Mourn. Wait. Be all in.
As we sit on the cusp of the high holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, I am thinking about the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany. Her story takes place in the gospel of Mark and Matthew just before the climactic events of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. After anointing Jesus with her expensive ointment, he says the most extraordinary thing:
“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Mark 14:8-9)
When I came across these words my first year of seminary, I literally gasped when I read them. What a phenomenal affirmation by Jesus of this female disciple, an affirmation so strong that Jesus proclaims that she will be remembered wherever the good news is shared. I regularly imagine a standard part of the liturgy or at least an additional holy day during this Holy Week in which the church finally brings into reality Jesus’ prediction that she will be remembered.
But what would we remember exactly about this woman if we indeed did remember? Why were her actions so important to Jesus? The text says that she was anointing Jesus for his death. Unlike the other disciples who were resistant to the reality that their messiah was going to have to suffer and die, she understood what was coming. And when she broke that expensive jar of ointment and poured it over Jesus’ head, I think it was a sign that she was all in. She was all in. She was not only acknowledging that Jesus’ story was going to include suffering and death, but by pouring out that ointment and placing her hands on his head, she was taking part in the story. It was not just a story of resurrection, but a story of crucifixion. She was not afraid to be part of the whole thing.
Sometimes it seems to me that there are two types of Christians: crucifixion Christians and resurrection Christians. Crucifixion Christians have a strong theology of atonement. They fully engage with and acknowledge the brokenness of the human condition, and they believe that something happened because of the crucifixion that allowed that brokenness to be healed and the gulf between us and God to be spanned. And then there are the Resurrection Christians. They don’t like to think much about the whole crucifixion and atonement thing. They would rather just focus on the incredible ability of God to transform any death-dealing situation into life. I tend to fall into the latter category, perhaps ignoring the reality of suffering and death instead to focus on the moments of the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom, the beauty of God’s creation, the power of love, and the infinite possibilities for joy in every moment. Like the disciples, I don’t want to think about the reality of suffering and death either.
But the power of the Christian story is not that Jesus came, and every day thereafter it was all puppy dogs and rainbows. A Christian story that doesn’t look like the reality of our lives has no power for our lives. This Lent, our Church of the Village family has been examining the reality of different kinds of poverty in our world. We have looked at the reality that some of us don’t have enough to eat and don’t have a safe place to live. We have looked at the reality that poverty disproportionately affects women and children. We looked at the reality that even those of us with adequate material resources struggle with meaninglessness, and because of it, we engage in mindless consumerism, abuse drugs and alcohol, experience broken relationships, depression, and anxiety.
Some of these can be explained by societal sin that allows such great disparities between rich and poor, or a capitalist system that relies on a manufactured pathological unhappiness that tricks us into believing that we must consume much more than we need in order to be satisfied. And some of our suffering is just horrible, random chance. People we love get sick and die. There are accidents and natural disasters. And these things don’t happen because God doesn’t love us or our faith wasn’t strong enough. They happen because suffering and crucifixion are part of our human story. Ultimately, we all decline physically and die. There must be death before resurrection.
This week, we are invited into that story. It’s a story that some of us would rather stay out of. Like the disciples, we want to share in Jesus’ glory, but we don’t want to share in his suffering.
Starting today, I invite you to engage in the fullness of the Holy Week story. Like the woman at Bethany, I invite you to be all in. Give your whole self and everything you have as you acknowledge the reality that suffering and death are part of our shared story.
Say your teary goodbyes to the One you love at the Last Supper.
Wail at the foot of the cross because the world is so broken that it would try to crucify Jesus again if he showed up today.
Be all in.
I promise you, the ending is worth it.
All people are invited to dive deep into our Christian story during this Holy Week at Church of the Village.
- Maundy Thursday “At Table” Worship at 6:30 PM (April 17)
- Good Friday Remembrance of the Seven Last Words of Christ Worship at 6:30 PM (April 18)
- Resurrection Sunday Worship at 10:30 AM (April 20)
Details about all services available at: http://www.churchofthevillage.org/holy-week-resurrection-sunday/