Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Holy Monday (John 12:1-23)

“Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you but you do not always have me.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Holy Monday is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, particularly the first eleven verses. Dear friends in Christ: We are Lazarus. Raised from the dead, brought over from death to life, summoned forth from the grave by the powerful word of Jesus. He made us alive, crying: “Lazarus, come out!” “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He made us alive, He raised us out of our watery grave new and alive, a new man, to live before God our Father in righteousness and purity forever. He raised us to dine with Him, to have table fellowship with the One who raised us, to sit us at the table with Him. “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at the table.” We are Lazarus, gathered at the table of Jesus again and again, receiving His Body and Blood in fellowship with Him, who is both host and meal. Our life in this world is sustained by this meal, this fellowship with our Lord at this altar. Those who are raised by Jesus dine with Jesus, forever. We are Lazarus.

We are Mary. Thankful for all that Jesus has done for us, filled with deep and abiding affection, overwhelmed by His grace and love. No price is too high, no expense too great, to show our love for our Lord. “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.” In humility, we offer all that we have to our Lord; our lives, our very selves into His service. Our costliest gifts are hardly enough, but they are all we have to give. In humility, we give thanks to Jesus for making us alive, for releasing us from bondage, for pulling us out of the grave with His powerful cry of command. We gather here in this place to praise the Lord who raised us from the dead, to fill this place with our joy. “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

We are Mary. Mary embraced Christ’s burial, she rejoiced in it. In boldness, she prepared our Lord for His death, a death that was just around the corner, that was lurking ahead. She knew what was coming, she heard the predictions of our Lord’s Passion, and she did not fear, she did not hesitate, she did not question, but prepared His body beforehand for burial. The thought of His death filled her with love, with devotion, not fear or revulsion. She knows the time is urgent, she knows that while she has a lifetime to serve others, Jesus’ departure is soon, and she pours out herself in humility for Jesus. And Jesus gives Himself to her. He gives Himself to Mary to be anointed, He receives her love in all of its beauty. He gives Himself to the saints, to those who love Him, so that He can be anointed by their love. He receives the gifts we bring, accepting them in joy as thanksgivings for His salvation. We are Mary, and the fragrance of our love fills the room. But there is not only Mary in that room, or in our heart.

We are Judas. Greedy for the things of this world, concerned only with ourselves, filled with confusion about the coming Kingdom of God. “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Any price is too high, any gift is too extravagant. Spending money on the Church, especially the beauty of God’s house, is more than wasteful, we imply that it is sinful. We cover our greed and selfishness with a veneer of piety, but at the core, we are concerned only with ourselves. “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” Why put what is mine into a dying cause? Why give up what belongs to me, what I have earned, for something that has no tangible benefit? Why sacrifice my life, why sacrifice my things, to Christ and His Church? We reject the burial of Jesus because we know what it might mean for us: our own burial. Christ may call on us to die a physical death for His sake, but we are all called on to die to our desires, to our sinful nature, to lay down everything and follow Him. We are called upon to die to ourselves, and for Judas’s like us, the price is too high.

We are Judas. Judas despised Christ’s burial, he rejected it. The burial of Jesus is an offense to him, he has scorned Christ’s death and all that it means. No Messiah he wishes to follow would allow himself to be killed; no deliverer worth believing in would be scourged and crucified. If that is the kind of ‘Messiah’ that Jesus wants to be, then Judas will be glad to oblige. And Jesus gives Himself to him. He gives Himself to Judas to be kissed, the kiss of betrayal, the kiss that would lead to the cross. He gives Himself to sinners, to those who love themselves, so that they can do their worst to Him. He gives Himself to a world that hates Him, He gives Himself to Judas, for the supreme act of humble love. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly.”

He gives Himself to those who love Him, and He gives Himself to those who hate Him. Mary prepared Jesus for burial, and so did Judas; Mary by anointing, Judas by betraying. And Jesus received both anointing and betraying for the sake of the world. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Mary gave a precious gift to her Lord: “a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard.” Jesus gave an even more precious gift to Lazarus, to Mary, yes, also to Judas, even to you and to me: His pure, spotless life, the costliest gift that could ever be given, the precious blood of the incarnate Son of God. The same body anointed by Mary, the same body betrayed by Judas, would be laid into the grave. But the burial of Jesus was not the end. He trusted in His Father’s vindication. “The Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Jesus is Lazarus; on the third day He who raises the dead would Himself be raised in victory, so that He could go forth and raise others, so that He could raise you and me.

We are Lazarus, raised from the dead by the powerful Word of Christ; we are Mary, humbly devoted to our Lord, refusing to be offended by His burial; we are Judas, self-seeking and self-centered, rejecting the burial of Jesus and all that it implies. We who are Lazarus are Mary and Judas; at the same time saint and sinner. Our life in Christ is then putting Judas to death and raising up Mary; Jesus raised us up to die, to die to Judas, to die to the world, to die with our Lord. “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” The world hates those who have been raised by Christ. The world hates every Lazarus, because every Lazarus is a testimony to the power of Jesus, the world’s enemy, and because through every Lazarus many believe. So the cry goes up: ‘Kill Lazarus!’ But the world is foolish. How can it destroy one who has already been raised from the dead? Jesus has raised Lazarus once, He can certainly do it again. Jesus has raised you once, He can certainly do it again. He can, and He will.

Death has already been shorn of its power over you, this world can do nothing to you; you who have been raised up in the font will be raised up on the Last Day. You will follow the path of Jesus, as Peter says: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you might follow in His steps.” You are Lazarus; you follow your Lord into death, and you follow Him back out of death again into life. You go forth with the confidence that Jesus had, the confidence that He would be vindicated, the confidence that He would be raised, that His enemies would not triumph over Him. As Jesus Himself, who passed this way for us, declares, “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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