In the name of God. Amen.
When I was 18 years old, I was involved in a major car accident. I was driving in the early evening when my car was struck at a high speed, in a near-head-on collision by a drunk driver. My little car was totaled. Thankfully, because of seatbelts and airbags, I was mostly okay – just some relatively minor cuts and bruises. A bit of a “rug burn” from the airbag and huge bruises from my seatbelt. But aside from the trauma of the experience, I had very little in the way of lasting impacts. The driver and passengers in the other vehicle weren’t so lucky.
For weeks, the incident replayed in my mind. I could still hear the song that was playing on the radio. Every millisecond, from the moment I realized the accident was happening until leaving the hospital and finally, the next morning, calling my parents to tell them about it, replayed in my mind in slow motion. As the accident was happening, I remember not even being afraid – just recognizing that it was happening. There was nothing I could do but see the car careening toward me, hear the deafening impact, and feel myself spin until finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I stopped.
The gospel today reminds me of that sort of reflection. John tells us that it was six days before the Passover, and that Jesus had come to Bethany, to the home of Lazarus – the man whom he had raised from the dead. In the remembering that’s recounted in John’s gospel, it feels like the kind of remembering that can come only after a traumatic experience – every detail is recounted. Every moment seems to have meaning. Every second relates to the fateful seconds that would come.
In our journey to Easter, we’ve entered a sort of strange time. It’s the last Sunday of Lent, but Easter is still what seems like a long way off. We still have important steps to take before we can make it to the other side.
At this point in the Easter preparation, I always find myself to be focused on Good Friday more than anything else. The liturgy preparations for Easter have already been happening. Flowers have been ordered and plans for decorations are being finalized. The church office is scurrying with activity trying to finalize all the people, and printing, and paying that all need to be organized to make our celebration a success.
But in my mind, I can’t quite get there yet. I know that there’s a path we have to walk before we can finally make our way.
The people who followed Jesus – as they reflected on all that they’d experienced – must have felt the same sort of disconnect: remembering that it was all going to be okay, but still reliving the experience – the trauma – that would shape them forever.
Across the four gospel accounts that we read, the story is different. Different writers and different communities assigned different bits of meaning to the various pieces of the story. They remembered different aspects and different players. But in John’s account, the woman with the costly perfume was remembered as Mary of Bethany – the sister of Lazarus. In a complicated expression of unbridled intimacy, and extravagance, and humility, she anointed Jesus’ feet and then wiped them with her hair.
But Judas was angry. Was it because of the intimacy? Or the extravagance? Surely it wasn’t the humility? John reckons that it was the extravagance. Maybe he just wanted it for himself.
But whatever the reason, and it doesn’t even really matter, the point isn’t the act of Mary (or whomever she was). The point isn’t that they were with Lazarus. The point isn’t even Judas’ rebuke or even Jesus’ rebuttal. The real point of the story is that first line: it was six days before the Passover. It was the countdown to what would become THE day. It was a step on the journey.
A few years ago there was a movie called “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. It told the story of a young boy who lived in New York City on September 11th, 2001. His father had died in the twin towers, and the movie tells of his recollection of that day and the ways he came to deal with its horrors in its aftermath.
Throughout the movie, he refers to that day – the day which changed us all forever – as “the worst day”. He can’t say what happened that day, it’s just too horrible to articulate. He can’t even say what day it was. Just that it was “the worst day”.
For those first followers of Jesus, that’s what this day we’re driving toward must have been – a day too horrible to mention. A day too horrible to name. The worst day. And in its wake, they must have studied and parsed every aspect of it – of the day itself, but also of all that came to be seen as leading up to it, and all that was eventually shown to be flowing out from it. It must have flowed through their minds again and again as if in slow motion.
We’ve all known trauma. We’ve all had those moments that shaped us, for better or for worse. And it’s a normal to process those moments, and all that surrounds them – to relive them in slow motion, and to analyze every aspect.
And, though we’re in that weird, in-between space in our lives as a church, the message of our faith still holds fast: Easter is coming. The flowers will bloom. The choir will sing, the organ will play, the bells will ring, and Christ will rise. The details are less important than the product. And, in time, it will come. But first we’ve got this journey to make. Amen.