April 3, 2022
Rev. Scott Landis
Both our liturgical calendar and the gospel lesson for today tell us we are getting very close to the final days of Jesus’ life. As John begins, “the Passover observance was just 6 days away.” Jesus has been invited to a dinner party in the home of his dear friends – Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus whom he had recently raised from the dead. From John’s description you can imagine the scene. Martha was busy whipping up a fabulous meal as she is wont to do. Mary broke open a very expensive vile of nard, anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. And Lazarus, well, I imagine he didn’t know what to do. How do you interact with someone who has just given you a second chance at life? While the spotlight is on these 4 characters, in the background were the other disciples – silently watching – probably wondering – what’s going on here and – what’s next?
All of which begs a deeper question, of what was going on in the mind of Jesus as he observed those in the room? Certainly, he enjoyed being hosted by his dear friends. I imagine the meal was lovely. Martha wouldn’t have it any other way. And Mary went overboard demonstrating intentional extravagance as she poured a pound of costly oil on Jesus’ feet. John describes, the fragrance filled the whole house. As Lazarus tried to think of a suitable way to thank Jesus for saving him. He sat in silence completely oblivious of the bounty that was hanging over his head.
You see, word was spreading like wildfire about his miraculous resuscitation – so much so that the Jewish leaders knew they had to get rid of him (AS WELL AS Jesus), and as quickly as possible if they were going to maintain any control. The plot was thickening, and Jesus knew that God was up to “something new.” Something new that would change the entire course of history. But, I don’t think at this point he knew exactly what.
I imagine as he smelled Martha’s cooking, as well as the aroma of nard with which Mary had anointed his feet, and as he looked into Lazarus’ eyes, he remembered those reassuring words spoken by the prophet Isaiah over a half-century ago. The occasion was the time when the Israelites were exiled from their native land. They had lost everything. They even feared they had lost God. They wondered, where was God in their current situation – their disaster. As the prophet announced, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing” – something new – “do you not perceive it? [Pause]
Surely Jesus knew, more so than any of the others that things were moving quickly – and they were not going to end well. He HAD to wonder what God was up to. What was the “something new?” [Pause]
Some of us know of this same wondering all too well – it may not be that of exile, but it is of loss. It may not even be of utter despair, but it is a question that lingers, where is God in my darkness? Is God really there? If so, what’s next? [Pause]
I believe everyone at the dinner party sensed something rather ominous was coming, but denial is a powerful defense mechanism when we we sense there is something we don’t really want to see. It allows us to pretend that all is just fine as, in this case, they each responded differently.
Martha got caught up in activities. Detail-oriented, she was determined that everyone present was going to have a good time. Judas resorted to anger and righteous indignation as he questioned the use of the expensive essential oil – which could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Lazarus was silent – perhaps fearing anything said would only make matters worse. But it was Mary – once again – who refused to miss the opportunity to walk squarely into the reality that was unfolding. Acting on intuition, she seized the moment to do exactly what was called for.
Nard – the oil she used – was the same ointment often used to anoint a dead body to cover its stench as it was prepared for burial. Its powerful aroma – one that filled the whole house – was a smell everyone would have recognized. Its familiarity sent chills down the spines of all those gathered. Why was she doing this? I think they already knew. But Mary would not look away.
Judas spoke the words everyone was thinking –if only for selfish reasons. For, I believe, even he struggled with his part in Jesus’ demise. Would they be able to stand by Jesus in his hour of need or would they too betray, deny, or simply look the other way?
Did they not hear or understand Jesus’ own words of reassurance that he was going to die, but in three days he would be raised from the dead – something new! Can we see similar resurrection happening in OUR lives even as we confront our losses of many different kinds? [Pause]
We are slowly emerging out of one of the darkest (or the most uncertain) periods of our entire lives. I was not around for the World Wars or the Depression or the last major pandemic so I can’t speak to those experiences. All I know is that the past two years have been the strangest in my entire 40 years of ministry. The uncertainty of the pandemic made confident decision making nearly impossible to the point where I had to wonder – God what are you doing? Where are you? What’s next? Where’s the “something new?”
I’m not sure I can answer those questions just yet. And I am absolutely certain I do not know where all this is going as I look to the future. So, I read, and re-read, and read yet again those powerful words of Isaiah that comforted a people in exile and empowered the Son of God. Words that remind us we are neither “in charge” nor are we “on our own.”
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. (Isa. 43:18-19)
In a few moments we will all be invited to a table. It is a table where everyone is welcome to receive the gift of new possibility. No matter who you are or where you are on your own life’s journey – God offers “something new” to you. No matter how dark life may appear right now, the Truth is “Jesus is here.” We will sing words to reassure us, “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.” We will offer a testimony of belief, “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” We will eat and drink blessed elements and be reminded of our reason for doing so. “This is the new covenant given for you.
You will leave – changed – for being here. Oh, you may not notice the difference right away – but you have been changed. We will all see it, that “Sweet expression on your face – and we’ll know it is the Spirit of the Lord.”
“I am doing a new thing – something new – do you not perceive it?” It takes some effort on our part. It’s called faith. Open your heart. Open your whole self to God’s new possibility for your life. It’s right there for you to see – something new! Today.