A few weeks ago, in a Wednesday morning chapel service, Mr. Brooks told us about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. He told how happy and excited everyone was—Lazarus, his sisters, Mary and Martha, the disciples and all the people who believed in Jesus after this. Here’s someone who has power even over death, they thought. He must be the Son of God!
And then—this part isn’t in the Bible, but it must have happened this way--Lazarus turned to Jesus and said, “We want to invite you over for dinner. Will you come for dinner? With your disciples? To celebrate. We want to thank you. What’s a good night for you?”
Now Jesus and his disciples were planning to go away for a while, because they knew that the news about Lazarus was going to get back to the chief priests and Pharisees—the guys in Jerusalem who didn’t like Jesus, didn’t like what he was preaching, and didn’t like the fact that people were saying he was the Son of God. So they were going to lay low for a few days.
But Jesus was planning on celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, and Bethany, Mary and Martha and Lazarus’s home town, was just two miles from Jerusalem. So they agreed that Jesus and the disciples would come for dinner on the next Saturday night, on their way back to Jerusalem.
Martha cooked a good dinner. Everyone sat around the table talking, telling stories, listening to Jesus. Mary disappeared for a few minutes and she came back carrying a special jar. When she took the lid off, a wonderful fragrance spread through the house. It was a jar of very expensive oil. It came from far away. It was worth lots of money—as much money as someone could earn in a whole year. She went over to Jesus and poured this oil on his feet. The fragrance filled the room. And then she took off the covering that she usually wore on her head, and wiped the extra oil off Jesus’s feet with her hair.
You can imagine how quiet everyone got, watching her. Everyone could see how much Mary loved Jesus.
But then Judas started to grumble. “What a waste,” he said. “This oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor.”
You can imagine the hurt look on Mary’s face. You can imagine how everyone else felt. “Way to go, Judas! Way to ruin the evening!” And they looked to Jesus. What would he say? They had heard him before tell people to sell all they had and give the money to the poor. What would he say about Mary’s gift to him?
“Leave her alone,” he said. “Leave her alone.” And he must have smiled at Mary, to reassure her. Everyone was relieved—but only for a moment. Because then Jesus said, “She bought it 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.”
His burial? Yes, people used expensive oil like that to cover up the bad smell of dead bodies before they were buried. But who said anything about Jesus dying? Here they were, celebrating life, celebrating how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and Jesus is talking like he’s going to die. Soon. Was this the Son of God they all believed in?
All of us are going to die. We don’t like to think about it, and we probably shouldn’t think about it constantly. A couple weeks ago—I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about—but I said to one of the junior high students, “You’re going to die someday, we’re all going to die.” And she said, “Yeah, I know. But you’re bringing me down, Ms. Gotsch, you’re bringing me down.”
We began the season of Lent with ashes on our foreheads and the pastors reminding us that we are dust, and to dust we will return—reminding us that we will die. This is one of the things that you have to put up with if you go to a Christian school—teachers and pastors remind you that you’re going to die.
Do we talk about death because we want to scare you? Or because we want to bring you down?
No. We talk about death because there is a connection between your death and Jesus dying. And it’s good news. Less than a week after the dinner at Bethany, Jesus the Son of God was crucified, died and was buried. But on the third day he rose again. From his death came new life. New life for us after we die, when we go to heaven to be with Jesus. New life right now. Because Jesus died for us, we can die every day to sin and rise again forgiven to live a new life, a life that is full of love for others, like Mary’s love for Jesus. Like Jesus’ love at the Last Supper before his death when he washed his disciples’ feet.
We’ll be back here in church every day this week, remembering Jesus’ death on the cross for us, talking about our own sinfulness and death. But don’t let that bring you down. The disciples at the dinner in Bethany didn’t know it yet—but you do: Dying is how Jesus brings you to new life.