5th Sunday in Lent

April 6, 2025

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 43.16-21 — “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Psalm 126 — May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy

Philippians 3.4-14 — I regard everything as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…. I press onward…

John 12.1-8 — Mary anoints Jesus.

Preaching Thoughts

       The prophet imagines a new exodus and even a new creation. Trusting what God is doing, what God has been doing all along, we let go of what is, and what we have, in order to be open to what is coming.

Both our sorrow and our joy, sowing and reaping, are part of life, and gathered up into God’s blessing. Our present suffering will pass.

       All the stuff we value, our status and credentials, our accomplishments—even our faith!—we let go of to draw closer to Christ. As Isaiah says, trusting what God is doing, we let go of everything for what will be given to us, new.
       The catch is that “drawing close to Christ” means sharing in Jesus’ suffering. It means identifying with and standing with the poor and powerless, the suffering, the outcast. Echoing Jesus’ desert temptations, we let go of our comfort, our desire to make things turn out right, our status and esteem, and allow God to be our power, our security, our belonging, our life.

Sometimes in our homiletical rush toward the cross we overlook the poignancy of the story of Mary anointing Jesus. Powerful people are out to get Jesus. He faces a certain death, he knows. His disciples clearly don’t get it. How lonely he must feel! But Mary gets it. She understands death. She’s seen her bother Lazarus die, and she’s seen Jesus share her grief. And she knows what he faces. So she does something extraordinary: she does something kind for Jesus—the only kind thing anybody does for him. Certainly there is much in her action that is dramatic: the extravagance of the gift, the fragrance of the perfume, the radical intimacy of the gesture. There is some heavy theological symbolism in her act: preparing him for burial, accepting the cross, honoring him as the ruler of her heart. Anointing has rich associations with healing, with baptism, with prophetic charge. Her act is pretty loaded. But maybe what’s most remarkable is simply its kindness. Maybe faith is not as complicated as all that theological stuff, but simply being kind. Maybe the fragrance of our kindness fills the house where Jesus is.
       Mary’s act may reflect not only her kindness toward Jesus but also her sorrow, knowing she’s going to lose him. But that too, is something Jesus receives as a gift. Imagine that your brokenheartedness is a gift Jesus gladly receives. Part of what our sharing in his cross might mean is our grief: for him, for ourselves, and for the world. (“The gift you desire is a broken and contrite heart, O God”– Psalm 51).
       The Philippians passage invites us to share Jesus’ suffering. A barrier that keeps us from taking up our cross more faithfully is obviously our fear of pain, powerlessness, loss and suffering. Mary shows us you don’t need to get yourself tortured to death to join in Jesus’ suffering. Start by offering up your vulnerability, allowing yourself to be brokenhearted for Jesus—for the hurting and oppressed and rejected.
       Mary’s act may be a bit of foreshadowing of the cross to come; and it is also a gift that shapes Jesus’ ministry: a few days later he gatherers his disciples for the Passover, and he does what he has learned from Mary: he washes their feet. Kindness received becomes kindness given.

Call to Worship

Leader: God of life, when life is broken,
All: we turn to you.
Loving Christ, when hearts are broken,
you come to us.
Holy Spirit, this broken world needs us;
flow through us to all the world.

Leader: Creator, in our joy we call out to you!
All: Christ, in our sorrow we call out to you!
Holy Spirit, you cry out in us with the cry of all humanity.
You anoint us with your grace, as we worship you.

Leader: Eternal God, as we wander in the wilderness, you are with us.
People: Open our hearts to your comforting presence.
Living God, as we sit with Mary at the feet of Jesus, you welcome our gifts.
Open our hearts to your transforming love.
Compassionate God, as we come to your table, you share yourself with us.
Open our hearts to your extravagant grace. Pour your blessing on us. Amen.

Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Glory be to you, O God of all Creation.
Thanks be to you, O Christ, for our salvation.
Christ, you accompany us in our suffering;
you pour out your life so that we may live.
Gather us in your loving arms,
and transform us by your grace.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Loving God, as Mary anointed Jesus with perfume, anoint us with your Word, that we may hear your good news. Anoint us with your Spirit, that we may bear your healing word into the world with courage, love, and joy. Amen.

Comforting God, anoint us with the oil of your healing. Honor us with the perfume of your grace. Transform us with the anointing of your Spirit. Wash us with your Word, and steady our hearts in you. Amen.

Gracious God, you receive us in your gentle arms. You anoint us with your healing presence. Help us to be mindful of your mercy, your deep compassion for the wounds of the world, and your willing presence with those who suffer. Grant us your Spirit, that as your scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we might listen to you now and hear your healing voice. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

you who face death in love for us,
we kneel before you
and pour out the perfume of our hearts.
Your feet, that carry you to us,
we anoint.
May the fragrance of our love for you
fill your house.

