Monday: Jesus Gathers Strength
“Continue your loving kindness to those who know you, and your favor to those who are true of heart.”
These are words from our psalm for today, and they are words about you.
“Those who know you,” and “those who are true of heart.” Those are words about anyone who is faithfully reaching out to God, but they are particularly true of anyone who made it to church on Monday of Holy Week.
For some of you, attending church every day of Holy Week may be a long-established practice that is a cornerstone of your faith life.
For others, it may be the first year you’ve tried to do it, and don’t worry, Jesus loves you even if you don’t make it to every service!
But what is common to everyone in this room is that you have set aside this time to say, “What happens this week is important. What Jesus is doing in these days matters to me. And I am willing to be open to the intensity of sharing with him the last week of his life.”
That is a bold spiritual commitment, and I’m so glad we’re making it together.
I’m so glad we’re taking this journey as a community.
Frankly I doubt any of us could make it to Sunday if we tried to do it alone.
These are the days in which the world is changed, and we survive them by living together as a Body, supporting and upholding each other as we struggle to face the reality of what will happen on Friday.
This is what Jesus is facing as well.
He has returned to the little house in Bethany, where he can spend some time with his oldest and dearest friends.
He, too, is gathering strength from his community.
He may not know exactly how quickly his death is approaching, but he can feel the noose beginning to tighten.
Just yesterday the crowds surged around him in adulation, but it was only a cover for the forces of darkness that are gathering around him.
And so he goes to his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Did they know this was goodbye?
Did any of the four of them know this was the last time they would be together?
We don’t know, but we can identify with some of the feelings that may have been in the room.
Have you ever lost a friend or a loved one, and when you look back on the last time you were together and happy, the scene is infused with a special poignancy and vividness?
Those types of memories create hair triggers of emotion with our senses.
I know all of us have had experiences of hearing a certain song or smelling a certain food, and all of a sudden, our eyes are filling with tears because we are taken right back into the presence of someone we have lost.
I am certain that Mary, Martha and Lazarus would for the rest of their lives be instantly taken back to their own “Last Supper” with Jesus any time they smelled a perfume similar to the one Mary used to anoint Jesus.
And what were Jesus’ emotions on this night?
I have sat by enough deathbeds in my work as a priest to know that one’s last days and hours, if one has any notice at all of impending death, are full of taking stock.
What has it all been for?
Were my heartaches worth it?
Have I really loved my dear ones with my full heart?
My risks, my mistakes, my triumphs—which would I change?
Which would I keep the same no matter how hard they were at the time?
Although none of us, God willing, has less than a week to live like Jesus does, one of our spiritual tasks this week is to be in solidarity with him in any way we can.
And so we sit with these questions ourselves, because we know that our time could be as short and fragile as his is.
What has our life been about up to this point?
Where have we resisted God’s work in our lives and where have we had the courage to welcome it?
The remarkable thing about Monday of Holy Week is that the first lesson is the same today as it is on the first Sunday of Epiphany, which is the Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.
Can you remember all the way back to January, when we were still basking in the light of our newborn Savior?
His ministry was new and fresh.
He was at the beginning of his work with us.
So much potential for healing, so much wisdom in teaching—everything lay before him.
And now it’s coming to a close, and it hasn’t been tremendously successful by most standards.
His disciples have never really completely caught on to what he’s teaching them.
Many of the people he’s healed have disappeared in his hour of need.
His friends, including Lazarus as we read in this gospel story, are in danger from the state by virtue of their association with him.
And Jesus, after only three years of ministry, is about to die.
What was the point?
Is he a failure?
What does it all mean if it ends in this disaster?
And for God’s sake, why won’t Jesus stop it?
Why won’t he save himself and save us from having to go through this with him?
We find the answer in the passage of Isaiah appointed for both tonight, Monday in Holy Week, and Baptism of Our Lord:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Jesus is going to go through with this because he understands that his life and his death have a higher purpose than his own personal emotional reality.
He has been appointed and anointed to bring salvation to the world, to be the transformational presence that liberates us and calls us to advance the cause of justice and peace.
It is a role of such greatness, but it requires such profound humility to accept.
Because it is a thankless task. Jesus has to set aside everything and everyone he loves to do this salvific work.
And the question we have to ask ourselves is this: what portion of our comfort, our security, our personal and private loves and concerns, are we prepared to sacrifice for the greater work that God is doing in and with our lives?
Holy Week is full of hard questions.
It is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who are true of heart, as our psalmist says.
It requires of us, as it did of Jesus, to know and understand how we have been given by God to the world to save, to heal, to change, to suffer—in sum, how we have been given to the world to love, no matter the cost.
“I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness,” God says to Jesus.
And we are called to be part of that work as well—that’s the part that’s harder to accept and imagine.
But it’s true. And Holy Week is about truth.
You had the courage to come here tonight.
Do you have the courage to ask yourself how God is giving you to the world?
That is how we enter solidarity with Jesus tonight, and hard as it is to imagine, our answer really matters for the future of the world.
It’s okay if you’re a little intimidated.
It’s okay if that’s a little more than you bargained for when you came here tonight.
Jesus seems to have felt that way a bit too. After all, that’s why he came to the house in Bethany tonight.
He needed the love of his friends to strengthen him, to help him find his courage to do his great work.
And that’s why we’re here together tonight as well, to find our courage to do our great work.
So let us join at the table together.
It began with our baptism, just like it did for Jesus.
And it will lead through the Cross, just like it did for Jesus.
But for tonight, we are among friends, with good food and conversation and fellowship.
So let us pause here and pour out our love on one another, as Mary did.
It may make the all the difference when we get to Friday, not just to us, but to Jesus as well.
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