A Pound of Perfume

Anointing of JesusScripture Text:  John 12: 1-11 (Holy Monday)

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.

Wasteful, just wasteful…a pound of perfume, LOTS of perfume…she took, she poured, she wiped. In this reading for today, we find this sort of passive Jesus. He visits the home of friends, the home of those whom he had served, those for whom he had done things. And, it says, they give a dinner for him. Jesus is the guest of honor. After all the doing, after all the action, after all the stuff, all the calling and the healing and the teaching and the table-turning and the miracles, he now spends time with friends. And they serve him. And then the passage tells us that Mary takes a pound of costly perfumed nard, breaks the seal, and lavishly pours it onto Jesus’ feet. Then as the oil runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance, sort of similar to a combination of mint and ginseng. It permeates everything with an almost sickeningly sweet aroma.

What in the world was she doing? She is breaking all of the rules. First, she loosens her hair in a roomful of men. Then she pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, which is just not done. The head, maybe, but not the feet. Then she actually touches him and then wipes the oil with her hair. The disciples were appalled. Here is this man who has worked for years to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal others, to end poverty and oppression and you waste this oil by pouring it out on him! That oil could have been sold. Things could have been done with that money! We could have done great ministry with what you just poured on his feet! But you have wasted it! You have squandered it!  Then Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands.

Well, first of all, a pound of perfume is A WHOLE BUNCH of perfume.  If it really was worth what Judas claimed, that would probably be about $30,000 in today’s economy.  I mean, really, think what you could do with that amount of money!  Think of all the ministry you could do.  But, oh, I wish I could be like Mary!  I wish I could take and pour and never count  the cost.  So was it a waste?  Or was it the most extravagant love that Mary felt? And perhaps this was the only way she could show it.  In this moment, she anoints Jesus with a pound of perfume.  The others never really got it that night.  But Mary knew. Mary knew that she had truly entered the Presence of Christ.

Notice the language.  She took, she poured, she wiped.  What she did was sacramental.  It was her becoming.  It was the way she entered that incredible love of Christ.  So, when do we let our lives become?  When do we become sacramental? When do we enter that incredible love of Christ?  It has little to do with what you do or what you say; it has to do with what you give up, with what you surrender without counting the cost.  On this holiest of weeks, we are not called to do; we are called, finally, to become.  We are called to enter that incredible love of Christ.  We are called to walk, pouring ourselves out without counting the cost, even if it takes a pound of perfume.

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

On this Holy Monday, what do you hold dear?  What are the most important, the most valuable things in your life?  What would you give up, pouring out with utter extravagance, for Christ?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

A Pound of Perfume

Anointing of JesusScripture Text:  John 12: 1-11 (Holy Monday)

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.

Wasteful, just wasteful…a pound of perfume, LOTS of perfume…she took, she poured, she wiped. In this reading for today, we find this sort of passive Jesus. He visits the home of friends, the home of those whom he had served, those for whom he had done things. And, it says, they give a dinner for him. Jesus is the guest of honor. After all the doing, after all the action, after all the stuff, all the calling and the healing and the teaching and the table-turning and the miracles, he now spends time with friends. And they serve him. And then the passage tells us that Mary takes a pound of costly perfumed nard, breaks the seal, and lavishly pours it onto Jesus’ feet. Then as the oil runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance, sort of similar to a combination of mint and ginseng. It permeates everything with an almost sickeningly sweet aroma.

What in the world was she doing? She is breaking all of the rules. First, she loosens her hair in a roomful of men. Then she pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, which is just not done. The head, maybe, but not the feet. Then she actually touches him and then wipes the oil with her hair. The disciples were appalled. Here is this man who has worked for years to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal others, to end poverty and oppression and you waste this oil by pouring it out on him! That oil could have been sold. Things could have been done with that money! We could have done great ministry with what you just poured on his feet! But you have wasted it! You have squandered it!  Then Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands.

