St. Philip Lutheran Church
3 April 2022 + Lent 5c
Rev. Josh Evans
All throughout this season of Lent, our cups have been filled to the brim.
At the start of our journey, we walked with Jesus in the desert, tempted to our very limits, and in that desert-place, we remembered and claimed the belovedness that is ours in the family of God.
Then, we found ourselves in the shadow of God’s wings, in the care of Jesus, our mother hen, who keeps us safe when things get scary.
We learned what it means to be where we are planted, like the fig tree – that we are enough, that we are worthy, just as we are, because of the God who created us in their own image.
And last week, with the younger son, we found ourselves in the embrace of our prodigal Parent, reminding us that grace requires nothing of us.
These are stories of God’s abundance. Stories that shape a faith that is full to the brim with God’s grace and love. Stories that give us strength for the journey through Lent … the journey to the cross … the journey to which we will soon turn as Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem at the start of the week, knowing full well what awaits him by the end.
Today’s story is another story full to the brim with grace … grace upon grace. Today’s story is the story of a woman so filled with that grace that she can’t help but let that grace spill out in an act of extravagant love for her friend.
This is the holy gospel according to John…
This is a tale of two women.
The first is at a big party, a wedding feast to be exact. Everything’s going great, and everyone’s having a great time … until: They run out of wine. With an awareness that something is up and a keen sense of hospitality, she jumps into action and tells her son to do something about it. When he’s reluctant, she won’t take no for an answer.
We know what happens next: the six giant jugs of water suddenly become six giant jugs of wine. It’s a miracle of abundance – the first of many such signs Jesus will perform throughout the pages of John’s gospel, all instigated, in this one moment, by his mother.
The second woman is at home, but it’s anything but quiet. Her house is filled with guests. There’s Jesus and (at least) twelve of his followers, probably more. And her sister, who’s busy cooking and serving, not to mention her brother Lazarus who had literally just been raised from the dead.
Needless to say, it was a hectic, exciting, confusing time. She had been trying to process everything she had been feeling, everything she had been thinking about: What could she say? What could she do?
And then, suddenly, she gets an idea: In the middle of dinner, she reaches for the jar she had been saving – literally saving and scrimping three hundred denarii, an entire year’s wages. It’s time, she thinks. And in an instant, she pours out the perfume, the pungent aroma swirling around the room matched only by her own extravagant love poured out for Jesus, her dearest of friends. This, too, is a sign of abundance.
This is a tale of two women. The mother of Jesus and Mary, the sister of Lazarus … two women who stand at pivotal moments in Jesus’s ministry in John’s gospel. From the wedding in chapter 2 to the anointing in chapter 12, there’s a sense that these two women bookend the first phase of Jesus’s ministry.
Jesus’s mother is the catalyst that sets it all into motion. Without her urging, who’s to say everything that followed would’ve even happened?
And then there’s Mary, Jesus’s friend and one of his closest and most faithful disciples, who herself performs a sign of abundance – and is the only person besides Jesus to do so in all of John’s gospel. Her act of abundance, of lavish extravagance, is in the details: a pound of costly perfume, pure nard, costing a whole year’s wages, and filling the entire house with its fragrance.
This is a tale of two women. Two women who love Jesus into his future, as biblical scholar Karoline Lewis puts it. Because of his mother’s love and encouragement, Jesus has the strength to begin his work. And because of his friend Mary’s extravagant love, Jesus receives what he needs as he comes to his “hour” – his suffering, dying, and rising.
These two women get it. They understand what it means to love Jesus into his future, to love him with the kind of extravagant love he needs to get him through two of the hardest and most pivotal moments of his life: the beginning of his career and his turning toward the cross.
We’ve all had those moments. Moments where what we need to get us through is that extra word of encouragement or act of love from someone who cares for us. Whether it’s a note a parent packs in their kid’s lunch box, or a home-cooked meal prepared by one spouse for another at the end of a long day, or a text message to a friend just to check in … we’ve all had moments of being loved and loving each other into the future, of giving and receiving strength for what lies ahead.
Those moments emphasize, above all else, the relationship, and that’s what John’s gospel is all about. It’s about relationship and mutuality and reciprocity. It’s about God abiding in us and us in God and us with each other.
This is a tale of two women who get it. They get that being a follower of Jesus is to be in relationship with him. They get what it means to be a disciple – to abide in love and to live in love and to be in love with the One who loves them … full to the brim … and overflowing.
We read this gospel story of extravagant, abundant love on this fifth and final “regular” Sunday in Lent.
With Mary, we stand on the cusp of Holy Week. The very next verses in John move us to Palm Sunday, but today, before all that, Mary prepares us to walk with Jesus through it all. Where Judas betrays Jesus and Peter denies him, abandoning the relationship, Mary pours out an abiding extravagance of love that will remain with Jesus, even when his journey to Jerusalem doesn’t end nearly as triumphantly as it began – through the betrayal, through the trial, through the suffering, through his death, and ultimately into his resurrection…
…where we’ll encounter yet another woman, another Mary, at the tomb, early in the morning, while it was still dark, amid clouded eyes weighed down with tears, hearing her risen rabbi’s voice call her name, and in turn clinging to him, physically – an act of extravagant love from a disciple and a friend.
So this is a tale, really, of three women – and it’s tale of all of us … a tale that invites us into the kind of love that makes a disciple, the kind of abundance that loves us all, together, into the future, whatever it holds – its tender abundance lasting as even one drop of a jar of costly perfume fills the house with its lasting aroma.
Can you smell that love?
Can you feel that love?