Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church
Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
5 Lent/C—April 7, 2019
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 7, 2019
Lord, take our minds and think through them, take our mouths and speak through them; take our hearts and set them on fire, for Christ’s sake—Amen.
For the past four Sundays, we have been on a journey with Jesus “on the way” to the cross. As we journeyed with Jesus we have had the advantage of knowing what is to come. On this, the fifth Sunday in Lent, our gospel reading in John, situates us intentionally in Bethany—a specific location on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—a sharp turning point—signaling that Jesus’ journey will soon end, and that the cross is near.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to a dinner gathering given for him in the home of his beloved friends, Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and his two sisters, Martha and Mary. It is a precious time spent with friends whom Jesus loved and who loved Jesus. While breaking bread amongst friends may evoke joyful memories for many of us, there is a dark, contextual reality operating around this gathering in the home.
Jesus was a wanted man. I mean this in two ways: Jesus’ presence was wanted as a guest in the Lazarus family home, and Jesus’ absence, and the erasure of any evidence of his ministry, was wanted by those who put a target on his back. Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead caused many witnesses to believe in him, and threatened the power of the religious leaders and Pharisees—setting into motion their murderous plot.
The verse which appears just before the start of our passage (11:57) tells us that the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone with knowledge of Jesus’ whereabouts should inform them so that they might arrest him. The issued a BOLO (be on the lookout) for Jesus as if he were a criminal. Everyone in Lazarus’ home would have been aware of the danger to Jesus’ safety had he been exposed. Lazarus’ home was a place of refuge for the fugitive Jesus.
Jesus was a wanted man; people were on the lookout for him; and Lazarus’ home was an intentional, safe space. This safe space from the dangers of the world outside of the home ensured that Jesus’ journey to the cross continued to unfold to be in God’s time, not man’s.
The dinner, being served by Lazarus’ sister, Martha, was in process. The resuscitated Lazarus was at the table with Jesus. We later learn that Jesus’ disciple, Judas, was also present. In the midst of this sharing of a meal, Lazarus’ other sister, Mary, anointed Jesus’ feet with the perfumed ointment that cost the equivalent of one year’s wages. Not only did she anoint his feet; she wiped them with her hair.
The home, filled with the powerful fragrance, surrendered to the inescapable aroma as it wafted over all who were present. This action of anointing Jesus’ feet was a loving, intimate encounter shared between Jesus and Mary. While others certainly witnessed the encounter and smelled the fragrance, it strikes me that Mary, in wiping Jesus’ feet with her own hair, was actually wearing the fragrance. I imagine Mary walking around the home with the sweet aroma of the costly perfume entering the room ahead of her and lingering in the room after she left.
Imagine a surround-sound home entertainment center in which the human sense of hearing is enriched. This image of enhancing the human sense of hearing is one that illustrates how Mary’s action of anointing Jesus’ feet, engaged the human senses of smell, touch, sight, taste and hearing to create a layered sensory experience at this dinner. This intimate experience of full-sensory engagement is necessarily experienced through the human body.
The moment was interrupted by Judas’ greed, concealed as concern for a missed opportunity to serve the poor. “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?” said Judas (v. 5). Mary did not answer, but Jesus’ response offers us levels of opportunities for deeper understanding. Jesus ordered Judas to leave Mary alone and told him that she bought the perfume, and saved it for the day of his burial. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” Jesus said (v. 8).
Consider that while this narrative emphasizes the human senses, Jesus’ message to Judas was a warning to Judas, and to us, to come to our senses before it’s too late. The cross loomed and Jesus’ presence would soon be no more.
The “poor” will always be with you, said Jesus. The human experience of visible poverty and the invisible state spiritual poverty—or spiritual dryness—are human sufferings of the earthly kingdom, not of the heavenly kingdom.
Judas was focused on things of this earthly world, not on the heavenly kingdom which had come near to him in the person of Jesus in the extra-sensory, immersive experience of living a life of discipleship with Jesus.
By contrast, the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary was a recognition of his kingship. Anointing with oil was also used for healing and for burial. The sensory experience enhanced by the wafting of the perfume’s aroma, provided a moment in time in which Jesus’ divine nature was revealed through the anointing of his human feet. It pointed to the splendor and honor and kingly power that is his by right (BCP, pp. 93-94).
In this captured threshold moment, we are taken up into this moment in time, where the division between the earthly and the heavenly realms ceases to be. It is a powerful reminder for us to seek Jesus in our “ordinary” relationships and in our “ordinary” day-to-day tasks, just as we would in our holy spaces set aside for worship.
The reality of Jesus at an otherwise ordinary dinner with friends is the reality of Jesus today. Jesus is a wanted man—a desired, sought after and yearned-for presence who transcends any limitations of our human senses. This desire to seek Christ can only be known in the depths of the human soul.
As we gather to share in the Eucharistic meal in which we eat and drink the sacraments of Christ’s body and blood, we must be clear that it is not an “ordinary” meal, and that the real presence of Christ is among us and in us.
Our liturgical and sacramental worship creates that “surround sound” effect which awakens our senses, and draws us closer to intimate encounters with our precious Lord and Savior as we await his coming again.
Jesus is a wanted man. Continue to work on your own spiritual wholeness as a way of creating an inviting, safe space for Jesus to dwell. Put on the delicious aroma of Christ, which goes before you in this world and lingers with the souls you encounter, long after you depart. And, be on the lookout for him, not as a criminal, but as the savior of your eternal soul and of the whole world.
Let us tap into our senses and come to our senses before it’s too late. Take up your own cross, and walk the life-long journey of discipleship with Christ. The cross looms and Jesus’ journey continues.