Thursday, April 12, 2012

Homily: Monday in Holy Week, CDSP Chapel April 2, 2012...We have completed the forty days...

“...and Lazarus was one of those at table with him.”
(Jn. 12: 2)

Monday in Holy Week      
Jan Robitscher
CDSP Chapel 
April 2, 2012


                        Isaiah 42:1-9                                                                                                                                                                     
                        Psalm 36:5-11                                                                                                                                                                   
                        Hebrews 9:11-15
                        John 12:1-11

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

                We have completed the forty days 

                that bring profit to our soul.

                Now we ask you in your love for us: 

                Grant us also to behold the Holy Week

                of your suffering and death,

                so that in it we may glorify your mighty acts

                and your purpose for us, 

                too great for words.

                May sing with one accord: 

                O Lord, glory be to you.    

                                                                        The canon on the Resurrection of Lazarus by Saint Andrew of Crete,                                                                                      chanted at Vespers the night before Lazarus Saturday.1 

The Saturday before Palm Sunday is, for our Orthodox counterparts, devoted to this story of Lazarus. It is celebrated as a day of joy, with hymns with resurrection themes.  Wine and oil are allowed on this day, and special spice breads called Lazarakia are made and eaten. It is also a custom to make elaborate crosses of palm leaves or olive branches which are used on Palm Sunday. For the Orthodox, Lazarus holds a central role in their celebrations of Holy Week.

Orthodox Easter is not until a week after ours, and we, in the West, have not quite completed the forty days, but we are at the beginning of Holy Week. And we celebrate it knowing the end of the story. But between here and there is something like a labyrinth, or the road we must walk, which begins at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and ends at the beginning of his new  resurrected life.  So let us begin with the scene from today’s Gospel.

Two memories come to mind. The first is a poster I had in college, the one with bread and wine and the words:

                                                JESUS OF NAZARETH REQUESTS 

                                                THE HONOR OF YOUR PRESENCE

                                                AT A DINNER TO BE GIVEN IN HIS HONOR.

The second is that I once saw a painting or an icon representing the dinner party Mary threw for Jesus in the home of Lazarus. Jesus was there, and Mary and Martha. and Lazarus. What was striking about the icon was that Lazarus was depicted as being green--resurrected and yet still corrupted, unbound by the shroud that encased him when Jesus called him forth from the tomb.  It was about as strange a picture as this story is--and yet it spoke a deep truth.

The story of the raising of Lazarus, which just precedes today’s Gospel, is Jesus’ final miracle before his Passion. In the earliest lectionaries for Lent, it was read (and still is in Year A) proclaimed on the fifth Sunday, the climax of the miracles which were meant to help prepare candidates for baptism. It is also the fifth of the I AM sayings of Jesus, 

                “I AM the resurrection and the life. Those who believe

                in me, even though they die, will live.” (Jn. 11:25)

Today’s reading happens just after that, and features two elements: that Lazarus, called from the tomb, is present at the meal as a guest(the meal is in Jesus’ honor) and the anointing of Jesus by Mary. 

The raising of Lazarus is the culminating miracle, revealing both Jesus’ humanity (he wept at the tomb of Lazarus) and that at death, as we say, “life is changed, not ended”, showing Jesus’ divine sovereignty over time and space, life and death. But it is also the immediate and precipitating cause of Jesus’ death; it is the final sign that attracted crowds of believers, convincing the authorities that they must kill Jesus, setting in motion all of the rest of the events of his Passion.  

The focus of the dinner party, however, is not the miraculous presence of the “risen” Lazarus, but Mary, presumably the sister of Martha.  

Mary’s act of anointing Jesus was, for her, an act of adoration, an expression of her love for Jesus. But, whether she knew it or not (and clearly those hearing this story were intended to know) her anointing of Jesus was a prophetic act. For what she did confessed Jesus as Messiah and was also a preparation for his burial. She knew Jesus was to die. Moreover, she used very expensive nard, made from the plant and  probably imported from India. Little wonder that Judas objected, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Mary held nothing back and was not afraid to touch Jesus and to show her devotion to him. This act also foreshadows Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet. The fragrance from the nard filled the whole house.2 

And what of Martha, ever the busy one? Without Martha the dinner would not have happened. Without Mary, Jesus would not have been anointed for his burial. Without Lazarus, loved by them all, they would not have seen Jesus as the Lord of Life. All of them are necessary to the story. Each of them calls us to a different aspect of our walk through Holy Week.

What draws all of these people and actions together is the lesson Jesus taught by his own life, Passion, death and resurrection: that if we want to have life, we must be willing to die; to ourselves, to all the powers that draw us from God, to this very life, itself.  And this Holy Week Jesus imvites us to walk with him through his Passion and death, all the way to the empty tomb of Easter morning.

In the recent experience of my mother’s death, I knew the “long good-bye” of her dementia. I knew there there was a finality about her death. No resurrection dinners as Lazarus had. But I also had the experience that “life is changed, not ended” and I am certain in the knowledge and faith that Lazarus’ brief resurrection was but a faint echo of Jesus’ resurrection and our eternal life with him. 


                                                JESUS OF NAZARETH REQUESTS 

                                                THE HONOR OF YOUR PRESENCE

                                                AT A DINNER TO BE GIVEN IN HIS HONOR.

We are invited to the dinner given in Jesus’ honor. Here, at this table we will receive the food that will sustain us on our Holy Week walk through the story of Jesus’ Passion and death and resurrection; here we will remember Jesus’ death and receive his Body and Blood, food to sustain us now and to eternal life.  

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