Scripture for the fifth Sunday of Lent:
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
A church in Toronto, Canada, faced with imminent closure, decided to have a final party to celebrate, and invited everyone from the local community to come. It could have been seen as an irresponsible act, a frivolous waste of resources that might have been used to feed the poor (if only for a short while). An odd thing happened. The church began to grow and not just survive but thrive. That odd thing where God turns death into resurrection occurred.
Death hung over the meal prepared by Martha and Mary at Bethany for Jesus, celebrating the restoration of their brother, Lazarus, to life. An encounter with the power of Christ is a challenging thing. It prompted Martha to cook a meal – and feeding the faithful is no bad thing to do (witness the church in Toronto). Mary responded with her extravagant jar of ointment, and a shocking display of hair.
Judas, seen as cautious, prudent and reliable by the others, responded by reminding them of Jesus’ focus on the poor. Jesus upbraided Judas and affirmed Mary.
Perhaps there is no single way to respond to an encounter with the divine: simply answers that spring into a joyful mind and the need to express a full heart.
However, many have found that Christ is overwhelming and simply erect barriers. Judas represents the repeated surprise, embarrassment and even shock on the part of the disciples – all of them, and not just then, but now – at some of the things Jesus said and did.
He challenged their conventions of what was acceptable and turned their expectations of what “Christ” meant upside down. And still does.
The God whom we meet in Christ can be difficult and challenging.
People who care deeply about their church and the way it operates are often frustrated, or disappointed, or embarrassed when members of it follow the extravagant, unexpected, radical pattern which is presented in the gospel.
But it is not our church, and we need to remember that. It is Christ’s church, and when the Holy Spirit calls it into radical action, we cannot simply dismiss it as impractical, or irresponsible, because we do not always understand Christ’s version of practicality or responsibility. Nor can we erect barriers between ourselves and other Christians, because in doing so we erect a barrier between ourselves and the God who comes to us in Christ.
Those who do dismantle the barriers find, as the Apostle Paul did, that they experience the presence of the divine in ways that defy description. It is worth doing.
May we seek and find, both in the concluding part of our Lenten journey through Passiontide, and in our lives, the presence of God, and the courage to express the awe and joy it invokes, regardless of convention and common practice. Let us claim the sacred spaces of our lives, even in the darkness of death, and name them for the God of resurrection whom we experience there. And let us be willing, in our pragmatism, to remember that Jesus did not always follow the path of sensible caution, and did not expect the faithful followers to do so either