Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We cannot help but count time in a line.
We are born, go through the milestones of life, and hopefully one day we will die after a full and rich life. We measure the journey of life, how things went, along the timeline, how straight, how bumpy, how successful, how long.We are on the fifth Sunday in Lent, tomorrow will be day 29 of the Lenten days. Soon it will be Palm Sunday and we enter into the Great Three Days, the highpoint of the year with its rich, dramatic readings, actions, music and liturgy. If you have not been here for Holy Week, you don’t want to miss this!
The journey of Lent from day 1 to day 40 can encourage the linear counting of time, and then in the end we ask ourselves, “and now what, has anything changed? Am I more believing now, am I more deeply rooted in my baptism, in my Easter faith?”
I asked this question in bible study on Friday, has anything changed since Lent started, and one person answered on the spot, with a big smile, in the years that I’ve come here, I don’t think I have changed a bit! We had a good laugh together.
At the threshold now toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week, savoring twelve more days of Lent, the Word given us today speaks to our experience of time in the quest to go deeper spiritually, to grasp deeper, more richly, more firmly faith, assurance of God’s salvation reality.
In the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary God’s salvation, Christ’s reality as king, raised, resurrected, glorifying God, is fully present now, days before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
Time is densely layered. The air vibrates. Lazarus is at the table with Jesus, eating, drinking, chewing, swallowing, so everyone can see it. He is a sensation because not long ago he had been dead four days and Jesus raised him. Lazarus is now really alive.
The stench of death, the stench of the past is gone. It is now replaced by clouds of fragrance. Mary has a whole pound of pure nard oil, worth an entire year’s income, and she pours it on Jesus’ feet! With her hair she wipes it off.
What is this? What does it mean?
She has anointed, consecrated a king, just as will be pointed out in Jesus’ trial before Pilate. But she has also embalmed Jesus for his death before his death. Had she not done it now, no one could have because Jesus will already have been raised before Mary, the other Mary, of Magdalene, could get to him.
In the house of Lazarus, Mary and Martha time is stacked on top of time. Past, future, present. Stench, fragrance, kingship, the Word made flesh, death, resurrection. The air filled, vibrating: God is present, reality is drenched in presence.
In this presence of God – overflowing gratitude, extravagant acts.
We do not know what motivates Mary, what motivates Martha. While we do know what motivates Judas. But his idea for a future of charity for the poor turns out to be dishonest and disloyal.
All three make Jesus’ hour of death, burial and resurrection begin, take place, each in their own way. How often has not Jesus spoken of his hour that will glorify God; that has not yet come; that is here now, even while still days away, and then it is there.
When Mary pours a pound of costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, she not only refers back to her brother’s death and new life, she brings Jesus’ raising from the cross into the house already now, she presents to the people their king, and his death as glorification of God the creator and redeemer.
When Martha is said to be the one serving the dinner, she does as Jesus tells the disciples. She serves/ does diakonia before ever having been told so. It is not until days later that Jesus says, Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. (12:26)
Where I am, there will be my servant, where my servant is, there I will be. Now and always. Time stacks on time, presence on presence.
When Mary dries Jesus’ feet with her hair, she does what Jesus will do, again just a few days later when he dries his disciples’ feet at the footwashing. In Mary’s anticipatory wiping of Jesus’ nard anointed feet, the order of present and future has collapsed.
We do not know what motivates Martha and Mary. But we see them be, be in salvation reality, when all is present; present, past, future all is one presence. And out of such presence they act, they lead intuitively, assured in Christ’s word and God’s guidance.
Sisters and brothers, you have been there. You know the times when all was one, when all comes together. When the clicking of minutes is suspended, the years flow together, and we are in the presence of God, – gifted, grateful, strengthened, transformed. Because we realize we are not of our own will, but we are God’s children, created with bone and flesh, with spirit and mind, with love and a moral sense that includes my neighbor that God has created just like me, and redeemed, and deserving dignity and human rights.
We invite you now to immerse yourself in the remainder of Lent, savor it and prepare the ticking, linear calendars for the Great Three Days, so that you might find the space/ the moment to be. Enter the presence of Christ with Lazarus and Martha and Mary, and be. Allow the salvation reality of Christ’s passion and God’s faithfulness to present itself in the midst of your journey, integrating what has been with what is and what will be, what is straight with what is bumpy, the dry spells with streams of water in the desert.
I imagine Martha and Mary and Lazarus years later meeting in much the same way, after Easter, in house churches with a small congregation. Week after week they told the stories. They collected them, they interpreted the faithfulness of the God of Israel in the Word made flesh. They learned of an apostle named Paul who experienced the very same in his life, how time stacks upon time, past and present and future flow together, unhinging the order of life and death, death and life. They recognized the same faithfulness of God at work in Paul that they knew, the brimming, saving, extravagant grace of God.
Sisters and brothers, no less is God’s faithfulness at work among us, and God’s brimming, saving, life giving, extravagant grace.
See you next week, for Palm/Passion Sunday and Holy Week.