April 7, 2019
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.””
Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? How did it go? Did you just wake up one morning and see a bike on your front step and jump on and head off down the street, peddling easily and maneuvering the bike as though it was second nature?
What about your first job? Did you reach working age and just walk into the first shop you saw and tell them that you were there to start that day? And they handed you a hat or whatever uniform was required and off you went, handling inventory and meeting customers and making sales?
Your first house? Did you find it one day as you were out for walk? Skipped up the steps to the door and walked in and signed a few papers and called the moving company?
Or your first child? Or the first child of a friend or relative? Were they born one morning and you cradled them out to the back of the car and stopped at the closest baby store for a few diapers and some bottles?
Your first heartbreak; your first failure; your first deep loss….these and all the others have happened to each of us, in their own time, at their own moment. Each had their “first” only once…and I imagine that—no matter how much time you spent preparing and thinking things over and getting things ready—-I imagine that, when the moment came, you were not really prepared. You’d been preparing, yes, but until the moment arrives, we cannot see how all of our preparations don’t *really* lead to our preparedness.
That sounds crazy, I know. Not unlike our circuitous journey of the beginning of the end of the beginning. There are all these “firsts” in life that we anticipate, both benefit and risk, but for which we can never really be prepared. Until you practice riding a bike, you have no idea how to do it. Until you train on your first job, you don’t truly know what’s required. Until you begin the process of searching for a house, you had probably never thought about rooves or closing costs. And until you first hold that new baby, I am pretty sure you hadn’t worried over trimming tiny little fingernails or consoling a croupy baby. Read books, maybe. Seen others doing these same things, perhaps. Spent time imagining yourself in an abundance of circumstances. But until it was you in the thick of it, it was nothing but preparations. And for all that time spent, I’ll bet you still fell off that bike. I imagine you still had a line of frustrated customers in front of you while you struggled with a cash register. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you still got caught clueless with a flooded basement or a broken furnace. And no matter what you thought about bringing home a baby, we all know that nothing can prepare you for the mysteries of parenthood. No, for all your preparations and your preparing….you were not prepared.
What do you think Mary thought? There she was, preparing her home and a meal for Jesus—the very man who had raised people from the dead and performed miracles in abundance. There, when he was in her very room. As she sat at his feet and took the finest perfume to bathe him in….did she know? Did she have any inkling of what could possibly be to come? Was she worried? Surely, she had been preparing for the visit—done all she could to make sure her home and her manners were perfect—this dinner was in Jesus honor, after all. Preparing and preparing and preparing….and yet the day was looming for which no one could prepare.
What do you think Judas thought? There he was, one of Jesus closest and most trusted followers. A disciple! He was there at this meal. There, with Jesus in that very room. As he sat at the table and scoffed at Mary’s reverent action, scowling over the use of finest perfume for Jesus’ feet….did he know? Did he have any inkling of what could possibly be to come? Was he worried? Surely, he had been preparing to accompany Jesus on his travels—was a guest in a home at a meal honoring this man whom he ostensibly loved… Preparing and preparing and preparing….and yet the day was looming for which no one could prepare.
And so, I suppose the last question to ask is, what do you think Jesus thought? There he was–this very man who had raised people from the dead and performed miracles in abundance. Who knew that he was always to follow the commands of his father. There he was in that very room. The cloying perfume and the washing of his feet; the adoration of Mary and the condemnation of Judas….Picture this with me. Stop time in your mind as you focus on this moment. Did he know? He must have. Did he have any inkling of what could possibly be to come? He surely did. Was he worried? “You won’t always have me,” he said. He knew. Preparing and preparing and preparing….and yet the day was looming for which no one could prepare.
Imagine this room here before us—can you see Mary and Martha and Lazarus and Judas and Jesus right here? Right here in front of us? They are here, and they are in all of US. These ancient ancestors of preparation and disarray—at one and the same time, preparing, but not prepared. Knowing, but not truly seeing. Listening, but not truly hearing. Ready, but never further from being ready. Dichotomy personified.
Walking along the path this fifth week of Lent, we know we are nearly at the gates of the city. We know the story. We will soon join the throng ourselves. With palms and hosannas that turn all too quickly to jeers and lashes. We are preparing, but not prepared. We never will be. It is too real and too shattering and too redeeming for our small selves to ever really know what it all means.
From that first bike ride….to that first home…..to that first heartbreak….to that first time we stand at the graveside of one we love….we thought we were preparing. We thought we were getting it all in order. We thought we were doing what we should….but we had no idea at all. We had no clue what we were doing until the moment we were living it.
And so, I wonder if we are prepared for the weeks ahead, but in a way, it doesn’t really matter. Because it will change each of us in the moment it is upon us. Until we wipe the dust from our feet as we enter the city. Until we feel the crush of the crowd. Until we taste the last bread and cup. Until we eavesdrop on the crushing sorrow of the Garden of Gethsemane. Until we ascend the hill at Calvary and gaze on the visage of our own sinful ignorance. …..Until we wrap his body in the linen shroud that we ourselves have knitted together with every transgression and unconscious way we’ve distanced ourselves from God. Until those things happen….we have no idea what we are going to feel. Until that moment, it won’t matter. All of our preparations will still find us there, mouths agape, hearts broken and then healed, the worst and the best days only hours apart—all we’ve done and all the ways we’ve searched, known, and been known, will still find us just as we were—-completely unprepared.
And just like the bike ride and the job and the house and the baby and the heartache and the death and all of it whirling around us every moment—-we can only know the moment IN the moment. We can’t prepare for any of it—despite all of our preparations—we just have to live it….
And yet, I encourage you to do what you can to finish what’s been started within you, these forty days of Lent….don’t set aside the journey you’ve been on or the work you’ve done simply because you know that the moment will still make you catch your breath and humble you before your Maker. We are called to this work, this Godly work….this preparing and this hoping and this arranging and this thinking. There is still endless beauty in this process….but just know, that like all of the other life-changing moments you’ve experience, no matter how you think you’ve molded your heart and steeled your emotions and readied your mind, you won’t truly be prepared. You can’t be. And that’s ok. You must take it all as it comes to you….ready…..or not. New things are coming. Things we’ve been preparing for, even though we will never be prepared. But let’s be on with the rest of it now….because we are nearly to the city gates.