God our Father, whose Son enjoyed the love of his
friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, in learning, argument and
hospitality: may we so rejoice in your love that the world may come
to know the depths of your wisdom, the wonder of your compassion,
and your power to bring life out of death; through the merits of
Jesus Christ, our friend and brother, who is alive and reigns with
you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Collect for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Common
IN THE C of E lectionary, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are
remembered as "Companions of our Lord" in the lesser festival on 29
July, although the passage about them is read as this Sunday's
The family at Bethany have always held a place close to my
heart; in my recent journeying with Hodgkin lymphoma, their
significance has only been amplified.
Traditionally, prayers that centre on the two sisters and their
brother tend to focus on their giving hospitality to the Lord, but
this collect names "learning" and "argument" as other gifts that
Jesus enjoyed in their company.
It is often a challenge to hold together argument, friendship,
and joy, and this collect implicitly asks us what difference the
presence of Jesus really makes. Given that in today's Church we are
better known for our arguing than our friendship, there is an
urgent missional task - and not simply to salvage our reputation.
The collect prompts us to pray for a spirit of learning and genuine
friendship, even as we engage in argument.
Although the themes of the second section seem to focus on three
things other than the opening trio of "learning, argument, and
hospitality", the connection with witness and joy is clearly
affirmed, and God's mission is made explicit.
We pray to our Father that rejoicing in his love will lead the
world to come to know the depths of his wisdom, the wonder of his
compassion, and that power of God which brings life out of death.
The account of Lazarus's death and his being called from the tomb
seems to be a core source for exploring these themes.
Although the narrative in John 11 ends well at one level, there
are clear signs that the working out of divine wisdom and
compassion is disturbing for Jesus's followers, and for the Lord
himself. In respect of wisdom, Jesus's delay in travelling to
Bethany is a deliberate decision to "abide" in the Father's wisdom,
despite the distress that this will cause to the family whose
companionship he treasures. Mary and Martha cannot understand why
Jesus did not come sooner.
In respect of compassion, as Jesus stands outside Lazarus's tomb
and weeps, the word used for his emotional state suggests anger and
anguish, which were fuel for his prayer to his Father.
Before praying the second section, you could take a few minutes
to reflect on when you last found yourself disturbed by what you
wanted to pray, or by what you felt as you prayed. How often do
anger and anguish feature in your prayers, and do they feel like
legitimate expressions of compassion?
After Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, he instructed those
present to take off the grave clothes that had bound him. It has
made me aware of how my own prayer life can sometimes become
constricted - falling into patterns that are deadened, emotionally
and spiritually. If this is true for you, perhaps this is a time to
connect with a spiritual director or soul-friend.
The collect may have a largely traditional ending, but the
reference to the Lord as "our friend and brother" takes us back to
the heart of the prayer. This is a celebration of intimacy, of
shared lives, joy, and friendship. When we lose our sense of any of
these in our following of Christ and his cause, this collect offers
a good place to reconnect.
Dr Lee Rayfield is the Bishop of Swindon.