A coalition of Jewish authorities have begun to openly plot Jesus’ murder (11:53). Jesus himself has spoken of giving up his flesh for the sake of the world (6:51). Lazarus has been raised from the grave (chapter 11). The way of the cross never flinches from the realities of the world; though truthfully, we often prefer to avoid them.
In the passage today Mary confronts these truths in a moment of liturgical poetry. She understands the trajectory of Jesus’ ministry, and expresses her faithfulness and grief by preparing his body for burial, even as he is alive and present in her home. Just as Mary has washed Jesus’ feet – so too Jesus will soon wash the disciple’s feet (John 13). Following Jesus requires us to be present to the brokenness of the world within us and before us. Death will not have the final word, but we still grieve its wounds.
What grief or pain do you find hardest to face?
14 April: Palm Sunday
The public liturgy and spectacle of Jesus riding towards Jerusalem is comedy, critique, tragedy and triumph all wrapped up in one.
Like so many other royal aspirants before him, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with public fanfare, the crowds calling out traditional Hebrew scriptures of praise. Yet even as he mimics the royal power play, Jesus is mocking the Roman and Jewish authorities who look on in suspicion. He will soon overthrow tables in the Temple; question the Roman taxes; accuse the wealthy Jerusalem hypocrites; and proclaim the hour of the Son of Man. All of these actions proclaim a transformation of the social order and a renewing of faith in God. At the same time, all of this happens as the hour of the cross draws near. Jesus is not looking to seize power, but to unmask its lies and show the glory of God.
The scandal of the cross and our hope in God’s kingdom are inextricably linked. To shout “Hosanna!” is at once to sing for joy in Jesus, to proclaim judgement on the brokenness of the world, and hope for the renewal of all things in God.
21 April: Easter Day
To Mary, it must have felt like an ending, awash in failure. Even her grief was being denied as the body was now gone. She stands as witness in her tears. She stands faithful and willing to grieve even in her emptiness.
And it is there that the Resurrection will find her.
She is met, not by avenging angels seeking retribution on those who had perpetrated this violence, nor by trumpeted glory pronouncing the new powers that be and the opening of heaven’s gates.
She is met much more simply by a road reopened and hope renewed. This crucified man is before her, present and still bloodied, life transformed rather than denied. The resurrection hope is, like this man Jesus himself, a scandalous and surprising thing. Not at all what we expected, and a hope that continues to confound our ideas and plans. Even as it has become clear (ish) that God in Jesus has conquered death itself, there is no sudden lurch towards preparing for the afterlife, no doctrinal outline to ensure heavenly membership, not even an explanation of what it is that has taken place.
Instead, Jesus speaks her name. “Mary!” And she recognises him (teacher!). Relationship is restored. Not otherworldly distance, but intimacy and acknowledgement. The first act of the resurrected Christ is reconciliation with the one who grieves. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).
If the first act of the Resurrection is to meet Mary in her grief, the second act is to offer the terrified and traumatised disciples the peace of God.
No doubt they were in hiding, fearful that they would be arrested and executed next. Quite likely they were beginning to bicker and fight amongst themselves for how it had come to this. Underlying it all would have be the rising tide of shame and guilt at their own betrayals of Jesus. “Who am I, now that I have seen the truth of my convictions?”
Into that cauldron of fear and grief, the resurrected Jesus appears. With arms outstretched, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto them and renews their call. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v21). For both Mary and the other disciples, the resurrection brings reconciliation, healing and above all a renewed calling to follow Jesus.
This Easter, what do you hope for?
Image: (iStock) A depiction of the Easter Story, using sawdust and other materials, in the Barrio Sutiava, Nicaragua.
These lectionary reflections were prepared by Rev. Andrew Johnson, Hope Uniting Church Maroubra and Uniting Church Chaplain UNSW.