This odd tradition originated in the Early church, when the day after Easter, priest and people gather to tell jokes to one another as a way to honor God whom they believed played the greatest joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. You might say the church was the first comedy club.
Now, there was a time when the Pope, a Rabbi, and a lawyer all die on the same day. All three end up at the pearly gates at the same time.
St. Peter says to the pope, “Holy Father it is a great honor to welcome you. We have prepared an amazing condo for you in one of our newest, most modern buildings. It has all the comforts and luxuries you want, and a view of heaven that will blow you away. I think you will love it.”
Next, he says to the rabbi, my brother we are so happy to have you with us. You did a lot of good work for us up here. To show our gratitude, we’re putting you in the same building with that same stunning view of God’s kingdom. Whatever you need do not hesitate to ask. Heaven is yours.
Turning to the lawyer, St. Peter says, “Mr. Carbonelli, I don’t know what to say other than God has prepared a special mansion just for you. It includes everything you’ve ever wish for. And even things you didn’t know you wanted. It’s located in one of the best neighborhoods in heaven. And God has instructed me to escort you there personally.”
When the other two hear this, they complain, “Why do holy people get condos, and this lawyer gets a big, fancy mansion?” Saint Peter looks at them both and says, “Friends, you must understand. We have plenty of popes and rabbis here. But this is our first lawyer.”
My doctor says it’s good to laugh. Then again, this is the same doctor who advised me to stop drinking. I knew that was going to be a massive change for me...because I’ve been with that doctor for 10 years.
Speaking of years, my wife and I have been married for 23 years. And I’m proud to say in all that time, we’ve only had one argument...one that has continued for 23 years. I said, “I do.” But she still insists I didn’t, haven’t and won’t.
John doesn’t tell us if Jesus knocked or rang the bell. All we know is the disciples are locked away inside when our Lord suddenly appears. I remember a few years ago I visited the house I grew up in. I rang the doorbell several times, but the people inside wouldn’t answer. And I thought, “Wow, my parents are rude.”
All kidding aside, a locked door couldn’t stop Jesus from getting to his friends. This tells me that God’s love knows no boundaries. We can close the curtains, turn out the lights, and pretend we’re not home, but Christ still finds a way into our messiness. And it’s in this space he come to gives us God’s peace.
Who doesn’t want a little peace in their lives? About a month ago, our friend opened a restaurant called Peace and Quiet. Kids meals start at $150. My kids have made ‘noise’ a competitive sport.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my children, I really do. I keep their pictures in my wallet to remind myself where all my money went. Which makes me think maybe that’s why Jesus keeps the scars on his hands. So, we will remember what he did for us. Not just with his death, but in his resurrection…that great joke God played on death.
This tells me that our scars have something to say. Right after throat surgery I was very self-conscious about the giant scar on my neck. Whenever I caught people staring at it, I’d nervously joke, “You should see the other guy.”
The truth is when I saw my scar or dealt with the side-effects of treatment…I would get down on myself. Then one day, I was looking at my scar, and thought of Christ showing me his. Suddenly I realized I was alive. My life matters to God.
I might see myself as broken, or imperfect. But God sees me differently. I’m here today because God wants me here today…to make this space holy and sacred. As flawed or broken or unworthy you see yourself to be - you bring value to God’s kingdom, because You matter to God. Your scars prove that.
Between the jokes and the punchlines, we carry real pains, real fears, and even real doubt. But what I take from John’s gospel, is that this is where Christ comes in to meet us - bearing the wounds of his own humanity. As painful as they may seem, our scars are our testimony to God’s faithfulness to the world.
To quote Richard Rohr, “God’s one and only job description is to turn death into life.” That is to say God meets us in our pain, anguish, deaths, and sorrows and transforms them into something new. “God takes our human crucifixions and turn them into resurrection glory.”
Which reminds me, “what do you call a zombie who writes music?” A de-composer.
If that didn’t make you smile, perhaps this will. Through Christ, God comes to you and me gives us the same Spirit that was given to Jesus. This very Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, is given to us so that we might live…on both sides of heaven.
