Note: This series is based on the 1970 rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.
This Sunday, we continue our Lenten worship series with a familiar text. It is only six days before Passover, the night that Jesus celebrates the first Holy Communion before being arrested. It may be simple to recognize this timing with some trepidation. There are only a few days left. Jesus will be betrayed and executed soon.
But this is language of scarcity. And maybe that’s not the right way to look at it. Maybe everything will be alright.
Jesus has come to the home of Lazarus and his sisters, and it’s only a chapter earlier that Lazarus was in a tomb. But the briefness of life was not the end. Even thinking about Jesus’ crucifixion, we know we are preparing for Easter. Good Friday was not the end. In the same way, the expensive perfume given away was not the end. Jesus reminds us that everything’s alright, and that the end is almost never where we think it will be.
John 12:1-8 (CEB)
1Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. 3Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. 4Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, 5“This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (6He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)
7Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”
Consider these questions:
- Jesus becomes intimately present at a meal (because there is a certain intimacy in sharing a meal with others) that is hosted for him in the home of Lazarus and his sisters. What does his presence in this particular home just after the resurrection of Lazarus mean to you?
- It is Martha who participates in serving the meal, and Mary who anoints Jesus with the perfume. How are these acts of service the same? Different? How do these acts fit in with what you may have heard about Martha and Mary (read Luke 10:38-42)?
- In this text, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet. The parallel stories in Matthew and Mark describe Jesus’ head being anointed. Why do you think the different authors described this differently? What might they have been trying to say?
Post-Worship Update on 3/19
Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).
I read a book in seminary by Christian author Diana Butler Bass titled Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith. It was a wonderful vision of a potential future for the church in spite of the rapid decline that surveys and statistics highlight. In it, she envisions a new “great awakening,” not unlike the great awakenings in our Christian tradition. Among her insightful assertions – and echoed when I heard her speak at a clergy conference a few years later – is that a core part of Jesus’ ministry in the first century was about inclusion. Bass described it in relation to Holy Communion and the idea that by inviting everyone to celebrate this sacrament means we need to have a bigger table. That vision continues to speak to me.
That vision also contradicts what Judas claims in this passage from the Gospel of John. Judas speaks from fear and from a perspective of scarcity, but if we affirm an infinite God of infinite grace and infinite generosity, then we must see that the table must be one where all are invited to experience the radical love found in Jesus Christ.
Consider these questions:
- How have you felt excluded from a faith community? Even if it is this one, be honest about your experience. If you have felt excluded, what brought you back (or keeps you coming back)?
- How have you excluded others, either from your faith life or other parts of your life? Why? Does it feel to exclude rather than be excluded? Is there reason to re-think some exclusion? (Note: There are times that it is completely appropriate and even safest to exclude persons who have done harm. This question about exclusion should not be seen as any broad statement against such safety measures).
- What can you – uniquely as an individual and as a part of this community of faith – do to help grow the table of faith and fellowship at Pacific Beach UMC?