The first in a series of sermons preached during Lent of 2021 in the parish of the North Peace on Mark chapters 14 and 15. This first week explores Mark 14:1-26.
The Prayer Book Lectionary which we are following because of the unique nature of this year lays out a course of reflection for us. We are going to spend the next five weeks walking through Mark’s account of Jesus’s last days slowly. Then we are going to spend one week going through Jesus’s last days from multiple perspectives very quickly and intensely. For Lent we in our lives fast, give, seek mercy and justice, strive to look inwardly that we may love more purely. Our Lenten journey, which is a discipline of dying so that we no longer live but Christ lives in us, by meditation and grace is taken up into the story of Jesus as we follow him, and journey with him, towards the cross of Calvary. There he goes where we cannot follow and wins for us the victory which is our hope and joy.
So let us begin:
Mark sets the context for us. It is almost the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread. What is the Passover? The Passover is a commemoration of God’s jealous zeal to set Israel free from the tyrannical yoke of Pharoah. They were in slavery and God sent plague after plague to convince Pharoah to let Israel go. At last God sent the angel of death, but before he did he gave Israel a command – they were to kill a young sheep without blemish and to spread its blood over their doorframes. Then when the angel of death came he passed over the homes of Israel and went only into the households of Egypt killing every firstborn son. Pharoah then let Israel go, but relented and chased after them, so God parted the Red Sea to make way for Israel out of the grasp of tyranny, so every year they were to kill a young sheep, and eat unleavened bread, and remember the deliverance of God.
Many people were going to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and for fear of a riot the chief priests and the Pharisees decided they could not arrest Jesus in the overcrowded city with all that activity.
While the religious leaders deliberated, Jesus came to the home of a leprous man named Simon, someone who was not supposed to be visited for fear of pollution. But to him Jesus came bringing a crowd with him. There at this man’s house something scandalous happened. A woman came with a beautiful white alabastar jar, and she broke this beautiful precious jar. Out over Jesus’s head came pouring sweet perfume of pure naard. And so Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one, was fittingly anointed.
And don’t tell me that this wasn’t scandalous. Often I hear that it’s a shame that churches are filled with wealth and art and beauty. Sell that art, melt down that cross, let go those priests and feed the poor, this is a cry that critiques of religion. This is the critique that some then had for this woman. In other gospel it is a complaint put in Judas’s mouth, and it is jealousy of this act that drives him to leave room for the devil in his heart. Nonetheless it is a critique that resonates doesn’t it? Is our God not the God of justice? Is our God not the God of compassion, shouldn’t he deprive himself to take care of the poor? But how does Jesus answer this complaint?
He responds not just with a correction but with a harsh rebuke. Jesus affirms the offering of this woman, this gift she has given him, he names it as a beautiful thing, pleasing to him. He affirms what’s good in the critique, yes you should care for the poor, go care for the poor if you would, but don’t stand their scoffing. The poor will always be with you, I will not always be with you, this woman has prepared me for burial, prepared me for the redemptive work I am coming to do. May your jealousy of Jesus be rebuked, he is worthy of adoration that we ought not covet or tear down. Judas leaves this rebuke to go and make a deal with the Saduccees to betray Jesus into their hands for a price.
Jesus had made preparations and arrangements for this day. The disciples asked him where they were to prepare the Passover and he told them that when they got to Jerusalem they would follow a man with a jar of water to a house, and then the master of the house would show them an upper room in which to prepare the feast. This same upper in which the disciples will cower after Jesus’s death, where he will appear to them and breath on them, where the Holy Spirit will descend on them like tongues of fire.
After the meal is prepared Jesus and the disciples gather together to remember God’s deliverance and formation of a nation as his inheritance. That phrase deserves unpacking but, not in this sermon. Note that Judas the zealot is among those gathered for this feast, he is at the supper of the Lord’s invitation.
Judas is among those who participate in this supper even though Jesus declares it would be better for him if he had never been born.
Jesus knows that he is going soon, he has declared it many times, and in preparation for his departure he equips the leaders of his congregation with a new, or fulfilled-renewed-and re-received, institution. At this Passover supper he takes bread, unleavened bread which is why some insist on wafers, ordinary food which is why some insist on bread like we would usually eat, and he gives thanks. After giving thanks jut as his body will be for us, he breaks it. Then he gives this bread to the apostles just as he is about to give his body for them and he says those powerful words: “Take it- this is my body” a command to the disciples, a provision for the faithful, an offering to feed on him spiritually and receive his death for our sake. When the faithful gather, take bread, give thanks, break it and receive it in obedience and faith we receive Jesus’s body somehow, we are Jesus’s body somehow.
Jesus then takes the cup, again he gives thanks, he then shares it with them, they then drink it. It is interesting to me that when Jesus institutes the supper first they obey then it is explained to them. First they receive then they are given to understand. Jesus tells them the wine they have just drunk is his blood. Its not just ordinary blood, it is blood of a new covenant a new promise between God and humanity, a promise not just for those few gathered in this upper room, but for many. He then makes it very clear to them that he will not drink wine again until the coming of the kingdom of God. Does he mean he is taking the vow of a Nazarite? No. He means the coming of the kingdom of God through his death is imminent.
But with his death before him, he and the apostles leave singing a hymn on their way to the Mount of Olives. We will continue reflecting together on Jesus’s last days next week with Mark 14:27-52.