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

 

Procession

palm_sunday_roadToday’s Lectionary Passage:  Luke 19: 28-40

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I love Palm Sunday at St. Paul’s.  I love starting on the Plaza out in what hopefully abundant sunlight and just enough of a breeze to cool us off without wrapping the banners around us.  (That happened to me one year as I turned the corner along Main Street.)  It is grand; it is glorious, taking us into the sanctuary with celebration, waving our palm branches and singing the well-known Palm Sunday hymns.   And yet, we know what’s coming.  We know that the celebration will end and reality will set in.  So there’s a sense that we love the processional while wanting to hold back just a bit, stay in the procession just a bit longer, basking in the excitement.

Jesus is in the bustling capital city.  He is no longer in the villages and open country of his home.  The celebratory parade is also a protest march.  The disciples should have known what was happening.  Jesus had already laid it out for them.  But they still did not comprehend what he had said.  At this moment Jesus begins the sharp descent down the Mt. of Olives, winding his way toward Jerusalem.  The road that he walked is a steep decline into the Garden of Gethsemane and then begins to ascend toward Mt. Moriah and then to the place of the temple. At this moment, the crowd sees him as a king, as one who will get them out of where they are.  So this is a parade that befits a king.  “Hosanna”, “the Coming One”, the one who restores Jerusalem. 

Jesus enters.  This is the moment.  This is it.  What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus entering from the east brought them something that they had never had before—the dawn of peace, truth, justice, and love.  What they didn’t recognize is that Jesus had indeed come to restore them not to what was but to what should’ve been all along.  So,sadly, the parade would fizzle.  As it turns and begins moving toward Bethany, toward the edge of the walled city, people turn and go back to their lives.  And Jesus, virtually alone, with a few disciples in tow, enters the gate.  Jesus is in Jerusalem.

Well, of course, we know what happens after that.  The stage is set.  The characters are in place.  The next five days would play out in a way that is, of course, NOT “in a way befitting”.  But, for now, this procession, this entrance, is important.  Processions always are.  They are transitions.  They take us from place to the next. Processions are a call to begin something different, to enter that new thing that God is doing.  Essentially, this Palm Sunday processional is exactly that—a calling to move to a different place.  It is scary because we know what lies ahead.  We know that just beyond those city gates lies a city that will not be kind over the next several days, a city that will certainly not act in a way befitting of who it is and who it is called to be.  It is a city that is not in procession, a city that will attempt to silence the cries to change the world.

Eastern Golden Gate of JerusalemWe are always in procession, always moving from one way of being to another. We are moving from darkness to light, from living with a fear of scarcity to living with an embrace of the abundance that God offers, from self-centeredness to self-surrender, from a certainty of who we are and who we should be to faith in a God who will lead us to a new thing.  In this procession, we are moving from death to life.  There, up ahead, there are the gates of the city. The waters have parted.  The question is, is this the point where we drop out and go back to our lives? Or do we stay in procession, walking with Jesus, walking through the gates, knowing what lies ahead?  Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”  This is our wilderness.  This is our movement from slavery to freedom.  This is our procession to life.  So, keep walking. 

…Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…It is a time for preparation…The only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday.  Only then will the alleluias be sung; only then will the dancing begin. (From “Holy Week”, by Ann Weems, in Kneeling in Jerusalem)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Station XI: Regrets

crucifixion-22Scripture Passage: Mark 15: 22-32

22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.  25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days,30save yourself, and come down from the cross!”31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

The eleventh station of the Via Dolorosa is marked by a beautiful Latin shrine.  This is the place where tradition tells us that soldiers nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross.  It is only 9:00 in the morning.  For us, the thought of arriving at this eleventh station seems much longer, days really.  But it is still only mid-morning.  The sounds are deafening.  The clanging rings out over the land and settles into our hearts–a nail of greed, a nail of selfishness, nails of betrayal and hatred and war, nails of hunger and poverty, nails of not accepting and loving each other, nails of being so sure of one’s beliefs, so sure of one’s understanding of who God is and what God desires, that we miss seeing what God is trying to show us.  It is finished.  In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

It is here that our regrets sink in. It is here that we want to go back, we want a redo.  We would do it differently next time. We would not ask so many questions as to why he was doing what he was doing and to whom.  We would just watch and listen and learn from him how to love.  We would not fight and grapple with each other over who was in charge, over who was the most important, over who was his favorite.  Instead, we would bask in his spirit and his radiance and his love of equality for all.  And when asked if we knew who he was, we would not betray him.  Rather, we would step forward no matter the cost.  Because grace is not cheap.  But now we know how incredibly rich it really is.  Yes, we would stand up and be counted as one who follows him, who brings healing and love to the world, who doesn’t need credit or acclaim, and who is willing to lose one’s life to find it.  But there are no redos just now.

