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Spiritual Growth

God is Making All Things New

By Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-8; Phil 3:4b-14

I gathered with the leaders of a church named Bethany. As a conversation starter I asked them about their name. No one in the group was present at the naming. No one recalled giving much thought to it. We explored the scripture together, looking for Bethany. In time, someone commented, “Bethany appears to be the place where Jesus felt at home.”

Then, someone else mused, “It would be wonderful if our church were a place where Jesus feels at home?”

Jesus’ love for this family – Mary and Martha and Lazarus – is obvious. Their home in Bethany is a place of retreat, of companionship, of refreshment. In this place, we see how God acts to make all things new.

Tears flow and perfume is poured out. Both are acts of love and devotion. Jesus weeps by Lazarus’ tomb. Mary lavishly anoints the feet of Jesus. As Jesus weeps, death and grief is palpable. The smell of the perfume fills the air and Jesus’ own death is foreshadowed.

The stories are woven together artfully. Mary is identified in the second verse of the preceding chapter (John 11:2) as “the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.” By intent, the stories intertwine and enrich one another: the stories explore love and grief, devotion and resistance, death and resurrection.

The raising of Lazarus distresses some of the religious leaders. They resist, afraid of losing their own power and influence: “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him . . .” (John 11:48). Those who see Mary’s extravagant act of devotion are immediately critical: “Why did she not sell the perfume and give it to the poor?”

The foreboding of the suffering and death of Jesus are vividly present. The sense of danger heightens. Mary is treated as Jesus is treated. Those who love Jesus will share in his suffering.

Paul, in Philippians, writes: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Paul is very clear:  new life will not come easily.

Isaiah sings of “the new thing” that God is about to do. On this Sunday late in Lent, these texts show us how newness will be born in us. 

With our eyes on Jesus, we will follow him to the Cross realizing that we will share in his suffering. What we have we will lose. What we cherish we will pour out. Yet, what our spirits hope for most strongly, we will gain.

Christ the Victorious goes before us, weeping and resisted, before joy comes in the morning.

*Bishop Hope Morgan Ward serves the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Last Updated: 04/06/2010

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