Eucharistic Prayer

Go here for musical responses to the Eucharistic prayer—Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen—set to familiar tunes suitable for Lent.

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively by the pastor and congregation or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Jesus came to Bethany six days before Passover,
the celebration of our liberation from slavery in Egypt.
God, you have delivered us from bondage to sin,
established your Covenant with us,
and set us free to serve you all the days of our lives.
Jesus went to the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
God, you have raised us to new life,
transforming us in the Spirit of Christ
so that we may live in love and not fear.
In Bethany they gave a dinner for Jesus.
You gather us at your table, God
to remember Jesus, your Christ.
He taught and healed, he forgave sinners,
he shared the sufferings of the poor,
he called us to repentance,
and he ate with outcasts.
He shows us your love, God,
by giving of his own.
         [ The Blessing and Covenant…]

Receiving the Body of Christ, we become the body of Christ
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Dying, Christ destroys our death.
Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ shall come again in glory.
Mary took a pound of the finest perfume,
anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.
We bring our finest gifts to you, O God,
the gifts of our hearts and our hands,
that through our faith all people may be fed
by this holy meal.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts, O God,
that they may be for us the Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
and let its fragrance fill the house.
Gather us in your love, together with all who share in this meal.
Renew your Holy Spirit within us,
that anointed by your love, we may be made holy,
set apart for your purposes in the name of Christ.
Jesus said that Mary had prepared him for his burial.
may we be unafraid of suffering in the cause of love.
By your grace, through our faith, may we bring grace and healing to all.
God of all Creation,
may your Word be made flesh
by all your holy Church,
in the love of Christ
and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, we thank you that you have poured yourself out for us, and given us your Spirit, that we might pour ourselves out for others, that we might bless them and serve them in your name. Send us into the world, accompanied by Christ, for the sake of the world. Amen.

Prayer after Communion

Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You have anointed us with your Spirit, laid your healing hands on us, and prepared us for all that is to come. Send us into the world unafraid to suffer for the sake of love, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear audio clips, on the Music page)

Anointing (Tune: What a Friend We Have in Jesus)

Jesus, as we try to follow on your journey toward the cross,
we ourselves will come to suffer weakness, loneliness and loss.
But in love you turn to heal us: you let go all goods and powers,
gently sharing all our troubles, making them your own, not ours.

Jesus, in your grace and mercy, you share all our pain and tears.
You anoint us with your love and heal our wounds and calm our fears.
So, like Mary with her perfume, we bring gifts of love to you,
sharing death and resurrection, trusting lives will be made new.

At Your Feet (Original Song)

Jesus, at your feet I bow.
I am yours completely now.
By your mercy show me how
to be loving.

Jesus, Master, you who save,
you have served me as a slave.
This, the perfect gift you gave:
to be loving.

In each hurting one I meet
it is you, O Christ, I greet.
Make my faithfulness complete,
to be loving.

I Take Up My Cross
(Original song; a dialogue between soloist and congregation)

Letting go, I am held. I take up my cross and follow.

Jesus, you call to me, and draw me into your life.
Christ, I leave all behind, to follow you in love.
I yield my life to you, for you alone are God.
Loved with your costly love, I’ll suffer for the sake of love.
Christ, make my one desire to be to serve you in love.

Woeful Cross (Original song)

Woeful cross, saddest wood, death in me of all that’s good,
I confess. Mother/Father, bless. Mercy.

Holy cross, mystery, love from fear of death set free.
Sin’s dark lie. Here I die. Mercy.

Gentle Christ on the cross, for our life your own life’s loss.
You forgive, and we live. Mercy.

Our own cross calling us to your love and gentleness:
may we live, as you give, mercy.

Your Healing Cross (Tune: The River Is Wide)

Dear gentle Christ, in love you died; for us you wept, were crucified.
and through your pain, the blood they drew, we see the love that carried you.

And so for you, we gladly live, our love, our hearts we freely give.
We neither fear despair nor death, but trust your grace in every breath.

As one with you who died and rose, we give our hearts and hands to those
who suffer need, or pain or loss; in love we bear your healing cross.

Your Will Be Done (Original song)

Father, take my willfulness.
I surrender it to you grace alone.
Mother, be my willingness.
I can only ask: Your will be done.

Jesus, take my brokenness.
I surrender it to you grace alone.
Jesus, heal my brokenness.
I can only ask: Your will be done.

Spirit, take my empty hands.
I surrender them to you grace alone.
Spirit, with my empty hands
I can only ask: Your will be done.

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