Lent 5 April 7, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT  Year C

Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

Things are rapidly

coming to a head

in John’s gospel.

 

People around and about

Bethany and Jerusalem

are all a-stir

after Jesus’ astonishing

raising of Lazarus.

 

And so are the

chief priests and Pharisees,

fearing an uprising

centered around this

popular wonder-worker . . .

 

an insurrection

that would shatter the fragile peace

with the Roman occupiers

of their land

and invite the onslaught

of the brutal Roman army.

 

Hurriedly, they meet in council,

and resolve to arrest Jesus

and kill him.

 

Jesus himself has retreated

to the home of his friends

Mary, Martha and Lazarus,

a home that today

is full of tension

and foreboding.

 

What might have been

a celebration

of Lazarus’ new lease on life

and a glad reunion

of the friends,

more resembles a wake.

 

Fear and Grief and Death

are in the house

with them.

 

There is something strange,

dreadful,

about the presence

of Lazarus

sitting mutely at table

still trying to grasp

what has happened to him.

 

The others watch him uneasily

out of the corners of their eyes,

this man who had come staggering

out of the tomb

after three days dead . . .

 

 

There is the bustling exasperation

of Martha,

the sister who always

has to do all the work . . .

 

and the outrageously intimate

behavior of Mary,

letting down her hair

in mixed company,

pouring out expensive perfume

on Jesus’ feet,

wiping them with her hair . . .

 

She had bought the perfume

to keep for Jesus’ burial . . .

suddenly the time seems urgent,

the need, now.

 

There is the angry reaction of Judas,

who “knows the price of everything

and the value of nothing . . .” *

keeper of the common purse,

betrayer of that trust,

soon to be betrayer of Jesus . . .

 

And there is the dumbfounded

silence of the rest of the disciples.

 

And

there is the brooding Jesus,

who has chosen the road he will walk,

the road to Jerusalem.

 

He is quite clear

about what he must do,

but still, surely, there is sadness

and fear

of the suffering to come . . .

he is, after all,

in his divinity still fully human.

 

Mary’s extravagant gesture

of compassion

both un-mans and strengthens him . . .

 

There may be no time later

for a proper burial anointing . . .

 

so let it be now,

let this service of love

be done for him now.

 

What matter the cost of the perfume

when a much greater price is soon

to be paid?

 

 

His death will be

a greater gift to the poor

than alms from the common purse

ever could be . . .

 

for with his death

will somehow come

the beginning of a new world order.

 

And yes,

if there is perfume left over,

Mary can keep it

for his burial . . .

 

if it is possible

to use it then.

 

As Jesus speaks of his burial,

consternation paralyzes his disciples.

 

He might have wished

for solidarity and support

from them

but, in that crowded room,

surrounded by their

confusion,

anxiety,

embarrassment,

denial,

he is alone . . .

except for

the woman at his feet.

 

His disciples,

even after all this time,

still do not really know him.

 

It will take a cross

and a dying

and a resurrection

for them to begin

 

to see . . .

 

to understand . . .

 

to know . . .

 

know they have been, all this time,

called and loved and shepherded,

puzzled and confounded and challenged,

 

by the One through whom

all knowing

comes into being . . .

 

and the One who is the goal

of all knowing . . .

 

 

“I want to know Christ,

and the power of his resurrection . . . “

Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi.

 

 

“This one thing I do,

forgetting what lies behind

and straining forward to what lies ahead,

I press on toward the goal

for the prize of the heavenly call of God

in Christ Jesus.”

 

Some Philippians apparently thought

they’d already arrived at the goal  . . .

attained the pinnacle

of discipleship.

 

Paul begged to differ:

to reach that goal,

to attain that prize,

to know Christ

and the power of his resurrection,

 

one thing was needful . . .

 

the community,

the individual,

must share Jesus’ sufferings,

 

live and die like the Incarnate One in this world,

 

to rise with the Risen One in the next.