Regrets can be debilitating.  They can pull us into the past and keep us there.  It is not healthy.  Regrets can also be life-giving if we allow them to compel us to change, to perhaps turn a corner that we did not see before, to become something new, a New Creation, to become the one that God calls us to be.  And, yet, we still want the easy way out.  After all, we are empty cross people, Resurrection people!  And so maybe we walk away from this moment entirely too quickly.  After all, it makes us uncomfortable and God offers us life.  So too quickly we let it go, too quickly we move past our regrets without letting them change us.

The most difficult thing for us to face is that so little has changed.  We still try to be the one on top.  We still shut the door to those who are not like us.  We still close our doors so we don’t have to think about poverty or homelessness.  We still justify war.  We still will do anything it takes to defend the life that we have created.  We still betray.  We forget to love; we forget to bring healing; we forget to lose our life.  So, would we crucify Jesus today?  Would things go differently?  Only we can tell…

So on this Lenten journey, stop for a moment.  Look at the cross.  And let your regrets of what should have been done differently change your pathway.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Were You There As Jesus Prepared to Die?

Today’s Scripture Passage:  Mark 14: 1-25

To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=200334750

Galilee is behind us.  The parade is long over.  There are no stars overhead to light our way.  The Passion has begun.  It’s an odd term, from the Latin passionem, or suffering.  It looks similar to the word passive (Latin, passiuus), which definitely doesn’t make sense to us.  After all, we’re talking about Jesus!  But the words are indeed 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, waiting for our response.  We are called to enter The Passion, to enter this handing over.

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

And, so, in the first part of The Passion reading, Jesus prepares for what is to come.  First, he is anointed.  I really like the version that the Gospel writer known as John tells, but this is Mark’s year, so we’ll go with it.  You see, John names her.  John brings Mary into the story, into a relationship with Jesus.  Mary, or whoever this woman is, takes the expensive perfume and pours it onto Jesus.  Takes…and pours.  Where have we heard that before?  It is sacramental.  This simple act of holy extravagance brings her into the story, into life.  She is forever remembered not because she wasted the oil but because she was part of preparing Jesus to die.  With extravagant and self-giving love, she entered The Passion.  She poured herself out and handed herself over.  I wish I could be like that. I wish I could sit at the feet of Jesus and, without any regard to what is “appropriate” or “expected”, pour everything out. I wish I didn’t hold myself back.  I wish I could pour myself out with holy and even wasteful extravagance.

As the time for the Passover meal nears, the disciples begin to prepare and plan for the meal.  It would be Jesus’ last.  The disciples didn’t seem to know it at the time but this would be the final time that they were all together.  Don’t you wander what the conversation was that night?  We’d like to imagine that it was rich and deep and profound, that it was prayerful and contemplative, theological and steeped with rabbinical thought, that it was something they would remember.  But last words are seldom like that.  They are usually profoundly quotidian.  Rather than resembling the life that we envision, they usually resemble the life that is.  That’s probably what happened that night.  There were side conversations about family and acquaintances.  There were comments about the weather and whether it might have been unseasonably hot or unseasonably cold that evening.  And there were some speculations about the political environment and the tensions that hung in the air even that night.  They did not solve the problems of the world.  They just ate and drank and sat together. 

“The Last Supper of Christ”
Pieter Jansz.Pourbus, c. 1562-5

And then Jesus takes the bread and pours the wine.  Takes…and pours.  It is sacramental.  Yet another act of holy extravagance that brings us all into the story, into life.  But the story’s ending is far from ordinary.  And to be part of it, we have to take and pour…We have to become the body and become the blood.  We have to take the cup from Jesus, this cup that has been poured out for us.

But behind the scenes, there is darkness and betrayal swirling in our midst.  We don’t know what to do with this.  It is one of us.  It is one whom Jesus loves. It is one who has sat here this night and shared our meal and shared our lives.  Oh, please, do not let it be me.  As I dip this bread, let me become who I’m supposed to be.  Do not let it be me.

