John 12: 1-11
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
She took, poured, and wiped. It’s more than just touching. It’s visceral, part of us in the very depth of our being. Took, poured, and wiped. It’s what we do. It’s the Eucharist of our lives. We lift the wine, we pour it into the chalice, we wipe the small drops of wine that escaped from the line of pouring. And then we share.
You can imagine the others standing around stunned at the very spectacle of this woman touching Jesus in such an intimate way. I like to think that there was a part of each of them that wished for that connection, that wanted desperately to touch Jesus, to get close enough to breathe him in. After all, they were just beginning to understand what was coming and, I’m guessing, they wanted to hold on.
You know that they all smelled it–that strong scent of the oils that had been poured out. It was wafting from Mary’s touch, seeping into the walls, and forever penetrating the senses of all of those who surrounded her. They judged her with their words, probably putting on more of a show for each other than for her. But the scent was overwhelming. And they would remember. You know how scent is. I have a lot of my grandmother’s belongings. And once in awhile, especially on a very humid day, I’ll open a book or the box of recipes or move what used to be her kitchen chair, or open the secretary on which she used to do her homework when she was little, and I smell it. It’s the smell of her house, the smell of her life. It’s the smell I remember from my childhood. It never goes away. They would remember. They would always remember that smell. And when they were fortunate enough, on a very humid day, to smell it again, it would come back. And they would remember the way that Mary touched him–not in a sexual way or a predatory way–but in a way that connects us all. It was an intimacy for which we all crave, an intimacy that seals our hearts and souls to each other.
And, yet, here we are. Don’t touch. Don’t stand too close. I saw a video today. It was a nurse that used paint to show how, even wearing gloves, our touch spreads, whether we realize it or not. We don’t even know when it happens. We touch our face or our cell phone or a head of lettuce in the grocery store and we leave a part of ourselves behind and take whatever is there with us. I wish it didn’t have to do with viral bacteria because it’s a wonderful image. Our touch is left behind. When we hold, when we embrace, when we anoint, we leave a part of ourselves behind and we take the memory of what we touched with us.
So, for now, we don’t touch. Because, right now, we’re, literally, viral. (And not in a good way!) But when we can’t touch, we remember. We remember what it felt like to embrace and that memory sustains us. We remember the scent of that moment. I think that’s why God gave us these senses–because they remember even when we don’t. Those gathered in that small stuffy room that was overwhelmed with expensive perfumed oil will always remember. Because their senses were there. We can’t touch right now and, yet, we remember. We remember the things that connected us once and, for now, when we don’t touch, that’s enough. And, in the meantime, there’s a connection between us all that is beyond us. That’s what faith is. It’s not merely trust or belief. It’s certainly not proof. It’s that connection that pulls us beyond ourselves and calls us to remember again.
I found this video on Twitter today. You may have seen it. It’s proof that symphonies are not about being together; they are about remembering who you are and playing the part you are called to play. We can do this!
I believe that life is given us so we may grow in love, and I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the colour and fragrance of a flower…I believe that in the life to come I shall have the senses I have not had here, and that my home there will be beautiful with colour, music, and speech of flowers and faces I love. Without this faith there would be little meaning in my life. I should be “a mere pillar of darkness in the dark.” (Helen Keller)
Today, pray for those that are overwhelmed with this isolation, that are craving the touch we all crave at times. And, in your prayers, there will be a person that comes to mind. Call them and touch their hearts.
Continue on this road.