Sermon for April 3
May God’s grace, mercy, and peace be with you, through God the Father, and the Son Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Here we are, the first week of April. Hopefully, all the darkness and cold of winter is behind us. But we still wait for consistently warm days and nights—the time we can confidently put plants and seeds in the ground and then watch them grow into plants that produce beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables.
Today is one of those days of mixed emotions in our readings. Even as we have so looked forward to warm spring days, we are caught in our lectionary with the pending darkness and gloom of Jesus’ suffering and death. We are caught with both sadness and celebration, darkness and light, winter cold and spring warmth, the death of Christ and the birth of new hope.
In our first reading, Isaiah quotes the Lord: “Don’t remember the old stuff, or even consider those things. I am about to do a new thing; it will spring forth, don’t you see it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Water in the desert changes everything.
Our Psalm continues with a similar theme. We read about the restoration of streams in the Negev desert. In the wilderness regions of Judea, there is what is called wadis. They are beds or valleys that are dry except for the rainy season. It’s then the water flows with water and often forms an oasis in the desert. It’s how the city of Jericho gets some of its water to this day. What once was dry and barren has become moist. The water makes a change in the desert.
Even Paul gets into the act when he writes to the Philippians that the one thing he does is to forget what is behind him and strains to look forward to what lies ahead. Paul is looking at something totally different than his past. He is looking forward to his own prize of resurrection from the dead, thus his pressing on to announce the good news to all believers. He is looking for a change.
And now we have Jesus at the home of Lazarus, whom he had just previously raised from the dead. It was a celebration in honor of Jesus. It was a fiesta, a banquet, a gala. If it were here, we would have bar-be-qued a pig, had a fish fry, or if down in the low country a shrimp boil. It would have been a keg party, beach music playing out on the deck, couples dancing the shag, with little kids running around and older people in the corners talking and watching the young people.
And now in the middle all this frivolity, Mary comes out with a gallon of perfume worth thirty of forty thousand dollars. She plops herself down in front of Jesus and poured this costly perfume over his feet and wiped them with her hair. It was then that the music stopped. The dancers stood still. The children stopped playing and the older people stopped talking. I can imagine Jesus reaching for her hand and pulling her up and saying, “Thank you.” Thank you for your generosity and love. Something happened; something changed because everyone was amazed.
There were a couple of reasons why everything stopped. We read in the text what Judas said and Jesus’ response. “My God, woman, what are you thinking? You could have sold that and given money to the poor?” it was like Judas really cared since he would steal money from the common treasury. Jesus turned and his response has been used as an excuse for not helping the poor, even now. He said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Jesus certainly did not mean we don’t have to take care of the poor.
But at this moment, Jesus was saying that Mary understood—understood what was happening at the party and understood what was going to happen in a few days. She bought the perfume for a specific purpose. And that was to anoint his body when he died. And she knew that Jesus was soon to die.
His coming to Jerusalem to raise her brother from the dead infuriated the people who ran things and they intended to kill him. By Jesus coming here to this place, at this time, and working this miracle, he had sealed his fate. In giving Lazarus life he assured his own death. She poured out her gratitude with perfume in her gratitude and grief.
When Jesus was reminding them about the poor being always with them, he was reminding them and us of our ongoing call and duty to whom he called “the least of these my brothers and sisters.” This moment with Mary at his feet is really the beginning of a higher call and wider duty for all of us.
Oh, the second reason—the unspoken one. Remember Jesus was a single man and a rabbi. “Decent women,” and “decent rabbis” just didn’t touch each other like that. Mary threw caution to the wind. Why not express her deepest and honest feeling about Jesus, her savior and Lord. We are called to do the same. We should have deep grief for the death of Jesus; and a sorrow for our own faults and failures; our evil deeds and thoughts that put him on the cross to bleed and to save us from ourselves. It calls us to a full and rich joy and gratitude for the new life that Christ has won for us.
Martin Luther called it a “sacred exchange” or “divine trade”. On the cross Jesus took our sins and gave us his holiness. On that cross, Jesus died our death and gave us his life. On that cross, Jesus accepted our fate and gave us his future.
In response to that loving act, we are called to weep for our sins and his death. Then we are to pour out our lives in service of Christ through service to the poor and needy of the world.
We come each Sunday to partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We come by the Baptismal Font, dipping our finger in the life-giving water. We are filled with the Holy Spirit to go out and feed the poor. Jesus commands it and we obey.