Tuesday, March 23, 2010

RCL - Lent 5 C - 21 Mar 2010 - Alison Quin

Christ the King Episcopal Church, Stone Ridge, NY
The Rev. Alison Quin
RCL - Lent 5 C - Sunday 21 March 2010

The Rev. Alison Quin often ministers to the Monastery community by celebrating the Eucharist for us on Friday mornings. She is the Rector of Christ the King parish in nearby Stone Ridge, NY. This sermon was written as a prose poem.

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12: 1-8

Lazarus’ ragged breathing was the only sound in the room.

His sisters kept an agonized vigil at his side,

rising only to send for Jesus.

“Quick, run, bring him here.

Tell him Lazarus is dying!”

But Jesus didn’t come.

Lazarus drew his last breath.

An air of unreality descending,

the sisters began doing last things.

Washing and anointing their brother’s body,

trying to memorize the beloved face,

before covering it for all time with a cloth,

before they laid him in the tomb.

Friends and neighbors gathered,

bringing food, trying to console.

The wailing of the mourners was punctuated by silence

and then voices talking in hushed whispers

as if to avoid waking the dead man.

“Jesus is on his way!” cried one voice.

Martha rushed to meet him.

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”

If you had been here…

Why weren’t you here?


Jesus answers with an enigma:

“I am resurrection and I am life.

Whoever believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this?”

Martha believed—a miracle of faith

in a cloud of uncomprehending grief.

Mary came out next, weeping.

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”

This time, the words pierced his heart

and Jesus wept as they led him

to the tomb where Lazarus lay.

“Take away the stone.”

“But he has been dead for four days!

The stench will be terrible.”

“Take away the stone.”

So they did.

“Lazarus, come out!”

Lazarus came out, weak, stumbling,

fingers fumbling at the cloth over his face.

Lazarus, impossibly alive again,

his mortal self reconstituted

by the Son of God, the Giver of Life.

The sisters, who went out weeping,

helped carry him home with shouts of joy.

Word got around: he even raises the dead!

Some were afraid—if we let him go on, everyone will believe in him.

And then the Romans will destroy all of us.

So from that day on, they planned to put him to death.

Jesus went away for a while with his disciples,

until it was time.

(We know what time that was—the shadow of the cross

still falls across our paths.)

Now he is at Bethany,

At dinner with Lazarus and the twelve,

with Mary and Martha,

celebrating the dying and rising.

Did they remember what Jesus had told them,

that he would die and rise again?

Did they sense that time past

and time future

and time present

were gathered into this one moment?

Or did their hearts fail them

when they looked into the abyss

and strained to take in the mystery

of joy and suffering held together

in the mind and heart of God?

Did they will themselves not to think about

what Jesus said

about his death?

At the house in Bethany, Lazarus and his sisters

already knew about

waiting for God

when all hope was extinguished.

Death and resurrection

was already written on their hearts,

and they believed.

Mary rushed to the shelf

where she kept her ointment;

the expensive stuff she was saving for her wedding.

She did what she could for Jesus.

She reached for him during his hour

and anointed him for his burial.

Her love was extravagant:

a whole pound of ointment!

Kneeling at his feet like a slave,

she wiped his feet with her hair,

A gesture of absurd intimacy.

The others averted their eyes, embarrassed,

except for Judas, who was angry

and scolded her.

The early church thought it was greed

that motivated him.

They accused him of stealing.

But maybe he was shocked and afraid

That Jesus would choose the path of suffering,

without even trying to resist the oppressors.

Maybe he could not bear

the awful mystery of death

(and such a death!)

leading to life.

Don’t our hearts quail before that mystery too?

Don’t we long for Easter without Good Friday?

And what about the poor?

“The poor will be with you always.”

Did Jesus really mean to condone poverty

and authorize the church to

spend money on luxuries?

Or was he simply reminding us,

in our abstract struggle for justice,

not to overlook the one standing

in front of us,

the one who needs our love?

Do we dare take that person’s hand,

and look with her into the abyss?

Can we kneel at her feet

and humbly serve, like Mary

and like Jesus?

Do we dare to love that one with abandon,

doing what we can,

spending what we have?

Could Judas and Mary be reconciled after all these years?

Can righteousness and mercy kiss each other?

And there is another question too:

can we let ourselves be loved with abandon,

as we face the various deaths in our lives?

Can we bear the intimacy and extravagance of God’s love,

revealed in the person kneeling at our feet?

Do we dare to believe, like Mary,

that dying with Christ,

we will be raised with him to new life?

Blessed, blessed is she who believed.

wherever the gospel is proclaimed

In the whole world,

What she has done will be told in remembrance of her.

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