Sermon Archives

Monday, March 26, 2018
The Holy Monday
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Becoming the Christ - Transforming Expectations

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

Six days before the Passover, John begins.  As the cross of Christ takes shape on the horizon of Jesus’ life, John follows him to Bethany, a small town a mile or so from the Temple and the heart of Jerusalem, to the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. 

Of all the stories and teaching that John has at hand – the great “I am” statements of Jesus each echoing YHWH’s great proclamation to Moses, the feeding of the multitudes which surrounds our celebration the Eucharist tonight, or Jesus’ first teaching with Nicodemus which undergirds our understanding of Baptism still today, it is to Lazarus that he draws our attention:  “Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.”

It seems that this story, among all the stories, will shape what we are about to hear.  You see, as we make our way through these final days we will witness not only Jesus’ final teaching and persecution, but even more his complete transformation.  So complete is the transformation that he will experience in the coming days that only death and resurrection, death and new life, can begin to frame it.  In fact, at each stage of the coming week up until this final hour in which he breathes his last, we will see Jesus encounter a series of deaths that will enable him to love God and his neighbor until the end.

While there may be no significance to the order of transformations that Jesus will face in the coming days, we learn of one important transformation tonight.  For three years, as John tells us, Jesus has explored what it means to be the Word made flesh.  Over the course of his teaching we come to see him as miraculous healer and remarkable teacher.  He, too, comes to know himself as at once the Good Shepherd how has come to give abundant life and the Vine that nurtures all its branches.  So completely does he understand his relationship with God that boldly pronounces to his closest disciples that he is the resurrection and the life.

Yet, here tonight, he faces a very human temptation:  the expectation that he can do it all.  And if he didn’t think it of himself, those around him certainly did.  “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God!” bystanders will shout even as he hangs dying before their eyes.

Even here, in Bethany, as the plots around Jesus and his disciples mount, there are those who want more, who expect more, to be done.  This, of course, is captured in Judas’ chastening words “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 

This is a temptation that, I suspect, we all face at times, the temptation that we are responsible for it all; that we can, in fact, accomplish it all.  Even as the final hour approaches, be it death or merely a significant deadline, how often do we soldier on, racing to do one more things as parents or hosts or professionals, unwilling to accept that, what has been done is enough.  Even more, unwilling to accept that what has been done is all that we can do; unwilling to accept that others will now have to soldier on for us. 

With but a few exceptions to this point, God, Jesus, has done it all.  The healings and miracles, with the exception of those carried out “off stage as it were” by the apostles whom he sent out, are all the work of his hands.  For millennia, the people of Israel have looked to God to save his people, and God in God’s way has tried. 

So there is Judas, asking one more time for more to be done.  But Jesus resists.  What has been done has been done.  What has not been done has not been done; he will have to let it be.

You see, it seems that Jesus is beginning to realize that the transformation of the world, a world in which men and women have true agency in their lives, requires human involvement; it cannot, in fact, be done by God alone.  God can lead the way, God can implore and teach and model and forgive and show the way, but others must also act.  We must act.

And so Jesus begins to let go.  He begins to let go of the expectation that he, that God, will do it alone, as if the restoration of the world is simply one more divine miracle waiting to be performed.  He allows his understanding of God, that God that is within him even, to be transformed – no longer will he be an incarnate miracle worker, fixing the ills of the world one prayer at a time.  No, here today he seems to realize that he cannot do our part; he can only do his.

So, what are our parts?  Over the coming days, Jesus will live the life of divine love that he has taught.  He will practice mercy and forgiveness, humility and service, not only for those closest to him, but all whom he encounters.

And in so doing, he will become the way, the truth, and the life.

And what is our part?  To be followers of the way our selves. 

Oh, and what does that mean for poverty and violence and injustice in the world?  That’s ours, too, to address.  Fortunately, God has shown us the way as well – it is the way of the cross, it is the way of sacrifice that we will walk this Holy Week, for it is the way of Jesus.