Just as Jesus bursts into his disciples lives to share God’s shalom, we’ve been given the Spirit to go into the world to share God’s peace and wholeness in all the ways we show goodness, compassion, and laughter with one another.
We are called to be the spirit of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, and joy throughout Anamesa.
“As we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters,” writes Desmond Tutu, “there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.”
In this space between the Joke and Punchline, we are called to be the living presence of God’ tender love and mercy. This was the call of Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God’s love, whose death and resurrection were no joke.
To prove it, here are some jokes about death…
What kind of fish can’t swim? Dead ones.
Where do zombies like to go swimming? The Dead Sea.
I had a friend who recently passed away. Her star sign was cancer. It’s kinda ironic because she was killed by a giant crab.
Many of us might have trouble laughing at death, but that’s exactly what God did. Because of the resurrection, we can laugh with joy in every situation we’re in.
And honestly, this is something I need to work on. I’ve been so preoccupied with diet and exercising because my doctor said I needed to lose some weight. So far, all I’ve lost is my desire to diet and exercise. But I keep the faith because one day I hope to lose my gym shoes as well.
If you need to remember anything from today, may it be this: Live fully and freely into God’s joy and peace. Because Easter wasn’t a one-time event. Resurrection happens every day through you and me. According to Paul, our job is to “Be imitators of Christ, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ did.” (Eph. 5:1-2).
As God’s beloved children, we are a part of God’s holy family. Our God is not only merciful and loving but also very patient with us. Ask me what the hardest part of parenting is and I’d say, “hands down…it’s the kids.”
God is our faithful parent. No door, or doubt, and not even death can stop God from stops bursting through our locked hearts and closed minds to bless us.
I hope my kids know that I want to give them all the stuff I didn’t have. And then I want to move in with them so I can enjoy it.
God wants to give you the very best that life has to offer. But are you willing to let God move in and share with you a spectacular view of heaven?
Which reminds me of another joke. A couple bought a new home and their realtor sent flowers the day after they moved in. It was a giant bouquet, with a big gold ribbon that read “Rest in Peace.”
Noticing it as a mistake, new owners called the florist. He was oddly overjoyed with the mix up.
He told the couple, “I’m really sorry for the mistake, but if it makes you feel any better your flowers are sitting on a coffin with a card that reads, “Congratulations on your new home”.
Christ is calling you home, to that spacious, all-inclusive mansion in God’s heart. May you find your way there today as you laugh at the face of death by living into the joy of abundant life.
Based on an original sermon Life Is A Joke from April 28, 2019.
Special thanks to Jim Gaffigan, #DadSaysJokes, and to the various anonymous comedy writers out there whose jokes were culled off the internet for this special service.
Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (New York: Doubleday, 2004).
A borrowed inspiration from my favorite Franciscan, the amazing, soul-stirring Fr. Richard Rohr.
Father Richard describes how we can grow in our love for God:
"The God Jesus incarnates and embodies is not a distant God that must be placated. Jesus’ God is not sitting on some throne demanding worship and throwing down thunderbolts like Zeus. Jesus never said, “Worship me”; he said, “Follow me.” He asks us to imitate him in his own journey of full incarnation. To do so, he gives us the two great commandments: (1) Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–28). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37), Jesus shows us that our “neighbor” even includes our “enemy.”
“We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “If we love one another, God remains in us, and God’s love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12).
"Then we love with God’s infinite love that can always flow through us. We are able to love things for themselves and in themselves—and not for what they do for us. That takes both work and surrender. As we get ourselves out of the way, there is a slow but real expansion of consciousness. We are not the central reference point anymore.
"We love in greater and greater circles until we can finally do what Jesus did: love and forgive even our enemies."
In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor recalls the story of a man by the name of Jacques Lusseyran, a resistance fighter in the French underground during World War II. As a boy, Lusseyran got in a fight at school which left him permanently blind. For most of us, this would be a devastating blow. But as Taylor notes, for Lusseyran “The light outside of him moved inside; showing him things he might not have ever seen.”
