The Gospel: John 12:1-8
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."
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Today we are looking at the story of another Mary. We are in the Gospel of John and we encounter the family of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. We are at their home and Jesus and his disciples are sitting down to eat a meal together.
John takes the time to set the scene for us. Six days before the Passover. At this time in the history of the Jews, they marked a historic moment in their story by coming together for a very special meal. The Passover meal was designed to retell the story of the last of the plagues that happened before Pharoah allowed Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. They, and we, remember that the people of Israel painted their door frames of their homes in Egypt with the blood of a lamb and the angel of death passed over their homes. After this last miracle, the Pharoah allowed Moses to lead the people out of their bondage. But only after the sacrifice of a lamb, and the shadow of death in the community.
In Jesus' time, the participants at the Passover meal marked that historic event by a very careful acting out of the events of the first Passover and speaking about the significance of the elements of the meal.
It is almost as though John is taking the time to set the stage for what is coming. Jesus sits down with his disciples to eat and share a meal when suddenly everything is shaken up and all the focus of the evening is on Mary. In an act of great sacrifice, Mary anoints Jesus' feet with precious oil and then wipes Jesus' feet with her hair.
It seems to me that this would have been a very tender moment. We don't immediately know why Mary has this precious gift, but we can see that she is willing to express her devotion to Jesus by pouring the oil over his feet. Then she humbly wipes his feet with her hair.
That act of humble devotion is suddenly interrupted when Judas inserts himself into the situation. He declares for everyone to hear that this is a waste of a precious gift. He then declares that the gift should have been used for the poor.
Jesus rebukes Judas and explains that Mary has purchased this oil as an anointing gift for the time of his death. We may never know why Mary chose to anoint Jesus at this time. But it was certainly part of what was happening in preparing Jesus for his coming death. The real issue is that this was an act of personal sacrifice. Mary seeks to provide comfort in an act of loving sacrifice, an act of self-denial.
So as we read this story this morning and as we consider our own lives in the light of Lent what might we glean from this event?
You will remember last week that we briefly looked at The Prayer at the beginning of the Ash Wednesday Service. I would like to invite us to examine Mary's actions in the light of that prayer.
The third section of The Prayer from the Ash Wednesday service says:
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.
This morning I want to remind us of what I talked about last week as I encouraged us all to consider our spiritual health and well-being to consider what spiritual practices we might engage in this Lent.
As I said last week I believe that if we are to develop and strengthen these spiritual practices we need to engage in them in some way on a regular, if not daily basis.
So, I am going to ask us all a question for today: "What acts of self-denial or self-sacrifice are you willing to consider this week?"
I would like to repeat the section of the prayer from the Ash Wednesday service:
"I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word."
As we reflect on Mary's actions in pouring the oil over Jesus' feet and then wiping those same feet with her hair we could see this as a spontaneous reaction or response.
But there is a part of me that wants to believe it was because she was engaged in a life of spiritual practice that led her to recognize what her response should be.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, in this season of Lent, help us overcome the fear of denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and losing our attachment to these worldly lives.
We pray for courage, like that of Saint George.
Courage to surrender all to God; courage to forgo worldly distractions and so be fully present for your loving grace; courage born of an unquenchable desire for You, Oh God, a thirst overcoming our fear.
We pray also, that, like your servant Blandina, we might come to rest in that place where there is no fear.
We pray to find rest in the awareness of who we truly are in Christ as everything false is stripped away, living in union with You, Oh Holy One, letting your will be done in all things.
And we pray, oh Lord, that by your grace, as we die to our worldly self, rising in Christ’s glory within Your eternal Kingdom, that we may gladly bear our cross in the way of Jesus, sharing the Peace and Joy of Christ with the world.