Well, first of all, a pound of perfume is A WHOLE BUNCH of perfume.  If it really was worth what Judas claimed, that would probably be about $30,000 in today’s economy.  I mean, really, think what you could do with that amount of money!  Think of all the ministry you could do.  But, oh, I wish I could be like Mary!  I wish I could take and pour and never count  the cost.  So was it a waste?  Or was it the most extravagant love that Mary felt? And perhaps this was the only way she could show it.  In this moment, she anoints Jesus with a pound of perfume.  The others never really got it that night.  But Mary knew. Mary knew that she had truly entered the Presence of Christ.

Notice the language.  She took, she poured, she wiped.  What she did was sacramental.  It was her becoming.  It was the way she entered that incredible love of Christ.  So, when do we let our lives become?  When do we become sacramental? When do we enter that incredible love of Christ?  It has little to do with what you do or what you say; it has to do with what you give up, with what you surrender without counting the cost.  On this holiest of weeks, we are not called to do; we are called, finally, to become.  We are called to enter that incredible love of Christ.  We are called to walk, pouring ourselves out without counting the cost, even if it takes a pound of perfume.

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

On this Holy Monday, what do you hold dear?  What are the most important, the most valuable things in your life?  What would you give up, pouring out with utter extravagance, for Christ?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

How Much is Too Much?

anointing-jesus-feetLectionary Passage for Today: John 12: 1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.3Mary 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.4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”6(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.)7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”9When 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.10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Perhaps no one noticed when Mary got up and left the room.  Perhaps no one noticed when she quietly returned carrying a jar full of oil.  But then they noticed…With drama befitting a king, she raised the jar, broke the seal and in one movement, poured the entire bottle onto Jesus’ feet.  Then as the oil slowly runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair.  The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance. And the empty jar is cast aside.

In our faith understanding, the Sacrament of Baptism is the beginning of our life as a Christian, a new life in Christ, the beginning of a journey toward oneness with God, toward the life of Christ.  The waters of Baptism remind us of God’s ever-Presence in our lives, of God’s claim on us, and of the great love that God has for us that was revealed in Christ.  It is sacramental because it is God’s love made visible for us.  Through this sacrament, we enter this journey with God.  And the Eucharist is, for us, an entering into that Presence of God.  It makes God’s Presence real.  We don’t understand it.  It’s a wonderful holy mystery.  But somewhere in that bread, somewhere in that juice, is the very real Presence of God.

But you can’t help but listen to the story of Mary’s anointing without hearing the same language—Mary took, poured, and wiped.  We will hear those same words this Thursday in the account of Jesus’ last meal:  Jesus took the bread, poured out the wine, and wiped the feet of the disciples, and through these common gestures and such common touch, Jesus shows us what true love is.  And as Mary takes, and pours, and wipes, she shows that same love toward Christ, and as the storm clouds begin to gather outside, this small crowded house in Bethany becomes a cathedral, the bottle that held the oil becomes a font, and this simple meal becomes a Eucharist. Through her touch, through her love, the ordinary becomes sacred.  Mary enters Jesus’ life and he becomes part of her.  Her life becomes an extravagant sacrament that shows Jesus’ love to the world.  And she, with Jesus, is on the journey to the Cross.  And the whole world is now forever filled with the fragrance of that perfume.

So, how much is too much?  Where did Mary cross the line?  Where was the point when someone could have reasonably said, “stop, that’s enough”?  Well, the truth is, I wish I could be more like her, wish I could give all of myself without holding back, wish I could break the jar and break the rules, and do something extravagant for love rather than for the right reason.  Because in this moment, Mary began walking with Jesus to the cross.  In this moment, she abandoned herself and poured everything out.  In that moment she became sacrament.  I don’t think it was too much.