Such is the story of Easter. God has done something so blinding in the dark night that our way of seeing life will no longer be the same. Although Lusseyran would live out the rest of his life in total darkness, something inside him helped him survive the war, including years in a German concentration camp.
Many of us have been taught to fear the darkness. There are even places in the Bible that suggest light is good and darkness is bad. But is that really accurate? Think of all the dark places where God has done some pretty amazing things. In the dark sky God makes a covenant with Abraham. In the dark ground God makes a mustard seed grow into a life-giving tree. And in a dark tomb, well, only God and Christ know exactly what happened.
As you will see from our reading today, there is something is stirring in the space between the darkness and light. Only we can’t see it. By the time dawn appears, we are too late. We’ve missed Easter. Christ has already risen. Death has already lost its sting. This is how John tells the story.
Read John 20:1-18 here
John says, “While it was still dark” Mary Magdalene makes her way to Jesus’ grave. She is all alone. There’s no shoulder to lean on, no one to hold her when she discovers the stone to his tomb has been rolled away. Behind the burn of salty tears, something inside Mary stirs. Even in the dark she can sense the tomb is empty. And instinctively she goes into the darkness to tell the disciples what she discovered.
When Peter and the other disciple, hear her news they run to the tomb! If it was dark outside, it’s even darker inside this hole. But not even the void of light can hide God’s truth. Jesus’ body is gone. Only his burial clothes remain.
Even if he couldn’t see his own hand in front of his face, the nameless disciple instantly recognizes God’s work and believes. We are not told what stirred within him, only that “he believed without understanding.”
This nameless disciple is the church’s first “faithful witness.” That is a person who believes what God is capable of doing without full comprehension of what it all means. While we know dead bodies don’t just get up and walk away. We weren’t there so we have no tangible proof. A faithful witness understands God’s power enough to live in that space between mystery and proof. Their boundless optimism and unwavering trust in God helps us keep our faith in perspective. Even if it can cause one to run away.
Which bring us to Peter, who has spent the last couple of days running from Jesus. But now in this dark morning, he runs towards him. Was he running out of guilt or remorse? Maybe he feels the need to apologize for denying Jesus after boasting about his loyalty?
I like to think Peter was running with hopeful expectations. Hadn’t he witnessed Jesus raising others from the dead? Whatever the reason, Peter gets there and discovers Mary was right. Jesus is gone. He is too late. So, Peter does what he does best. He runs and hides.
If the other disciple is the church’s first faithful witness, then Peter is the church’s first “fearful witness.” A fearful witness is the kind of person who sees what God can do and runs away afraid of what it might mean to them. I understand this person all too well. I ran from what God was calling me to do for 30 years. Trust me, it’s easier to run to God than it is to run away from God.
Many of us have doubts, uncertainties about life, our faith, and the mysteries of it all. Many of us have run away from believing anything, including this thing called religion. And that's okay. Whether we run towards Jesus or away from him, Easter remains intact. The tomb is still empty. Christ is alive.
Today we stand in this space between darkness and light. Some of us have come faithfully. Others fearfully. In this space we find our Lord, in all his living glory, calling each one of by name.
Which takes us back to Mary. Although she doesn’t quite comprehend what God is doing, she doesn’t run away. Instead, she stands outside the tomb and weeps. The one who loved her unconditionally is dead. Now someone has salted her wounds by robbing his grave.
Mary is not just standing in the dark, she’s feeling deep darkness inside her. Mary’s grief is so overwhelming, she can’t see the light within her. It’s like any glimmer of hope she might have had has been snuffed out.
If you’ve ever experienced the crippling pain of depression, then you can understand why Mary is unable to recognize the two angles who try to comfort her. That pain is blinding. So much so that Mary mistakes her beloved friend for the gardener. That is, until Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!” Immediately, that faint light within her begins to flicker. It’s just enough to allow Mary to see God’s power at work.
