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Lent 5C RCL March 21, 2010

Lent 5C RCL March 21, 2010

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126

Philippians 3:4b-14

John 12:1-8

God is doing a new thing, Isaiah tells us. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
God is bringing the people back from exile. God is reaching out to us in our exile. God is rebuilding the creation just as the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem when the people of God finally returned. God is restoring the creation, bringing in the kingdom, creating the Shalom of God, the realm of peace and harmony which encompasses the whole earth and all its creatures. Water bursts forth in the desert of our loneliness and isolation. The wilderness springs forth with life. Our hearts leap with hope and joy. The descriptions of the restoration of Zion reflect the landscape of our spirits, which are ever renewed by the loving presence of God.

Psalm 126 is a beautiful and powerful song of praise about the restoring of the temple after the exile. The people are coming home again. They are filled with joy. Their hope is renewed. And we can understand how they feel because we have endured times of exile in our own lives, times when we felt God was far away. We all know what it is to struggle to keep the faith when all seems lost. We may question, we may struggle, we keep on praying and trying to trust until at last the light breaks through again and we know that God was right there all the time. So, we know what our ancestors in the faith felt when they finally returned to Mount Zion.

And then we have Paul writing to his beloved Philippians, telling them and us that everything in his life is so much rubbish, so much garbage, compared to his relationship with Christ. He has lost many things, but he does not care, because he has found all that matters. He has found the risen Christ in the middle of his rantings and ravings and persecution of the church. On the road to Damascus, his Lord has spoken to him and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and from then on, everything has been changed, and changed utterly. His world has switched around one hundred eighty degrees, and that’s all there is to it. Paul is one of the most dramatic examples of metanoia, conversion, that about face in which by the grace of God, we make the transition from walking away from God to walking toward God. Saul becomes a new person, He becomes Paul. He goes from being an enemy of the church into being one of the church’s greatest and most stalwart friends.

And Paul tells us that we must share in the sufferings of Christ if we are to share in his resurrection. This is so true. There is no new life without the loss of old things which we thought were important, even essential. But they turn out to be rubbish, not necessary for the journey. We are called, through prayer and awareness, and experience, to come to some understanding of the death of Christ and that means we are called to experience, in ways that are appropriate to our lives and circumstances, the many forms of death and brokenness which rob our brothers and sisters of hope and wholeness. And then, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, we are also called to help to heal that brokenness.

Paul tells us that he is constantly striving toward the goal. “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”…”Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
In today’s gospel, it is just a short time after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. Some people believed in Jesus from that moment on. Others went right to the Pharisees and reported what had happened. The Pharisees went to the chief priests and they all went to the council, and the decision was made to kill Jesus. So Jesus’ raising of Lazarus was the thing that made the powers that be decide to take Jesus’ life.

Jesus is in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They are his dearest friends. He has visited frequently in their home. It has been for him a place of safety, a place where he can relax. And they are giving a dinner at which Jesus is the guest of honor.

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. The whole house becomes fragrant with it. Mary does this out of gratitude to Jesus for raising her beloved brother from the dead. She is also washing Jesus’ feet as he will soon call all of us to do at the Last Supper. She is being a servant, as Jesus calls us to do. She is also making a large financial offering by purchasing this nard, which scholars tell us, was brought from the Himalayas.

Judas brings up an insincere and false concern about the cost of the perfume. His real interest was in stealing the money for himself. But Jesus tells us the third meaning of this anointing. It is from gratitude, yes; it is an expression of the servanthood to which he calls Mary and us, yes; but, most of all and most poignantly and most paradoxically, Mary is anointing him for burial. This scene propels us into the grim reality which is about to unfold.

God is doing a new thing. Lives are transformed from spreading hate to sharing love as Paul’s life was transformed. Jesus is here to give new life to all, and for that, he will die. Here, in the midst of his closest friends, in one of the few places where he could be safe, he faces the reality of his coming death.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “As we move toward the events to come in the next couple of weeks, we are given this most human moment. Our Lord is doing what all of us love to do—sit at a table with friends. This house at Bethany was for Jesus the treasured place of friendship. Such moments must have been for him piercing reminders of the cost of the decisions he was making. His humanity must have rebelled against the possibility of death, just as ours does. The gesture of Mary, coming from a deep affection…, must have reminded him of what he was sacrificing by taking the road that led to danger and confrontation, and death.

The fact that he must already have had some suspicions about Judas’ intentions added to the deep hurt of this evening.”

“All of these things pointed to the awful cost of his faithfulness to his own vision of the kingdom of God. Victory there would eventually be, but a most costly victory. If we seek reasons to offer him our gratitude, let it be for his willingness to pay this great cost.” (The Word Among Us, Year C, Volume 2, p 47.)

Amen.

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