In this holiest of weeks, become sacrament.  Do not count the cost.  Break the seal and pour yourself out.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Lingering Fragrance

“Christ in the House of Simon”
Dieric Bouts, 1440’s
(Staatliche Museen, Berlin)

Lectionary Text:  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.

You can imagine these friends around this table filled with wonderful-smelling food, telling stories and laughing together.  And then Mary gets up and picks up this beautiful jar full of expensive perfume.  She pours it lavishly on Jesus’ feet not caring how much she used.  The smell of the perfume fills the room.  And Mary kneels all the way down and wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair as it spills onto the floor.  It is not the anointing itself that is all that unusual.  After all, it was normal to anoint kings at their coronation and priests at their ordination.  And, of course, anointing was a way to prepare a body after death.  Mary was anointing Jesus her Lord and King and preparing him for what would come next.  But those there missed that point.  They were much more worried about this expensive oil that was now soaking into the stone floor.

Now you have to understand that women were not supposed to put themselves in a position of being the center of attention. And they were not supposed to touch a man that was not their husband. And for a woman to let her hair down in public would have been considered a disgrace. So as those present saw her, Mary was making a total spectacle of herself. And then she wastes all this perfumed oil. Judas surmised that it could be sold for three hundred denairii. If that were true, that would have been close to one year’s wages for a laborer. But Albert Schweitzer said that “if you own something you cannot give away, then you don’t own it, it owns you.”

Massada, Israel
Taken February, 2010

As for Mary, none of that mattered anyway. The love that she felt for Jesus just made all those things meaningless. She was truly overcome with love for Christ. And she wanted him to know that she got it. And so this act of extravagant generosity, this act of deep, incredible love, the kind of love that Jesus gave, becomes a sort of living embalming, an act that showed Jesus that Mary was with him on his way to the cross.  Think about some of the language—Mary took, poured, and wiped. We will hear those same words this Thursday in the account of Jesus’ last meal: Jesus took the bread, poured out the wine, and wiped the feet of the disciples, and through these common gestures and such common touch, Jesus shows us what true love is. And as Mary takes, and pours, and wipes, she shows that same love toward Christ, and this small crowded house in Bethany becomes a cathedral and this simple meal becomes a Eucharist. Through her touch, through her love, the ordinary becomes sacred. Mary enters Jesus’ life and he becomes part of her. And God enters that very room and Mary feels the presence of the Divine.  Her life becomes a sacrament that shows Jesus’ love to the world. And the whole world is now forever filled with the fragrance of that perfume.

Where do we find ourselves in this story? Jesus has begun the walk to the cross. Are we standing on the sidelines watching the events unfold as if it is some sort of prepared video stream? Are we holding back those things we have because the cost is just too great? Or are we waiting to see what the person next to us will do? I’m afraid that I’m probably not standing in the right place on the stage of this story.  I’m afraid I probably AM too worried about the cost, about the loss, about what people will think.  But each of us is called to take, to pour, and to wipe. Each of us is called to become a living sacrament of Christ’s love. Each of us is called to walk with Christ to the cross. Each of us is called to embody that close a relationship with the living Christ that we will be positively overcome with our love for God. Each of us is called to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to feel, to laugh, and to love with the depth and passion of Christ.  Oh, I want to be one that spills out all that I am and all that I have with utterly reckless abandon. Because, you see, that is the only way to experience that lingering fragrance that is still in the air.

So we follow our Lord hoping against hope
That soon the road might veer
And get us back to a place we know
A place we do not fear.
And then the fragrance of spilled perfume
Begins to cloud our head
The woman takes and pours and wipes our Lord
And we wonder what we would’ve said.


So, on this holiest of walks, ask yourself what it is that you’re being asked to pour out for Christ and then do it joyfully until it spills onto and covers the floor of the world…

Grace and Peace in this holiest of weeks,

Shelli

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner…

Today’s Gospel Passage:  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.

Really…what would you do if Jesus came to dinner?  What would you do if Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Humanity, the Messiah, showed up at your house for dinner?  Well, I guess I’d use Aunt Doll’s Wedgwood China.  I guess I’d make an array of wonderful recipes for the guests and worry about the centerpiece.  I guess I’d use Grandmother Stockdick’s lace tablecloth and the blue bowl from Grandmother Reue.  And, of course, I’d use the silver from Grandmother Williams.  I would put out the best.  And I would regret that the bathroom has not yet been remodeled and that the yard still show awful signs of the past winter that was unseasonably cold for our moderate South Texas climate.  I mean, really, how often does Jesus come to dinner?

But I have to confess that I wouldn’t have thought of the perfume.  I would not have anointed Jesus’ feet for fear of getting too intimate, too close, violating his privacy.  And I would not have wiped his feet with my hair.  What a mess!  I guess I have to face it…I’m not a Mary.  I would have been concerned about what the guests thought or how the guests felt.  Damn…I’m the sister! 

Oh, how I wish I was a Mary!  How I wish I could pour out everything without counting the cost!  How I wish I could anoint Jesus’ feet and be part of this week instead of just standing on the sidelines!  But I’m one of those that probably would have saved the stupid palm branch as a souvenier!  And now Jesus has turned toward Jerusalem.  And I’m cleaning up the dinner dishes!

Please, Lord, let me be one of those who doesn’t worry about what others think or how much it costs or whether or not it belongs.  Let me be one of those who always sets Aunt Doll’s china on the table whether or not I can guess who’s coming to dinner.  Let me be the one who walks with you to the Cross rather than just sending a doggie bag.

On this holiest of weeks, may you be the one who anoints Jesus in your life.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

(Picture:  Jerusalem, February, 2010)

Oil and Water


Scripture Reading: 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.

Holy Week has begun. We have walked this road to the cross throughout this Lenten season and now it is upon us. Most of us don’t really know what it is that we’re supposed to do with this week. We have gone through this season hearing its call to repentance, to emptying, to looking at things differently. But, still, the ending is beginning to loom bigger than we imagined it would be. What is it, exactly, that we’re supposed to do this week?

Henri Nouwen tells us that “passion is a kind of waiting—waiting for what other people are going to do.”[i] He claims that all of Jesus’ life leading up to this week—all of the teaching, all of the healing, all of the miracle-making, the welcoming of sinners, the turning of tables in front of the saints, every action that was part of who Jesus was ends in this week of passion. And the reason is that, as Nouwen says, “All action ends in passion because the response to our action is out of our hands. That is the mystery of work, the mystery of love, the mystery of friendship, the mystery of community…And that is the mystery of Jesus’ love. God reveals [Godself] in Jesus as the one who waits for our response.”[ii] This is the week when Jesus stops doing and waits to be handed over. This is the week when Jesus waits on others.

We are not used to a Christ who does nothing. We are, rather, more comfortable when Jesus is showing us how to do what we’re supposed to do as followers. We are not accustomed to such a passive Christ. I looked up the word “passive” in an etymological dictionary. The root is the Latin passiuus. And then, surprisingly enough, it says “See Passion.” The etymological root of passion, the term that we use to describe Jesus’ suffering journey to the cross, is the Latin passionem, or suffering. And it says “See Passive.” The two words are related. The “Passion”, this time of suffering and being “handed over”, is a movement from planned and intentional action to no longer being in control. All of Jesus’ actions are accomplished. It is finished. It is a time of waiting—waiting for others’ response.

In our lectionary Gospel reading for this Holy Monday, we find this passive Jesus. He visits the home of friends, the home of those whom he had served, those for whom he had done things. And, it says, they give a dinner for him. Jesus is the guest of honor. After all the doing, after all the action, after all the stuff, he now spends time with friends. And they serve him. And then the passage tells us that Mary takes a pound of costly perfumed nard, breaks the seal, and lavishly pours it onto Jesus’ feet. Then as the oil runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance.

Well, the disciples just couldn’t leave it alone. What in the world was she doing? Here is this man who has worked for years to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal others, to end poverty and oppression and you waste this oil by pouring it out on him! That oil could have been sold. Things could have been done with that money! We could have done great ministry with what you just poured on his feet! But you have wasted it! You have squandered it!
Then Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands. I do not have long to be with you. She knows where I am going. And she responds. This woman loves Jesus. In fact, she loves Jesus so much that she defies the expected and instead pours out the abundance of her life and anoints Jesus for his burial. This is not the time to talk about budgets or the ways things are normally done. This is the time of Jesus’ waiting and her response. As she anointed Jesus, Mary entered Jesus’ Passion and understood what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ.

There are those in our society that would describe that breakthrough as being “born again”. But that phrase, commonplace and probably overused and misused as it is today, was not even around over a hundred years ago. Instead, the words that were used to describe this coming into who Jesus is was to say that one was “seized by the power of a great affection.” Isn’t that an incredible phrase—to be “seized by the power of a great affection”? You see, we 21st century folks usually think we have it all figured out. We know what we’re called to do to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We live our lives as best we can within the framework of what God wants us to do. And we do what we can for others by reaching out in the name of Christ. All of that is wonderful. But are we truly “seized by the power of a great affection”? Why do you think Jesus did everything that he did while he was on this earth? Was it just to show us what it is we’re supposed to do? No, Jesus was more than merely an exemplary human being put here for us to emulate. Jesus came to reveal God’s love, to show us how much God loves each of us and how much God desires us, to make known once and for all the affection that God has for all of God’s Creation and for us as children of God. Jesus was God made known, Emmanuel.

There is a story from the Sufi mystical tradition of a disciple that comes to an elder for direction.

“Where shall I find God?” the disciple asked the elder. “God is with you,” the Holy One replied. “But if that is true,” the disciple asked, “why can I not see this Presence?” “Because you are like the fish who, when in the ocean, never notices the water.” It is not that God is not with us; it is that we are unaware of that incredible Presence.[iii]

When we finally stop doing what we think we should be doing and listen for that which God is calling us to be we will become aware of that extraordinary Presence that is God. And in that becoming, we enter the Christ-life.

In our faith understanding, the Sacrament of Baptism is the beginning of our life as a Christian, a new life in Christ, the beginning of a journey toward oneness with God, toward the life of Christ. The waters of Baptism remind us of God’s ever-Presence in our lives, of God’s claim on us, and of the great love that God has for us that was revealed in Christ. It is sacramental because it is God’s love made visible for us. Through this sacrament, we enter this journey with God.
In much the same way, Mary poured the oil upon Jesus. The act was sacramental. Mary understood that love. She entered that love. Indeed, she was “seized by the power of a great affection”. And in pouring the oil, she entered Jesus’ Passion. She became part of Jesus’ journey to the cross.

In Baptism, God uses water to make God’s love visible to us. And as Mary poured the oil on Christ, she made her love visible to God. And, do you remember your basic chemistry lesson? If you pour oil into the water, the oil is raised to the top. Oil and water…God uses both to make this incredible love visible to us. And immersed in that love, we will find ourselves “seized by the power of a great affection.”

This is the week when we come to the end of all our doing. This is the week when we walk with Christ through betrayal and suffering and last suppers and final endings. This is the week when we finally realize that we can do nothing else. And on that final day, as the passive Christ is handed over, there is nothing more for him to do other than wait for our response. Who will follow me? Who will come to me with all your misery and your sins, with all your trouble and your needs, and with all your longings to be loved. Who will follow me? Who will hand over their lives just as I have done that you too might be raised to new life? Because it is then that the oil will be poured out for you in much the same way as you are immersed in the waters of your Baptism.

