Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sermon for Passion Sunday yr C - Costly love

Today, as you probably know, is known as Passion Sunday...It's the day on which, in some churches, statues and crosses are veiled...the day on which we pass an invisible marker find that, like Jesus, our faces are now set firmly towards Jerusalem, and the drama that will unfold there.
So it's the day on which Passiontide begins – and passion is at the core of our gospel this morning. I wonder how that makes you feel, where you are in this story...With the disciples, Martha, and Lazarus looking on in confusion? With Mary herself? With Judas?
I wonder...
How does Mary's extravagant gesture make you feel? Embarassed and uncomfortable?
That would be quite reasonable, specially for us...After all, we Anglicans, with our love of the middle way, are sensible and prudent people on the whole.
We believe in moderation in all things, in wise husbandry of our resources, in fabric funds and planned giving.
We wouldn't want to see anything go to waste and we wouldn't ever want to make a scene, would we?
But, though prudence has its place, I'm not sure it belongs in our relationship with God. In this passage, it's the approach advocated by Judas.
“What a waste. Think of all the good you could have done if you'd sold that perfume, think how many lives you could have transformed”
Thanks to hindsight, its easy for us to reject everything that Judas says, but truth to tell, here his thoughs may well chime with our own. The needs of the world are huge and pressing and it seems wantonly thoughtless to simply squander a precious gift...think what a difference it could make in Haiti.
But that's not the message of today's passage. We remember Jesus saying “Whatever you do to the least of my little ones you do to me” but today our focus is direct action, an immediate heartfelt response to the reckless generosity that God heaps upon us.
Today, it seems, Mary has learned the lesson of grace – of God's costly love...the passion that will reach its fullest expression on the cross. Today Mary is our teacher .She recognizes, however imperfectly, both who Jesus is and who she is in relation to him.
Her discipleship is based on service, on the service of anointing that is both intimate, with its intense focus on hands, feet and hair, and public – the whole house filled with the scent of the oil.
In John's account of the Last Supper, just one chapter later, Jesus models the kingdom as he gets up,ties a towel around himself,fills a basin and washes the disciples' feet.That is what he wants his followers to do, but he doesn't just tell them, he shows them.Do as I say, he says, and do as I do.Mary, our teacher for today, anticipates that lesson beautifully, acting from her heart, responding to all that Jesus has been in her life.
Note, she anoints not his head, declaring him king, but his anointing reserved for the dead. Jesus recognises the truth of this and the prophetic message of that lavish gift. There will be nothing economical about his death, just as there has been nothing economical about his life.  In him, the extravagance of God's love is made flesh.  In him that love is poured out for the sake of the world.

The great hymn writer Isaac Watts surely recalled this scene when writing his wonderful hymn
“When I survey the wondrous cross” and made the connection between the outpouring of sorrow and love that is Christ's anointing at Calvary, and the perfume flowing over his feet at Bethany...May his words and Mary's example continue to inspire and challenge us as we reflect on our own response to the passion that Christ has for each of us.

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.


Song in my Heart said...

After all, we Anglicans, with our love of the middle way, are sensible and prudent people on the whole.

I knew I'd got mixed up somewhere!

Songbird said...

I like your take on Judas and how our thoughts are often similar. We need to acknowledge that!