Fifth sunday of lent
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
I was visiting with a couple this past week. They’ve been going through some consistently difficult times. One of the things they mentioned is that it’s hard for others to understand their situation because others have never been in anything like it. And then there was this amazing statement, a thank you to Jesus for all of His suffering, because while others may not understand, Jesus does.
There were, of course, prayers that things would get better, but there was also this powerful statement of connection in the midst of their ongoing hardship that Jesus knew what they were enduring and that He could sympathize with it.
That was such a profound statement of Lenten faith. It was a prayer that captured the theology of Christ going to the cross, maybe not so much suffering for us or in place of us, but as suffering with us.
I’ve returned to that prayer many times this past week. It ties in with something we talked about on Monday at our Deacons’ meeting, and then was repeated at Wednesday’s Lenten Discussion.
We were talking in both cases about why we go to church. Often we complain about why others don’t go to church, but it seems more constructive to concentrate on the positive. What is it that brings us here? What is that keeps us here? What is that we can’t find anywhere else but here?
Rev. Barbara’s presentation this past Wednesday included taped interviews with people from her church who were asked that question of why do we go to church.
What our Deacons would like to ask now is that after this morning’s Service when you have a few moments at Chat and Coffee, that you take one of the slips of paper available on the table here to the side, and that you write down a few of your thoughts about why you go to church. You don’t have to sign your comments, but we’d like to collect them afterwards and reprint them on a bulletin insert for Easter.
Rev. Barbara, for example, mentioned, as a Minister would, that church is where she meets Jesus. I agree that Jesus is everywhere, but we need to remember that church is the community called together – by Jesus! This is the special place, time and people where Jesus has asked us to meet Him. He’s everywhere, but He’s especially here. Church is another powerful blessing of connection just like I heard in that prayer of “Thank you Jesus for your suffering.” Today’s Gospel ties in with this message. It shares the story about Jesus’ last anointing. He’s at the home of Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Lazarus has two sisters, Martha and Mary. Before we can fully understand Mary’s action in today’s Gospel, we need to go back to the story of the raising Lazarus. Jesus is delayed in reaching His friend and Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally arrives, Martha rushes out to meet Him, but the Bible is quite clear in that it says, “Mary stayed at home.” She’s angry and disappointed in Jesus. She doesn’t want to see Him.
That’s the background story to this morning’s Gospel, which is the story of their next encounter after the raising of Lazarus. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil that was worth a full year’s wages for a labourer. Jesus says that this act is preparation for His own death, but for Mary, it was an extravagant gesture of appreciation.
She had missed her chance the last time Jesus came when she chose to stay at home. It would never happen again. Mary forevermore cherished her time with Christ. The act of anointing was extravagant, but it expressed the depth of Mary’s connection with Jesus.
That’s what Rev. Barbara was talking about. Church is her blessed chance to be with Jesus and she will not miss those sacred opportunities of connection. I hope we can all appreciate this gift, and in our own ways never take church for granted.
Let me share one more gift that helps me to answer why I go to church. There are some un-familiar sounding words from Jesus after Mary anoints His feet, and it’s actually too much to unpack right now, but Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The world can be mean and messy, and sometimes it can become too much. The problems that face us are always there and that can make our efforts to make the world a better place seem futile. It’s like Jesus said, “You always have the poor…”
But church keeps helping me week after week to hope.
On Wednesday we saw a great presentation on an effort called Ultimate Peace. Look them up if you have a chance. It’s a small but intense effort to bring young Jews, Arabs and Christians together in Israel by playing Ultimate Frisbee. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZonLGnkK8w
When these young people come together to meet each other and to see past the barriers of our differences, they bond. They form lasting friendships with people they thought they had to forever hate. And that gives hope.
Rev. Barbara’s son is one of the leaders of this group and he kept tying-in his work with Ultimate Peace with his own Confirmation as a teenager, with his decision as a young adult to belong to a church. His faith, his going to church, gives him the hope to make a difference.
That’s a blessing. And before we break and come together around the blessing that is Holy Communion, let me leave you with words that Linda read for us: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, [says God.]”
That’s hope. The old ways don’t have to remain and forever define us. A new world is possible, and for that gift of hope that I receive every Sunday, for this I am truly grateful.
And I hope you’ll take some time to think about why you go to church and then maybe share it with us by writing it down after Service.
And for all these things we pray in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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