This week is not an easy one to walk. Sometimes we are still not sure what it is that we’re supposed to do. But this week is not about us; it is not about what we do or how we do it; this week is the week that we are called to be “seized by the power of a great affection”, to become one with Christ, to enter Christ’s suffering and passion and waiting, to make our very lives a sacramental journey. And as we come closer and closer to what seems to be a final ending, we will finally be aware that we are never really alone. God calls us. God is waiting for our response.

In the Name of the One who journeys with us to the Cross!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

[i] Henri J.M. Nouwen, “From Action to Passion”, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books f/ Plough Publishing, 2003), 179-185.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Joan Chittister, There Is a Season (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 14.

ADVENT 3B: Anointed to This Messy Work

Some ramblings on this week’s Lectionary readings…

During Advent, the Lectionary invites us to read some familiar texts, texts that many of us could almost recite from memory. But if we think that it is just a repetition of the same things as last year, we are very mistaken. We are different; the world is different. And God calls us to walk a little bit farther in the journey, even if it’s only a tiny step closer than last year.

Isaiah 61: 1-11
So what does it mean to have the Spirit of the Lord upon me, to be anointed by the Lord, as the servant is here? This is a pretty tall order–to be sent to build up, raise up, and repair. After all, things were pretty much a mess. So we look to the servant to fix things, to make life well again. But, there, as early as verse 3, the pronouns begin to change. The single servant becomes a “they”, those who are fitted with a mantle of praise. A mantle is something that covers or envelops. In essence, that “anointing” to do the Lord’s work has been passed on and “they” have inherited the covenant. And all those who come after the servant–generations and generations of descendents–are the “they”. We are the “they”, those with the Spirit of the Lord upon us, those anointed, those sent to build up, raise up, and repair. This is a pretty tall order. After all, things are pretty much a mess. What are we waiting for? Yes, being anointed by God’s Spirit is messy work. It’s a good thing we don’t have to do it alone!

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
That’s what it says here…we are not alone! As it says at the beginning, there are those who labor among us; after all, remember, we are the COMMUNITY of faith. It is together that we build up, raise up, and repair. Here, we are admonished to be careful about not quenching the Spirit. For ourselves, that means to attend to our own spiritual life through prayer and thanksgiving and remembering who and whose we are. But I think this also warns us against quenching the Spirit of our fellow laborers. We are not all the same. We come from different pasts and we journey by way of different futures. It is the diversity within our community that anoints with God’s Spirit. And while it is sometimes much more comfortable to march in ranks of sameness, with our collective voices drowning out those who do not speak the way we do, that “rank and file” mentality makes is difficult for God to come into our midst. Because the God of peace is wanting to “sanctify us entirely”, our bodies, our minds, our souls, our community, the world. That is this building up, raising up, and repairing to which we are called. But how can we see that if we only open our eyes to our own needs and our own way of thinking?

John 1: 6-28
Whatever you have to say about John the Baptist (after all, it is hard for some of us to identify with a camel’s hair-wearing, locust-eating, loud-mouthed wilderness wanderer screaming at everyone to repent!), he took his job seriously. He understood that he was called by God to point to the light as well as that which is illuminated by the light. In other words, he did not get lost in rhetoric about Jesus as the light without realizing the purpose of the light itself. And that is probably what makes us so uncomfortable with John. We would rather the light be allowed to remain in our thinking depicted as a warm and comfortable place to be. We would rather live under the notion that Jesus’ light is just for us so that we can see our way to God. We would rather bask in its illumination without looking at what it now enables us to see in a different light. But, as our Lectionary readings imply today, it is not really about us! That light that came into the world came not only to show us where to go; it also came to show us what needs to be done. Remember, we are anointed, filled with God’s Spirit, now basking in the Light of Christ. And we can no longer close our eyes to what the light has shown us. We can no longer close our eyes to hunger and homelessness, to destruction and waste, to violence and war, or to exclusion of any of God’s laborers from the work to which they are called. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.

So, go and build up, raise up, and repair!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli