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Economy and Generosity

Rev Sue Lucas, Passion Sunday, March 13th, 2016

It is a commonplace that the Prologue to John’s Gospel – the mystery of the Incarnation – that we read at Christmas – echoes Genesis 1.  Many people have found in the whole of John’s Gospel a structure that echoes the creation narrative of Genesis 1 – as, through the birth and witness and death and resurrection of the Word made flesh, the new creation is revealed.

So, as we move towards the events of Holy Week, we find ourselves on Day 6 in the Johannine structure, the day of creation of humanity; so, in John 11, immediately before the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead; there are echoes too of Ezekiel 37, God breathing life into the dead bones, just as Jesus breathes new life into the lifeless body of Lazarus, who in today’s Gospel is eating and drinking with him – as the risen Christ, of course, is not a ghost – but eats and drinks with his disciples. Look, says Isaiah – I am doing a new thing – can you not see?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

We have, of course, in our Compline lectures and Tuesday evenings together been exploring the wilderness in Lent; so what are we doing, here on Passion Sunday, with readings that seem to short-circuit Passiontide, and land us in the middle of humanity restored at the Resurrection.  What is going on?

Well, one way to look at it takes inspiration from our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Church, who worship with a liturgy very much based on John’s Gospel; and while we in the West think of moving through Lent and Passiontide to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, for the Orthodox, everything is in the context of the one Easter that has already happened – and we go most deeply into the wilderness, if you like, in the confidence that our salvation has already been accomplished.  And we are after all at a dinner – a reminder, perhaps, of the great feast of the Kingdom.  The Strahov monastery in Prague has, in its refectory a great frieze of the eschatological banquet – it shows the angels ministering to Jesus after his temptations.  It is finished, as Jesus says from the Cross, also in John.

Yet, there is more to it than meets the eye; for if there is a prefiguring of Easter – there is also a prefiguring of Maundy Thursday when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet – something we re-enact in the Liturgy of the Day.  And Jesus is clear here – the foot washing is not simply about service and humility, but a preparation for death.  Mary has the imagination to see what it is really about – to perceive the extent and depth and generosity of Jesus’ giving, and to respond in kind.  She knows it is very costly; it is poured out; it is apparently wasted – and it leaves the poor apparently no better off.

And in this, the two apparently contrasting sides of the story meet; for, today, we are called to live, and called to die.

We are called, even as we approach passion, to embrace the generosity of risen life, which is always ours for the taking – even though it is sometimes easier to remain in the quiet and dark of the tomb.

And we are called to die; we are called to live the same letting go, pouring out, apparently wasteful, profligate generosity of God that is at the heart of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus – and is reflected in the generosity of this woman.

Because to learn to live and to learn to die are to learn to grasp the work of salvation, the overcoming of sin.  And what is sin?  It is an economy of scarcity.  That goes right back to the first creation narrative by the way – for when Adam and Eve are tempted – suddenly all their attention is focused on the one thing they don’t have, rather than the almost everything that they do.

So, when we are confronted with the generous profligacy of God – we might, as the first disciples did – fail utterly to imagine the significance of what is under our noses.  That’s very human.

Or we may, for all manner of reasons – perversely reject it, and insist on the economy of scarcity.  That’s Judas, of course – and it leads to betrayal.  And that’s all too human too.

And God’s saving work in Christ is not limited to what we can imagine for ourselves – for the new creation is the renewal and redemption of all it.

We can, however, learn to be like this Mary – and to have the eyes of our imagination opened; and like her, to learn to die and to learn to live; after all, the great eschatological banquet is under our very noses – in the Eucharist we celebrate week in week out.  I wonder if we notice?



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