She barely understands what it all means, but her instinct isn’t to run. Instead, she wants to cling to Jesus and never let him go. But here’s the thing: Jesus needs her to go and tell others the good news. And Mary does it. She sees the light and runs to share it with the darkness.
This is why I believe Mary is the church’s first “faithful and fearless witness.” She is the first to see the empty tomb. And the first to be transformed by it. She’s the first to see our resurrected Lord. And the first to share this good news with the world.
The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. God declares victory over death. But without Mary’s testimony, how will we know? Likewise, without our testimony, our storyline in God’s redemptive love, how will others come to know what God is capable of doing?
As the first faithful and fearless witness, we are called to follow Mary’s lead. We are called to share the good news by shinning the light of Christ in all the ways we love one another.
In his own book, “And There Was Light”, Lusseyran wrote “Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward.” Even if we have no eyes to see, God’s light is within us all – guiding us out into the world to share the good news to those left weeping in the dark.
Even if we can’t understand what God does, we can open our eyes and see what God is doing. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else.”
Thus, Easter is also an invitation to embrace and trust the dark, not fear or run away from it. It’s a time to see what God is doing, right here and right now, between the darkness and light, and find the light within.
In our darkest nights, in our heartbreak and suffering, in our fear and anxieties, throughout life and beyond death, Christ’s light shines. It’s always with us, because it’s always inside us.
Jesus said it like this, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. He’s calling us by name and sending us out to shine his light brightly.
Five years ago, we started this church unsure of where we were going. Today we stand Anamesa. It’s here, in the space between the darkness of the world and Christ’s bright light, we are given a choice. We can embrace the mystery. We can run away. Or we can follow Mary’s example, and do both.
Christ is the spark that ignites and illuminates our soul. It is he who sends us rushing out into the world…to shine our own sacred light in the ways we love God, love others and serve both. While it’s important we know the Easter story, it’s more important for us to go out and live it. Christ is alive. And so are we. To borrow from St. Paul, “It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
Because of this mysterious truth, we can all live like Christ – faithfully, fearlessly, and forever – in the fullness of God’s glory and steadfast love.
With the light of Christ guiding our way, we can love the unloveable, forgive the unforgivable, give to those who may not deserve it.
With the light of Christ guiding our way, we can shine God’s love and grace for all to see, so that they too might believe and be called “children of the light.”
With the light of Christ guiding our way, we can run out into the world shouting our hallelujahs.
The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Based on an original sermon How Will They Know? given on March 27, 2016.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday. Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville: Nelson Publishing, 2015.
Lusseyran, Jacques. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran. New York: Parabola, 1998
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossy Bass, 2010.
Stewart, Benjamin. christiancentry.org. March 31, 2013. (accessed March 25, 2016).
Taylor, Barbra Brown. Learning To Walk in the Dark. New York: Harper One, 2015.
I invite you to remove your shoes and notice our feet. Maybe you are barefoot. Maybe you have socks on. Either way, just take a moment to let your feet receive the attention of your mind. Wiggle your toes. Rub them on the carpet or together.
Notice how your toes interact with each other. How the soles of your feet react to the different textures. As you experience these sensations, try to imagine God’s hands touching you and creating those different feelings.
As we will see from our reading tonight, ours is a God who comes to meet us not only from on high but also kneeling at our feet. It is to this God that we are invited to give our burdens to. A God who has loved us and cared for us, even when we have failed to notice.
Ours is a God who came to us to heal us and restore us who has given for us a simple commandment – to love one another as he has loved us.
I remember the morning I called my father to tell him I had decided to quit advertising to become a minister. It was on Maundy Thursday in 2010. I remember it well because when I asked him to hand the phone to mom so I could tell her, he informed me that she was in the upper room. By that he meant The Upper Room. Yes, the very room where Jesus shared his final meal with his disciples.
Having been a tourist in many ancient cities, I suspect it wasn’t the exact room. But still my parents were there, in Jerusalem, at the table, on this very holy night when our Lord and King removed his royal cloak and became a lowly servant. Listen to how John tells the story.
