Nearly ten years ago I took a trip with a church group to León, Nicaragua. During our time there we worked on fences, roofs, and various other projects on the grounds of El Ayudante where we were staying. At night, our group would hop into vans and drive to local churches where our choir would sing and lead worship for a church service. I wasn’t musically inclined so I simply sat in the audience amongst the locals with a few others from our group. One night, sitting in the middle of a tiny and crowded room in a white plastic chair somewhere outside of León, my world changed.
I have never been one to have many overwhelming spiritual experiences, and it’s still difficult to properly explain my experience that night and many of the other nights. Simply put, my sitting turned to dancing. For what seemed like hours, we danced and danced and danced. Along with the whole house, I was "singing" and worshiping in a language that my two years of high school Spanish didn’t quite prepare me for. But that didn’t matter. There were no stage lights or expensive equipment. There was presence––a community of people made up of Nicaraguans and Texans with anticipation, hope, and joy. The Celtics would describe a moment like this as a “thin place”–– one in which the space between heaven and earth is paper thin.
On the fifth Sunday of Lent, the lectionary begins in Isaiah 43:16-21. The text opens by utilizing Exodus language which allows us to remember God's rescue of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Yet, immediately after mentioning God’s deliverance, the writer says, “Don’t keep going over old history.”
Huh? What about our spiritual heritage? What about how God delivered us out of Egypt?
The writer in Isaiah continues...
“Be alert. Be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?”
A new Exodus?
In the Gospel passage for this week, John gives us an embodied example of this type of new Exodus life. In John 12:1-8, Mary enters the scene with a pound of expensive perfume and sits at the feet of Jesus. She proceeds to pour the oil over his feet and then wipes them with her hair. In this moment, Mary enacts the ultimate embodiment of servanthood given by Jesus in John’s Gospel through washing his feet. Not only does Mary wash his feet, but she goes beyond by lavishing them in a pound of fine perfume.
What a beautiful mess.
John writes, “And the house was filled with the fragrance.”
As we approach the cross and Resurrection Sunday, may we examine what God is bringing us into today. Are we alert and present? Are we filling the house with fragrance?
My hope is that we will be surprised by a new exodus and find ourselves out of our white plastic chairs, dancing into the night.