 

 

If holiness

depended

on nationality,

ethnicity,

tribal membership,

religious law or ritual,

 

Paul,

the exemplary Pharisee,

had it made.

 

Those treasures,

his ethnic and religious heritage,

had formed and informed his whole life.

 

“Yet whatever gains I had,”

he wrote,

“these I have come to regard as loss

because of Christ.”

 

“I regard these things I valued

as rubbish,

in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him,

not having a righteousness of my own

that comes from the law,

but one that comes through faith in Christ . . .”

 

In order to become full,

he had to become empty.

 

In faith,

Paul gave up all he had been,

all the ways he had measured his worth,

a life he had fiercely loved,

and zealously protected,

 

to love, even more fiercely,

the peasant preacher

from Galilee,

the crucified One . . .

 

the risen and ascended One

who had called to him

from heaven

as he travelled to Damascus

on a mission to persecute

the church.

 

Called him to discover

in the paradox of the cross

what he had sought

in the law.

 

“Forgetting what lies behind

and straining forward to what lies ahead,”

Paul spent the rest of his life seeking

“to know Christ

and the power of his resurrection . . .

 

He had fallen into the hands

of the God who will make all things new.

 

 

 

“Do you not know,”

Paul wrote to his church in Rome,

in the reading we will proclaim in just two weeks

at the Easter Vigil,

that great baptismal feast:

 

“Do you not know

that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus

were baptized into his death?

Therefore we have been

buried with him by baptism into death,

so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead

by the glory of the Father,

so we too might walk in newness of life.”   [Romans 6:3-4]

 

Baptism is only the beginning

of that walk.

 

The baptismal font

in which we were buried

stood at a crossroads . . .

 

We could have turned

right or left

and avoided the consequences of baptism . . .

 

But we went through those waters

and were set on the road beyond,

the Jerusalem road.

 

 

Our goal, too,

to know the Jesus

whose own baptism

set him on the road

of sacrificial self-offering . . .

 

To know the Jesus

who loved and served

and brought healing to

those considered

the least and the lost . . .

 

To know the Jesus

who enjoyed a good meal

with friends and followers . . .

 

To know the Jesus

who dangerously confronted

the powerful and greedy,

the oppressors and exploiters . . .

 

To know the Jesus

who poured out his life

as alms for the poor.

 

To know the Jesus

sorrowing

in the home of

his friends

just days before his suffering . . .

 

 

To know the Jesus

who, on the cross,

gathered all the world’s suffering

into his own

and carried that suffering

down to death,

 

in order that all might rise with him

and live.

 

Not that we have already attained this . . .

 

We, works in progress,

are part of this

Great Work in Progress.

 

So we press on toward the goal,

seeking and finding the Risen One

who comes seeking and finding us . . .

 

making himself known to us

in our prayer,

in our song,

in the words of Scripture,

in baptism,

in the holy food and drink

of consecrated bread and wine,

in each other

and the Body gathered.

 

 

All of Lent,

we have been preparing

to celebrate with joy

the Paschal Feast.

 

But there is Holy Week first,

and on this last Sunday

before Holy Week,

we see Mary

kneeling before Jesus,

with perfume for his burial . . .

 

she knows him

because she is

available to his love

available to his suffering . . .

 

She is an invitation to us

to make ourselves available

to that love and suffering . . .

 

In the liturgy of the Sacred Three Days

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

and the Easter Vigil . . .

to allow that love and suffering

to become present in us

 

that we may know Christ

and the power of his resurrection.

 

 

We come now to the pivot point

of the Christian year,

 

a year lies behind us;

a year lies ahead.

 

Forgetting what is past

straining forward

to what is to come

 

let us kneel at the feet of Christ

and pour out the perfume

of our love and lives.

 

We must become empty

in order to be filled

with Resurrection.

 

 

John for Everyone Part 2, N. T. Wright, Westminster John Knox Press,

copyright 2002, 2004 Nicholas Thomas Wright, page 23.

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