John 13:1-17 (The Message)
...Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.
There in a stranger’s humble home Jesus bent down to wash the dirty feet of twelve men who quit their jobs to live out the rest of their days in self-emptying love for the world. With nothing more than basin of water and a simple towel, Christ held their tired, aching feet, and began to wash each one of them clean.
Many of us don’t like having our feet touched. It’s gross. Or it tickles. Or whatever. But this story isn’t about feet. It’s about ministry, and community, and sharing the Gospel.
In this intimate gesture we learn what it means to serve and to love one another. We discover it requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to move beyond our comfort zone, and to give fully and fearlessly of our self for God’s glory and not our own. On his knees Jesus humbled himself to guide us towards a new way of living.
Through his example of self-giving love and servitude, Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship where we are more than just simple followers; we are friends and companions. Partners in his ministry of reconciliation. In the same way, we are to humble ourselves before each other, to share in the intimacy of life where friendships are made and communities of trust are created.
Our world, our nation, our churches are divided almost beyond repair. There are wars raging in Europe, Africa, and on our own streets and neighborhoods. As we confessed in prayer, we have not been very good at doing what God has asked of us. We have not been very good at serving others. But instead have increasingly succeeded at become a people who want and take, not offer and give.
To be a friend of Christ, to bear the name Christian, means we are called to stand in that space between Jesus’ humility and his humbleness, to be the visible presence of God’s love – washing the dirt and grim, tending to a broken and wounded world.
Through us, God continues to send Christ into our communities to share his Divine love with our neighbors. A love that is inclusive, all-giving, and never-ending. With Christ at our side, we can move beyond our comfort zones and love as wildly and generously as God first loved us.
In a quiet sanctuary, in the solemnness of that Maundy Thursday back in 2010, I sat in an empty church pew and saw this story from a new perspective. Not as a spectator, but as one who accepted the call to follow Christ. I had no idea where the journey would take me.
Yet here I am tonight. In this room, at this table, to serve and share this remembrance meal with you. For it was on this night that our Lord humbled himself; giving us his body and blood to bring us back in a covenant relationship with God and with one another.
Let us all dare to be with He who knew no sin. The Holy One who rose from the table, walked out into the world, and stretched out his sacred arms – joining heaven to earth, and you to me. In his name, we gather together to remember what God has done for us, and for the world.
(break for communion)
Jesus chose to use his final hours to establish intimate and profound physical connections with his friends. In the midst of this connection, he offered us a new commandment: to love others as he loves us. This is not an abstract, sentimental love. This is bread-breaking, foot-washing, messy love, offered to all.
We have visited the font. We have been nourished at the Table. And now we go out into the world to live out Jesus’s commandment with humility and humble heart.
May the presence of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer fill the nooks and crannies of our lives as we go now into the night to make love grow. Amen.
Our reading today from Luke’s gospel, tells the story of people lining the streets to cheer Jesus on as he makes his final visit to Jerusalem. What this part of the passion story doesn’t say, is that Jesus comes with not only to bring God’s redemptive grace, but to see how we will respond. Will we accept it or betray it? Read LUKE 19:29-40
...he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” ... As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road... the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” - Luke 190:28-40
People showed up along the parade route to sing Jesus’ praises and let the world know something big was happening. From all different walks of life, they came and got caught up in the excitement of the moment. Some probably showed up because they were aware of Jesus and liked what he was all about - peace and reconciliation.
But did they really know or understand who he was? Did they show up to see the latest prophet God had raised up? Or did they believe HE was the One the prophet’s had promised? The one who God sent to liberate the world from sin and oppression.
Whatever their reason for being there, they showed up. And that’s a good thing. A few even went a little further. One person lent him a colt to ride on. Others lined the road with their cloak as if to give Jesus a royal welcome as he made his way into the Holy City. But like all of us, they also had other responsibilities – stuff to do, lives to live.
Yes, they showed up. But for the most part that was all they did. By the time Good Friday had rolled around, no one was left to lay down their cloaks for Jesus. There was no one chanting “Peace. Glory. Hosannah.” Even the disciples who came to Jerusalem with Jesus went missing. Our Lord was on his own.
It’s easy to show up with the crowd. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, cheering and singing praises when everyone around you is doing it. It’s harder to commit, to walk alone with one’s cross slung over one’s shoulder.
We commit to all sorts of things without giving it much thought...a sports team or a Netflix series. Other commitments, like marriage or choosing a college, we hopefully take a little more serious. But for the most part we don’t think twice, probably because we aren’t “truly” committed to things. Our hearts are not really vested in any serious way.
Committing to something is a serious, and sometimes dangerous thing. As we’ve seen recently, a person who pledges themselves to a political candidate or ideology might be willing to do unthinkable acts against humanity to show its allegiance to the cause.
To be committed to something is to accept the terms and conditions that come with it. We have lives to live, and other things to do. We don’t have time for that stuff, muchless read the fine print. With that said, I’m pretty sure Jesus is glad you all have shown up today.
But as Jesus begins his walk toward the Good Friday cross, we must ask ourselves: what good is showing up if I’m not willing to commit - to give my heart and faith to God and to one another?
Don’t get me wrong, I love spending this time with you every Sunday. I know the more you tune in, the more chances you have to hear the gospel. While I get you for thirty minutes today, Jesus wants you every hour, and minute and second of every day. This requires some kind of response from us.
Now, it might be a little obvious to say, but Jesus was committed. The cross is our proof of how far Jesus is willing to go for us. Throughout his life, Jesus remained committed to doing the will of God. He was always faithful to God because he knew that God was always faithful to him.
Like Hegedüs realized, this is true for us as well. "From the history to the prophesies, the Bible is filled with examples of how God has remained firmly committed to us with unwavering love. No matter what God’s people have done, or how distracted they became, God held tightly to the covenant promises" that had been made to their ancestors and to all of creation.
Even though his closest friends and companions would fail their faith, Jesus never once did. And He will not fail us. Jesus was committed to God’s cause.
As Paul writes “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself… and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” There can be no greater commitment than that.
So, what then does all this mean for us today? To answer that requires us to step back into the story, before the parade, when Jesus instructs his disciples to go into a nearby village and get the colt. He said, “If anyone asks why, tell them ‘The Lord needs it’.” We don’t know which two disciples were sent, but we know that up to this point they were all dedicated to doing what Jesus asks of them.
In the same way Jesus needed the colt, Jesus also needs you and me to be his disciples. The colt is a symbol of God’s shalom, or perfect peace and harmony that says all is right in the world. Jesus needs us to commit to being God’s peace.
If I have read the Bible correctly, the way to peace comes from our willingness to commit to the way of love. The way of love is the way of Christ Jesus, who shows us through his love the way of God’s righteousness.
For just a brief moment in Luke’s gospel, Jesus puts himself in the center of attention. It’s here we are called to notice God among us.
Here in Anamesa, we believe God is always with us in this space between. In this space, we are given a choice. We can simply show up. Or we can stand out. We can make an appearance, or we can take center stage alongside Christ – to love God. Love others. And serve both. Just like he did.
As Jesus told his followers, “The world will know that you are my disciples, by the way you love one another.” It’s one thing to show up for Jesus. It’s another thing to show up for others in his name.
The cheering crowds along this parade route into Jerusalem invite us to join them in this wonderful event. But they also challenge us to reflect on our commitment – the kind that led Jesus to give his life for our salvation.
He didn’t just blow into the city to take down Rome or to upset the way things were. Jesus went to Jerusalem to bring the visible presence of God’s love and glory to them. By going there, he put a choice before the people: “Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner?” There is no middle ground here. Will you be the one who says "Yes" or "No"?
As we know, Jesus dedicated his life to saying yes to God. He did this in all the ways he made the very love of God visible and real among us so the this world couldn’t take our eye off God’s promise redemption.This is important because the world will do everything in its power to stop us from living into our Christ likeness. It will do what it can to take God’s glory for itself.
The world will argue that that peace is impossible because war is always inevitable. It will try to convince us that giving handouts to the poor does more harm than good.
The world wants us to believe it’s stupid to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and put other people’s needs before one’s own.
The world wants us to commit to its way. But Jesus asks us to commit to his way, the way of love.
The brave people who once shouted, “Peace. Glory. Hosannah.” will soon be screaming, “Crucify him.” They showed up, but for whatever reason couldn’t commit.
With this memory still fresh in his head, Jesus will walk alone to Golgotha carrying his own cross. It is there God asks for the greatest commitment of all. And Jesus will submit, giving his life so that we could live.
While those two planks of wood remind me of just how bad the world can treat one of its own, they also remind me of how great God is, and what God is capable of doing. All because God is faithful to a fault.
On the cross, between our showing up and committing, Jesus waits for our response. Thus, the cross is the most common symbol we have to speak of our faith. Perhaps it’s too common that we forget who hung on it. And why?
When we started Anamesa, we committed our ministry to creating a cross-shaped community. A place where love is not only shared between God and us, but between one another.
We cannot, under our own power, do what Christ did for us. It is not our body and blood God reconciles the world through. We can, however, be like him in our commitment to give God glory. And we do that in all the ways we love.
Love is the way Jesus walks into Jerusalem.
Love is the way Jesus carries his cross.
Love is the way that breaks through death and leads us towards our salvation.
Because God first loved us, we can commit to the call to love. And when we commit to love, we can show up when no one else will.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Ffeasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Hegedüs, Frank. Walk The Way of the Cross. March 20, 2016 (accessed on April 6, 2022).
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” - John 12:1-8
There are few passages in scripture packed with such beauty and truth as this intimate scene. While Matthew and Mark place it in the house of Simon the leper, and the woman who anoints Jesus is unnamed, John places it in the home of three beloved friends with Mary as the anointer.
Mary’s selfless act has propelled her to be the ideal picture of Christian discipleship in that she spares no expense preparing Jesus for his death. In the coming chapters, we will also see the price Judas is willing to make as a pivotal role in his death too. But for now, John paints him as someone who is just out for himself.
As beautiful as this scene is, and what it sets in motion, I feel like the author makes an unfair comparison between the two by adding negative commentary that has left the church with a distorted view of someone Jesus loved and trusted.
I say this not to diminish Mary’s heroic act. But to suggest that we shouldn’t be so quick to make Judas a villain. I mean, what do we really know about the two?
John tells us Mary is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. They live in Bethany. We don’t know when and where she first met Jesus. Or how long they’ve known each other.
The Bible that suggests, however, they are close. When Mary’s brother is deathly sick, she sends word for Jesus to come. When Jesus finally shows up, after Lazarus has died, they comfort one another.
We also know that Mary is also one of the three women who go to Jesus’ tomb after his death. But when she meets her resurrected friend, she mistakes him for the gardener.
If we only had this dinner party to go by, we might assume Mary comes from a well-to-do family, because she possesses a gift that would cost the average worker an entire year’s salary to purchase. It’s possible that her family was patrons of Jesus’ ministry, which might explain why Judas grandstands about wasting money.
As the one in charge of the purse, it would make sense that he didn’t want the group to seem frivolous and financially irresponsible. His questioning of Mary’s generosity would have been valid from this point of view.
Jesus had built much of his reputation on caring for people who were outside the socio-economic safety zones – men without status, widows who lost all they had, children who were hungry. Perhaps Judas was more concerned about the optics of what the public might think then he was about stealing for himself.
And this makes me ask, what do we really know about Judas? We know he was an Apostle, hand-selected by Jesus. As one of the Twelve, he would have been a close companion with our Lord. Like Mary, we don’t know when or where he met Jesus. How he was called, or what he did for a living.
In some ancient texts, the name “Iscariot” refers to people from the village of Kerioth. Other documents define it as “dagger-man,” which has left some scholars to believe Judas was part of a radical fringe group of Zealots, who sought to incite war against the Romans believing it would trigger the coming of the Messiah and establishes His Kingdom.
But in the Greek Bible, “Iscariot” is translated as “betrayer.” That’s the one that seemed to stick.
I think John wants us to compare ourselves to these two seemingly opposing characters. The truth is, Mary and Judas were very much alike. Both were students of Jesus. Both were very close to him and served his ministry. And of course, both play a pivotal role in preparing Jesus for his death.
John would have us believe that Judas has no redeeming qualities. While Mary is the obedient one who did what God was calling her to do. If Mary understood who Jesus was and what was about to come, isn’t it possible that Judas did as well? After all, his actions set in motion the events that would bring about salvation to humanity.
Watch the message here.
Although the Church has constantly cast Judas in bad light, the Bible seems to suggest what he did was done in great obedience to what Jesus asked of him. On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus turned to Judas at the table and told him to “do quickly what you must do.” (Jn 13:27)
We might prefer to think of ourselves like Mary, a studious, ardent follower of Jesus who will spare no expense for his mission. But aren’t we also a little bit like Judas too, in that Jesus is asking us to participate in his ministry in a way that might seem a bit foolish, if not costly?
Though Mary and Judas play important roles in Jesus’ story, we are not called to compare ourselves to either one. Instead, we are called only to identify with the Anointed One who stands between them. Just as Jesus knew they were both uniquely made, he knows we are all equally called to do the will of God.
It doesn’t matter if you are a saint like Mary or a sinner like me, Jesus has tasked us all to be vessels of God’s mercy and grace; to be the visible presence of God’s redeeming love in every space we find ourselves in. As disciples of Christ Jesus our goal is to emulate his way of living into the will of God, by the love we give to one another.
God does not compare us. God simply loves us. So we can go do likewise. We are unique but love makes us similar. It creates equality. It breaks down walls and eliminates distances.
In Christ, God came to love on us as one of us. On the cross, Christ displayed the extravagance of what the incarnation is all about. It was there Christ emptied himself like a bottle of expensive perfume. Anointing us with true freedom, true salvation, and true happiness in solidarity of God’s steadfast love.
Mary’s extravagance reminds us that God spares no expense when it comes to us. Judas’s actions might be more calculated, but his extravagant gift of obedience reminds us of our own calling.
If he was good enough for God to use to usher in salvation, then so are we. We need to remember that as we stand in Anamesa, between Mary and Judas.
It’s in this space our Lord is calling us to do what to some might seem frivolous or a waste. But in God’s kingdom, nothing is wasted. If God can turn a betrayal into a generous act, then imagine what God can do when you show kindness and mercy to someone in need.
In that space between Mary and Judas, there are others in that room. Each one the Lord has entrusted to share the treasures and riches of God’s grace and love to all. This is not a story of comparison. It is an invitation to follow Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep.
To follow the call of Jesus Christ is to emulate his actions: to provide and care for those in need, those who society might deem unworthy or unsuccessful. If we are going to follow and emulate Christ, then we must be very generous with our love, our time, our resources. And use what we have to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.
Like those gathered around this Bethany table, we must be a strong community shaped by the hope of Christ Jesus who lived out God’s love in all righteousness and works of love; by going out into the world and clothe the naked; feed the hungry; console the afflicted; aid the imprisoned; and free the oppressed.
Like Mary, we must be willing the give. Like Judas, we must be willing to do.
Both are disciples who remind us that Jesus is a gift of God. A gift given to the world that did not request him, yet he acts entirely for our benefit – revealing the generous and frivolous grace of God who loves and saves both the faithful and the unfaithful, the obedient and disobedient, the sure footed and the doubtful alike.
Just as there is no end to the boundaries of God’s love for us, there is also no expense that God is unwilling to honor to make sure we know just how valuable and priceless we are both here in Anamesa…and in the world to come.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”