Readings for Fifth Sunday in Lent 25 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fifth Sunday in Lent Textweek

Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

We read in the Gospel that six days before the Passover and Christ is going somewhere new. In Isaiah 43:19 we read, ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’ Psalm 126 is a song that rejoices in restoration, when the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion. Paul speaks in verse 13, of straining forward to what lies ahead and Christabel announces that we are going forward to restore and recreate the East End of the church. How amazingly auspicious today’s readings are: they’re auspicious for us and for Easter and if we can get it, they’re auspicious for the future of all. Amazingly auspicious because they affirm our endeavours – we can actually sit there and say, ‘Isn’t it amazing, these readings, just when we said..... Isn’t that amazing!’

They affirm our endeavours, but they also set them into a different context, a context that reaches beyond our own parochial needs. The significance of today’s announcement and the significance of today’s readings is a significance that is pregnant with possibilities. As we engage together in the task of re-creation, so we engage together in the activity of Easter. Yesterday, by way of illustrating the parochial process and the mundane, I did three wash loads, I did the vacuuming, I changed the bedsheets, which is a rare event, I cleared my desk and then I filed a whole range of papers dating back to the middle of last year. It was a divine experience, because like God, just like God, I too could say, ‘I am making all things new.’ Like the hero of Genesis, I was creating a new space.

Now it might well be a sort of pathetic divine activity or experience of the divine activity, but it also was profound and is profound, because this is our experience within the everyday. My guess is that most Christians, not just those who are alive today but those who have been and gone in the past two thousand years, don’t believe in Easter. They believe that the Church celebrates Easter; they believe that Easter is an important God-event and so they’re drawn to participate in the celebration, but they don’t actually believe in Easter. Our calling is not to remember Easter, not to think back to Easter, but rather it is to re-member Easter, to put back the arms and the legs, and to re-member, reconstruct, rebuild ourselves into Easter.

When we hear Isaiah say, ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it’, we’ve been taught to hear that as prophecy, to hear that as the prophet Isaiah telling the people what God is about to do. If you stop and think about it, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and left as it is that understanding becomes quite disabling, because we are left passively waiting for God to do a new thing. I mean we read this three years ago – ‘I am about to do a new thing’ - let’s wait and see what happens. We read it now and we will read it again in three years time. We’ve been taught wrong. Christ, God’s fullest revelation, never once tells us to sit and wait and let God do everything for us. Rather Christ reveals and affirms our divine capacity. The ‘I am about to do a new thing’ of Isaiah takes on a much fuller meaning with the question that follows it: ‘do you not perceive it?’ By implication, if we perceive it, then we become active participants in it, ‘it’ being the divine activity.

Paul gets it, Paul perceives and he names the experience. Well-versed in Isaiah, he’s read it, got it, now names it. Verse 10: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’ by becoming like Him. Verse 12, ‘I press on to make it my own’; verse 13, ‘forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.’ And what lies ahead? The heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus’. Paul gets it, he’s not waiting. [Mobile phone rings: Did you hear the angels, momentarily, momentarily tuning us in, saying, ‘Do you get it; did you hear that?’]

Mary also gets it, Mary perceives it; she perceives the divine orientation and becomes at one with it. ‘Taking a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard ….’ She spares no expense, she gives what is valuable to the enterprise in which she believes. The process becomes clear: leave behind the worldly values which detract us and distract us from our participation in the divine activity of creation, and turn, turn toward Jerusalem.

Easter is not about Christ’s resurrection, it is not about the event that overcame death. We know that because Lazarus has already been called back into life. Easter is not about the resurrection of Christ, Easter is about our resurrection. Easter is about us, our participating in the divine activity and our being called back into life, the life that we were given before we were born.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris