It was a revolutionary dinner, if you believe John’s account of it. Six days before the Passover – shortly before Jesus entered the great city – there was a dinner. It couldn’t have been a quiet dinner if he had tried, because the whole region was buzzing about what Jesus had been up to. The teaching and the healing was one thing. Breaking the Sabbath laws were another. But this rabbi had the chutzpah to raise the dead! That was the problem. What was dead, was supposed to stay dead. And here Jesus was, upsetting the natural order of things.
Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days when Jesus called him out, called him back to life.
And it’s in the home of Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, that we find ourselves for today’s Gospel. With Lazarus – dead and buried and alive-all-over-again Lazarus, at table.
The Gospel writer tells us that people came from miles around – not just to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus for themselves. Scandal, or Good News? Hard to tell. Difficult news, without a doubt. Revolutionary news, without question.
A dead man, hosting a wanted man and his associates for dinner, at the eve of a great festival, not far from the holy city, just as the Roman governor was preparing his own arrival. Nope, sounds totally innocent to me. There can’t be any trouble brewing here. Move right along, there’s nothing to see.
Imagine the tension in the room. Imagine the nervous energy. There’s a dead man at the table, one overly grateful sister in the kitchen cooking up a storm, another overly grateful sister crying on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. (Awkward!!) There are hordes of people outside the door wanting to see this not-dead man for themselves. Pharisees and scribes somewhere in the neighborhood plastering up ‘Wanted’ posters.
And Judas picks this moment to start complaining about the expense account? You’ve got to be kidding me.
“But Mary, who authorized the purchase of this ointment? Who said you could use it?,” Judas wanted to know. He badgered her over and over – surely this could have been used more efficiently, surely she could have waited and saved it for a rainy day.
Mary, for her part, didn’t care, not even one tiny bit. Her brother, whom she had given up for dead, was alive. Her beloved teacher, Jesus, was on his way to Jerusalem in what was clearly a suicide mission, as far as she could see. Judas could stuff it. What better time was there to use that jar of precious ointment, than to celebrate death and resurrection, to celebrate love and learning and fellowship?
The room was buzzing with excited voices, with the expectation of a new world to come. This was it – the moment had come, the moment they had all been waiting for. The energy had built up and built up, they knew it, they were on the threshold of something amazing. Finally, it was time, and past time. They were ready for the talk to be over; the acts of individual compassion, the healing and the hugging of children was all very nice, but wasn’t there a revolution to get rolling?
Meanwhile, the doorbell kept ringing and people kept hopping up to peek in the windows, to get a glimpse of these infamous characters.
Chaos. Utter chaos. And Mary’s hair was wet with oil and with tears and her face streaked with road dust, and the whole place smelled like the perfume department in a fancy store, and the dishes just kept coming from the kitchen, Martha can you cut it out already, we have enough to feed an army! Judas, shut up! Enough about the bills. I don’t care about the reserves. Can’t we at least manage one simple meal without being at one another’s throats?
Except it was anything but simple. They were so ramped up with hope and exhaustion that everything seemed simultaneously possible and impossible. Too many options, too many futures to consider, too many things going down all at once; now that the ball had started rolling it couldn’t be stopped. Forward, through, was the only way – there was no backing out now, they all knew it.
So caught up in their own hopes and dreams, in the promise of a Messiah, in the avalanche of promise, that they missed the simple truth in their midst: They were eating at a dead man’s dinner table.
They were eating dinner with a dead man. A dead-now-alive-man.
There’s not much more revolutionary than that, breaking bread with a dead man. A dead-now-alive-man. A marked-for-death-man.
Sure, you can march behind his banners, you can listen to his teachings, you can follow him all over the Godforsaken territory, and leave your fishing boats in dry dock. You can keep company with the outcasts and the turncoats and the tax collectors and the ne’er-do-wells. But until you sit down at a table with one of his miracles, a living, breathing, miracle right in your midst, and realize that is what you’re eating with – a miracle – then you don’t get it.
It’s all academic, it’s all theoretical, right up until the moment that you see the truth: Keeping company with Jesus is keeping company with death and resurrection.
Keeping company with Jesus is breaking bread, on a regular basis, with miracles. Multiplying loaves-and-fishes miracles. Lost-and-now-found miracles. Coming home miracles. Barren-and-now-fruitful miracles. Second chance miracles. Blind-but-now-I-see miracles. Terrifyingly transformative miracles. World-shaking miracles. Worth-getting-up-for miracles. Worth-living-for miracles.
Do you know, you who keep company with Jesus: do you know that you are sitting in the middle of a miracle? Do you know that you are about to sip coffee and eat cake with miracles?
Do you know that you just declared your resurrection faith, with miracles?
Do you know that you worship in community with a resurrection story? That every time you come to worship, you are sitting down with Lazarus? That the person sitting beside you, in front of you, behind you, is a resurrection miracle?
If you did not know it before, or if you had forgotten, know it now:
To be a Christ-follower is to keep company with death-and-resurrection on a daily basis.
And if we do not remember – from time to time – that we are in a death-and-resurrection story, then we are as guilty as the disciples, of missing what is under our very noses.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, whether you are weeping all over Jesus’ feet, or whether you are counting the money in the common purse; whether you are eating your dinner, stunned to be alive or whether you are just peeking in the windows to see what this is all about…. You inhabit a resurrection story.
You are part of a resurrection revolution.
Claim your miracles!
What was dead, is alive. What is dying, will have eternal life. What has come into being is life, and the life is light for all people. The light shines in the darkness – in the midst of imminent terror, in the midst of death and destruction and overwhelming injustice – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
Nevertheless: what is alive, will die. Death always comes before resurrection. There is no shortcut.
But here, where the family gathers, on the eve of the festival, there are tears, there is food, there is hope, there is flagrant waste and generous gifting. There are songs to be sung and miracles to be witnessed and, yes, budgets to juggle. But there are living, breathing miracles among us and those – those miracles exist as a truth beyond words, a truth that fills the room more than if every window-peeker tried to cram their way through the door at once.
They were sitting at dinner with a dead man. A dead-now-alive man. A living, breathing miracle. They were sitting down at dinner with a wanted and a marked-for-death man. And it was almost time to head into the city.
Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Preached Lent 5C at McFarland UCC. Text: John 12:1-11.