One of my fellow pastors here in the Hudson Conference of the Metropolitan New York Synod, Pastor Paul Britton, recently told us a story about a young boy receiving Holy Communion for the first time. As this boy received God’s gift of grace in the body and blood of Jesus, he beamed with joy and then turned and skipped exuberantly back to his seat. Pastor Paul wondered aloud, after telling this story, if, as Christians desiring to be reverent with the precious and holy gift of Holy Communion, we sometimes become overly earnest and serious and forget to let God help us experience the light-hearted joy of knowing that we have been fed and freed by the living Christ.
I really appreciated Pastor Paul‘s story, and then found myself considering today’s gospel lesson. I found myself wondering if, in our attempts to be earnest and serious, we might look at today‘s gospel lesson and focus on Judas and his harsh words about selling the costly perfume Mary was using to anoint Jesus’ feet in order to feed the poor. Or we might focus on Jesus’ response to Judas, Jesus referencing his burial and therefore his impending death.
But when we consider that this story comes after the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and that Lazarus himself is one of the ones „at the table“ with Jesus - not dead, not even a little bit dead, but alive; when we realize that this story prefigures not only Jesus‘ death and burial, but Jesus’ resurrection to new life for our sakes and the sake of the world - then suddenly we realize that the main theme of this story is not whether Mary had made the right choice in buying the anointing perfume for Jesus, or even Jesus’ death and burial. Rather, the main theme is joy and wonder.
This is joy, such as we hear the psalmist describe - the psalmist who writes of having the fortunes of the Israelites restored so that they found their „mouth filled with laughter,“ and their „tongue with shouts of joy“ (Psalm 126)
This is joy, such as when the Israelites return to Jerusalem after Babylonian captivity and the writer of Isaiah says, „Behold, I am about to do a new thing. Behold, it springs forth.“ (Isaiah 43:19) This is joy for the Israelites in being home again and joy at the knowledge that oppressive rulers and nations will not have the last say in our lives and this world.
This is joy in the deepest of moments of contemplating our salvation made possible by Jesus, and simple everyday pleasures Jesus makes it possible to be truly present for, and to enjoy; such as when the youth of Redeemer, New Paltz and Redeemer, Kingston gathered yesterday for a joint Pinecrest Youth Event and laughter spilled across the parking lot as teams of youth worked through relay races and bible-themed scavenger hunts and then gathered in song and prayer around this altar to receive the living Christ into their bodies and lives.
This is the joy of that boy receiving Holy Communion for the first time and then skipping down the aisle afterwards. This is the joy found when life in this world, whether it was well-lived or a royal mess or more likely a mixture of both, ends, and new life in Christ begins.
The dead are raised. Captivity to tyrannical rule is ended. Youth learn community and share and spread joy. Children skip back from Holy Communion. Eternal life beyond earthly life is glimpsed.
Our Savior lives!
Behold, here is substantive reason for joy and wonder. Here is reason to lavish costly perfume upon the feet of our Savior Jesus. Here is reason to ponder how we can better care for the poor and here is even reason to stare straight at the reality of Jesus‘ burial.
For in Jesus‘ death we will always find new life. We will always find that we are being claimed and named and resurrected by the God of joy and wonder. Maybe that is why even sorrow acknowledged in our lives and this world can become a source of healing and joy.
For this Jesus of joy and wonder will die not only to bring new life for Mary and Lazarus and the disciples, this Jesus of joy will die to ensure that there is the possibility of new life beyond this world’s poverty and illness and death - for all people, including us.
Even now God desires to make a new creation - in each one of us. Even now God in Christ through the cross desires to break through the dead places in us to bring us back to life, and God in Christ desires to break down the dead practices of this world so that Christ‘s light and love may shine forth for the healing of the nations.
For even now, even here on this day, God in Christ is working a new creation. And we, who are grafted by grace onto this story, transfigured by the very body and blood of the Savior, we have every reason - every reason – to join that young boy Pastor Paul Britton spoke of, and leave here skipping with joy.
For additional prayer and contemplation, please read:
Mary Oliver’s poem