Sermon for Passion Sunday
7th Apr 2019
Sermon for Passion Sunday 2019 (Year C)
We mark the season of Lent in this church each Friday at 6 pm as we make a walk around the fourteen Passion ‘stations’, each one a stage on Christ’s ‘’via dolorosa’ or sorrowful way. These stations, or stopping off points, allow the Passion narrative to be prolonged and we see and experience Jesus’ suffering in the deliberate slowing down of our responses, as we start and stop and witness each of its stages. Each station presents us with a time for prayer and meditation. You will notice this morning that though all our pictures, statues and icons are covered, the stations of the cross are not. In this way they stand out in a church enshrouded in purple cloth, readying itself for the saving events of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The Church on earth holds its breath as it prepares for these solemn and soul searching events. Our Gospel this morning reminds us that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus also foresaw the death of Jesus. She anoints Jesus with costly oil and wipes his feet with her hair. It is an act of extraordinary daring. Mary has grasped that Jesus’ sacrificial death is an essential part of his work, and this emerging truth takes her and us beyond the realm of what is merely ordinary or obvious. Like her namesake, Mary Magdalene, she is gifted with insight and foresight. The witness of the two Marys is to play a crucial part in the saving events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and to challenge traditional and predictable patterns of thought.
“Mary’s act of adoration, her anointing, is an excessive, extravagant gesture, an act of love similar to the amount of water turned into wine at Cana. God’s love for us is not to be limited by rational calculation. The miracle at Cana prefigures the foolishness and scandal of Christ’s self-offering on the cross. It is therefore fitting that Mary’s offering, her anointing, is ‘beautiful, foolish and scandalous”.
Jean Vanier ‘Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through John’.
This idea of the ‘scandal’ of the Cross had been taken up by Paul when he said that “whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss through Jesus Christ”. Whether these gains were to do with my birth right, status, my bank balance, my looks, my self-conscious self-containment – Jesus’ own sacrifice has rendered these so-called gains as real, inevitable losses. Hence Paul speaks ironically about his ‘boasting’ and Mary crosses the boundaries of good taste and expense in delivering, from the immediacy of her own desire, an act of expensive anointing which brings the Church, two thousand years later, in close touch with the Passion yet to be revealed.
Only a week ago now I received an Email from Adi Widjaja, an up and coming artist who was looking for a home for his painting, a depiction of the Crucifixion. It is a painting which I have come to know over the past week as it has found its way to our St Peter Chapel. It is simply entitled “I died for You”. It is a powerful image which, like Mary’s anointing both draws us to itself and points away from itself and directly toward us. It depicts at once a crucifixion which is both violent and terrible and yet somehow beautiful in the love of the Son whose offering is fragrant because turned against himself and the world’s self.
In a similar way, Mary the sister of Lazarus might have said “I anointed your Saviour for his impending death even when he was alive, and I did it without thinking”. Life feels good when something brilliant and spontaneous breaks through the normal pattern of things. It rightly upturns our predictable sense of things and speaks to the soul. And so the arrival in our church of this painting, which has been given, as Mary’s anointing was given, at a very particular moment in time. Given for Passion Sunday, when we remember Christ’s going unto death. The painting is a message for us, delivered suddenly and unexpectedly by its creator in that same spirit which gave Mary that same imaginative impetus which enlarges and enriches our sense of what God makes possible in and through his servants.
These messages summon us to be a church which has not become atomised and routinized in the life of faith, but one emboldened after the example of Christ and Mary the Anointer to strike out imaginatively, creatively and daringly on behalf of the community we serve. In this way Holy cross will become a church truly turned ‘inside out’ in the spirit of those who daringly reached out to acknowledge their Saviour Christ as he stood in their midst.
For now we say, in the words of the apostle Thomas as Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem – “Let us go with Him, that we might die with Him”. John 11.16