuel of your body’s exertions, the waste, the refuse, 
that which is no longer needed.

Pause

Notice how each breath in is new life for your body and each breath out is a small 
death.
Pay attention to this cycle of life following death, in your own body.

Allow about two to three minutes.

At the end of your silent time, invite attention back to the room with words like these:

I invite you to return your awareness to this place.
You might wiggle your toes and fingers or gently roll your shoulders or your head.
Slowly bring your body and mind back to here and now, and rest for a moment.

Resting is important: the transition from silence to immediate action or thought can be very jarring. Let the movement from rest to engagement be gentle.

PERSONAL REFLECTION
After a few beats, while people are still transitioning, introduce the reflection questions, as follows:

As we bring our awareness back to here and now, let’s consider how God was with us 
in this time. 
Reflect on a thought or feeling that seemed powerful or meaningful to you.
Where or in what way did you experience God in this time?

Allow about 3-5 minutes; gauge the activity-level of participants to determine when they are “done”.
Invite people to share their reflections with the group/family, only as they are comfortable. Not everyone will have something to share or feel comfortable sharing their experience. Let this be okay: not everyone needs to share.

Listen carefully to one another.
Acknowledge each sharing with words of affirmation.
Discussion can and should be about curiosity, clarity and/or affirmation.
This is not a time for correction or psycho-analyzing experiences.

BEDTIME SONG
As the following song is sung or said, the Leader should gather all materials utilized during the practice. Stow them in the basket for easy removal and future use.

As adults prepare to leave the room, you might sing or say, Veni Sancte Spiritus (Holy Spirit, Come to Us)1
Latin:
Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Veni Sancte Spiritus.

English:
Holy Spirit, come to us.
Holy Spirit, come to us.

Add the verses as you feel called to do so:
Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth with your glorious light.
Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Come from the four winds, O Spirit, come, Breath of God;
disperse the shadows over us, renew and strengthen your people.
Veni Sancte Spiritus.


FINAL BLESSING
As they blow out the candle, children can offer the following blessing/prayer with their adults:
“I love you and I know you love me; let’s always be gentle with each other.”

Adult(s) can share the following blessing/prayer with the child[ren] as they turn out the lights:
“I love you and I know you love me; let’s always be gentle with each other.”


  1. With One Voice, Augsburg Fortress; 1995: #686.
  2. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), uploaded from Oremus Bible Browser; accessed 03.20.20.

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