Fifth Sunday in Lent
Isa. 43:16-21 • Ps. 126 • Phil. 3:4b-14 • John 12:1-8
Although the eternal riches of God exceed all we can ask or imagine, the mind and heart necessarily reach for images and thoughts to assist a final plunge into the deep. God is the one who “makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” (Isa. 43:16). God “brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise” (Isa. 43:17). God remembers his victory on behalf of his people, but God does not remember as we remember. God is not fixed or caught by an incessant stream of memories. God contracts all things into one providential point from which everything radiates by his will as “a new thing,” “a beauty as ancient as it is new” (Augustine, Confessio, X, xxvii). “I am about to do a new thing,” God says, addressing every moment in time.
In the fullness of time’s flow God sent his Son, a gift so precious that all other gifts, all other claims, all other goods seem as if nothing compared to “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Being counted among a certain people, claiming status in a tribe, marching to the orders of established and beloved customs, even zeal for the Lord must now be set aside. These things are not in themselves bad. Indeed, they give definition to our lives, but they are not life itself. Life itself is Jesus Christ our Lord. Where is the Son of God? Scanning our lives, we find in ourselves nothing to bring us the “power of the resurrection.” We have no righteousness which is our own. The mind sees an internal procession, “the human being bearing about his own mortality and bearing about the testimony of his sin” (Augustine, Confessio, I,i). We have not told the utter truth until we admit our misery. The gift of Jesus Christ is just that, a gift, the unearned bestowal of life itself. It continues to pour in, and so we press on and strain forward receiving in every moment a new bestowal. We think, “I am not yet perfected in Jesus Christ” (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, Nn. 2,2-5,2). For every moment holds seeds of a renewed gift, every moment is a step “toward the goal of the prize.”
We cannot earn it, but we may respond to it. The gift is lavish, and so the response may be full and extravagant and from the heart. “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair” (John 12:3). What is she doing? With her hands and hair and heart, she is cleaving to Christ. “Love fastens us to God” (Clement, First Epistle to the Corinthians, Nn. 49-50). “Let us adhere to that One, that we may be with him in all our soul, all our heart, all our strength” (Ambrose, CSEL 32, 192. 198-99,204). As she holds onto Christ, it is as if a veil is torn away. She is holding the day of his burial, the full mystery of his dying and rising. Thus she holds the cross. Are we holding it with our heart, mind, soul, and strength? Are we cleaving such that the curtain is torn? “Let us penetrate the veil, let us approach, and finally, let us look into the holy of holies” (Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio 45, 23-24).
More than we can imagine, more than any dream, in Christ “our mouth is filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Ps. 126:2). Cleaving to Christ, we sing, with voice and silent heart, songs of joy, “the melody of God in unity” (Ignatius, sup.).
Look It Up
Read Isa. 43:19. Find it.
Think About It
Press on. But do not do a thing until the Spirit has come upon you.