17 March 2013

Lent moves toward its conclusion, and this week, offers us a surprising invitation – to extravagant, celebratory adoration of the Incarnate One. In the midst of this sacrificial journey, this week is both refreshing, and deeply challenging, refusing to allow us the luxury of depression, cynicism or hopelessness.

May you know the joy of celebration in the midst of your Lenten fast this week.

READINGS:
Isaiah 43:16-21: The God who has saved Israel in the past invites God’s people to believe that a new salvation is coming for them in their exile.

Psalm 126:  A psalm celebrating the return of exiles to Jerusalem, and asking for God’s grace as they seek to rebuild their lives and their homeland.

Philippians 3:4b-14: Paul, who has every reason to trust in his goodness under the law, explains why he chooses rather to trust in Christ for his righteousness, and how he commits to continually striving to reach the reward that is promised in Christ.

John 12:1-8: In Bethany, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. Judas, however is unimpressed.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
In a rather startling turn, right before Jesus’ enters his period of suffering, the Lenten readings move us to a place of joy and celebration. Isaiah promises the exiles a new salvation of God; the psalm celebrates this salvation as it is realised; Paul celebrates the righteousness he has found in Christ, which far surpasses the value of the “goodness” he enjoyed under the law; and Mary celebrates Jesus and her extravagant love for him through this almost embarrassing public display. This can be quite shocking in the midst of the discipline and confession that usually characterises the Lenten period. But, the message is clear – the journey through the desert is a journey toward life and joy, for it leads us to recognise, and own for ourselves, the truth that Christ brings us salvation – life in all its fullness. Mary, Paul and the people of Israel all received this gift with tremendous joy, and wild expressions of love. This passionate worship of the Saviour, is a challenge to us to allow our faith to be not just of the head, but of the heart, and not just of the way of justice, judgment or righteousness, but also of the way of joy, celebration and appreciation. And, although Jesus proclaims Mary’s act as a preparation for his burial – with the shadow of the cross looming over this scene – the promise of God’s life, and the demonstration that neither evil nor death can extinguish the love of Christ, give cause for celebration even as we prepare to remember the sacrifice.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
“All [people] will be called to give an account for everything good thing they beheld in life and did not enjoy.” – The Jerusalem Talmud.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: Two characteristics of our current world that contribute to injustice and suffering: 1) Inappropriate or extravagant celebration that ignores the cries of the poor, while squandering resources on frivolous and selfish pleasure. This injustice is rife throughout the world. 2) Judgemental asceticism that frowns on all light-hearted, fun and pleasurable experiences. This, too, is rife. However, authentic Celebration is a necessary discipline in following Christ, and in the fight against injustice. Poor and suffering communities often use singing, dancing and celebration as a way to rise above their circumstances, as did the slaves, the Civil Rights activists, and the anti-apartheid strugglers. As followers of Christ, our witness and work in the world is strengthened when we find ways to celebrate in inclusive, appropriate and life-affirming ways. One of the great challenges of Lent, and of this week’s Lectionary, is the call to ensure that our ability to celebrate is not hindered by difficult circumstances or by suffering and sacrifice. When, like Christ, we can embrace celebration and joy as “disciplines” even in the worst of times, we become truly life-giving reflections of God’s Reign. What might it mean for our world if we took the call to celebration more seriously?

LOCAL APPLICATION: The message of Jesus is good news indeed, but unfortunately this truth is all too often obscured by those who seek to follow it. Through failure to celebrate – while frowning on the joy and play of others – and claiming a joy that we restrict only to those who look or believe like we do, we have left the impression that following Christ is about judgment, hatred, displeasure and legalism. As so many people seek to pour out the perfume of their lives at the feet of Christ, we stand by, like Judas, and judge, while hypocritically keeping life’s abundance for ourselves. Is it possible that this Lent we are being called to true celebration, allowing ourselves to be surprised and moved to passionate joy by the truth of the reign of God, while inviting all who will to join us in true celebration wherever and however we may find it? On the other hand, it is tempting to view celebration and praise as something that is linked to our circumstances “going right”. It is often our suffering that creates crises of faith, and that rob us of sustaining joy. But, when we have learned to celebrate as a true Kingdom “discipline” we find the strength to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, while uplifting and strengthening them , and we also find the courage and hope to love, share, include and forgive without feeling the need to stand apart and judge.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Good News
The Healing Power Of Celebration
We Celebrate Your Life

Hymn Suggestions:
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Rejoice, The Lord Is King
I Surrender All
Sing Sing Sing (Link to YouTube video)
Hosanna (Link to YouTube video)
Extravagant Worship (Link to YouTube video)
Undignified (Link to YouTube video)
I Praise You, Lord

Liturgy:
A Liturgy For The Eucharist

Video Suggestions:
Mary Anoints Jesus

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