The truth is, we cannot be there with Jesus as he prepares to die unless we, too, are preparing for our own.  We cannot talk of this handing over unless we can let go of that to which we hold.  And we cannot take the bread and the wine unless we make room for it in our lives.  Were you there?  Were you there as love was poured out?  Were you there as Jesus took and poured?  Were you there in the betrayal?  It is too late to go back.  It is too late to change anything.  The Kingdom of God waits for you up ahead.  But you have to let go.  You have to die to self.  No longer can we just talk about something else and hope that death will go away.  We have to die to live.

So, on this Monday of Holy Week, how would you answer?  Were you there as Jesus prepared to die?  What part in The Passion did you play?  Are you preparing to die?  For that is the way that you will live.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Intersection

Lectionary Text:  Matthew 21: 1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Last year when I had the opportunity to drive into Jerusalem for the first time, my senses told me that this was no ordinary place.  Most cities have a character, sort of a defining theme.  But this is a city of intersections.  Coming together right here in this small city as cities go (only 49 square miles) is the old city, seemingly untouched by time, and the new sparkling buildings surrounding it.  It is today, as it has always been, a place where the conflicts of both social politics and religious politics come together, not in unity but rather somehow choosing to live side by side with boundaries defined by centuries of distrust for each other and often heightened by physical expressions of that conflict.  And, the most powerful for me, was the intersection of my own life that I live often comfortably removed from this walk of Christ with this entrance into these gates that I had read and heard so much about.  It was almost surreal, as if I was being compelled to live the past and at the same time walk headlong into my future.  Because it is easy to say that one follows Christ.  But where are you when the crowd enters into this city where you don’t feel unsafe but you don’t feel at ease?  Intersections are indeed places of faith, places where God meets you, places where you have to choose to follow or not.

The Palm Sunday Road
Taken February, 2010

Most of us love the Palm Sunday passage.  We like waving our palms and processing into the sanctuary as we did this morning.  We like being a part of this Hosanna crowd.  But this is no ordinary parade.  Winding down the narrow Palm Sunday Road from Mt. Olivet through the Garden of Gethsemane, there is no room for bystanders, no room for those of us that want to just see it and then sneak off through the olive trees.  The road is steep and propels us forward toward the Eastern gate of the city.

In their book “The Last Week”, Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, contend that this was one of two parades.  The other was a grand and glorious Roman royal military parade coming into the Western gate.   The juxtaposition of these two processions would have set up quite a contrast.  Once came as an expression of empire and military occupation whose goal was to make sure oppressed people did not find deliverance.  It approached the city using horses, brandishing weapons, proclaiming the power of the empire.  The other procession, using a donkey and laying down cloaks and branches along the road, was coming quietly, profoundly proclaiming the peaceful reign of God.  Their contention is that our whole Palm Sunday “celebration”, as we call it, was a parody of the world as we know it, a satirical reminder that we are different.

Now whether you adhere to the notion of the two parades or not, I think it’s a powerful reminder to us what this processional of palms really meant.  Jesus had already made a name for himself from even as far away as Galilee.  But this was the city, the bustling intersection of Roman occupation and religious doctrine.  And when Jesus entered through the Eastern gate with his funny little entourage brandishing palms, even that was proclaiming blasphemous ideals (because remember that it had been prophesied that the Messiah would enter through the Eastern Gate, also known as the Messiah’s Gate and the Golden Gate).

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. The Lord said to me: This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.  (Ezekiel 44: 1-3)

Street in Jerusalem
Taken February, 2010

So once they had entered this gate, this “parade” that we celebrate would have been on a clear collision course with power and might and the way things were in the world.  Once they had walked into the city, these two worlds, these two ways of being, would have collided.  It is easy for us to stand on the side and wave our palm branches but Palm Sunday thrusts us into something else.  It is an intersection of Galilee and Jerusalem, of Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ Passion, of establishment and holy rebellion, of the ways of society and the Way of Christ.  This Palm Sunday processional, if we stay with it, thrusts us into Holy Week.  That is the reason that this is known as Palm / Passion Sunday.  You cannot disconnect the two notions.  This Way just keeps moving.  Where are you in the crowd?  The Way of Christ has turned toward the Cross.  Will you follow or go back to what you were doing?

On this day we joyously follow the crowd
Palms in hand and praises fair
Unaware that just inside the city gate
Worlds collide and tempers flare.
And we are faced with the choice
Between silent acquiescence and faith portrayed
For one will pacify the world we know
And one will take us farther along Christ’s Way.


As we enter this holiest of weeks, we must decide whether or not to follow.

Grace and Peace in Holiest of Weeks,

Shelli