Saturday, 16 March 2013

5th Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 43.16-21; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8

As we come towards the end of Lent, today marks the beginning of our journey, with Jesus, towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It's usually been an opportunity to really dwell on what happened to Jesus in those final days and hours before his death and just afterwards. And for each of us it's a significant time in different ways. And I'd invite you to enter into this next two weeks as best you can and as you feel is appropriate for you. God will have something for you which will probably be different to everyone else. So try and mark the time in some way and above all, listen to whatever these two weeks say to you.

What strikes me, at this point, this time around, is summed up in a statement St. Paul makes in his second letter to the Corinthians where he's talking about the work of Jesus in the world and our work as his followers. And he says,

'So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5.17)

St. Paul is talking here about the individual first of all, about you and me. He's saying that when we are baptised and follow Christ, we become a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. He's saying that we aren't simply an updated version, like we get every year with computers and software and cars and tv's and washing machines. No, when we are baptised we are brand new. The old has gone, it has died, it has passed  away in space and time and dare I say, in eternity too? When we are baptised, God makes something new.

St. Paul spells out what this means for him in the passage we've read today from his letter to the Philippians. He starts by saying that if you were looking for not just a good Jew but the best Jew you could wish to meet, it was him. He was entirely faithful in thought and word and deed to his religion, and the society and culture and tradition in which he was raised. And not only that, when his Judaism was threatened by the followers of Christ, he sought them out and helped in having them put to death.

What St. Paul is speaking of at the time he wrote this letter is what he regarded as the old Paul, or Saul as he was known in those former days. When he met with Jesus on the road to Damascus all of that changed, so much so that he didn't just change his name as a mark of the change but he regarded his past as 'rubbish'. I believe that the actual Greek word used in the ancient manuscripts is 'dung'. Paul regarded all his past as 'dung' compared to what his life as a follower of Christ meant to him. I think we get the message!

What happened to St. Paul in becoming a follower of Christ wasn't just a simple adjustment of his way of life, a slightly different point of view on things. It wasn't even a 180 degree turn around. It was completely new. Everything that he was before that encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus had completely gone and now he felt himself to be a completely new person. He said that 'knowing Christ Jesus my Lord' surpassed everything and he would do all in his power to continue to pursue that knowledge through living the way he'd been called to live by Jesus. The old had gone, the new had come.

And that's what we've got to look forward to celebrating on Easter Sunday in the person of Jesus himself. Jesus's resurrection is a completely new work of God bringing or reconciling you and I and the whole world to himself. And we should thank God every day that we live on this side of the resurrection of Jesus. We should thank God that this new creation is what we become through our baptism. And like St. Paul, it's right of us to pursue that by following Jesus Christ as closely as we can day by day.

We see in the gospel reading, Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. This woman had been given, by Jesus, a second chance at life inasmuch as her past had been forgiven by him. She too was a new person. In our Christian tradition, repentance is sometimes regarded as a 'second baptism'; and Mary obviously felt this. Anointing Jesus feet was an act of love and thanksgiving, which also foretold Jesus's death, whether or not she knew that. And the disciples' indignation at what Mary did, showed that they were, at that time, still living in their own past. They too would know that new creation in the weeks and months ahead as they met with the risen Jesus.

As we make our way through the next two weeks and especially over those three days from Good Friday to Easter Day, as we listen to whatever message is for us from all that we'll see and hear and say and sing, maybe we might be able to get a real sense of being the new creation that God has made us through our baptism and our following of Christ. And then, more importantly, living out what that means for us.

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