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.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Welcome to our first hybrid church service since August 29, 2021. We had that two month stint of hybrid but other than that it has been two years of relatively low in person contact with one another as a church body. The moments where I see someone at the grocery store or walking around the lake have been bright points during this period of isolation. So while I know we are still working on everyone feeling safe, I can say that the beginning of being in person is a gift. A gift that we have been waiting for and waiting for, for a long time! There is something special about connecting in person, something a hug can accomplish that has no parallels online. In the coming days and weeks, as we start to feel more comfortable (and hopefully as the virus continues to decline) we will have more and more opportunities to be an incarnate people, living breathing and hugging people. A chance to use our five senses – fully embodied with one another.
As I was reflecting on this joy this week it reminded me of being a child and nervously waiting for Christmas morning. I always did my best to try and be asleep by like 5pm on Christmas Eve with the hopes of making the dawn arrive sooner. But I never waited until dawn, I would get up early with my brother – 3 or 4am and go and just look at the presents. I was so eager to rip into those gifts. The waiting was such a struggle. And today I feel like I am finally, finally getting to open that gift of joy!
This joy comes at the end of what has felt like a 2 year Lenten season. What started in March 2020 has continued to ravage our world today. That feeling on Ash Wednesday as we face our mortality and each Sunday of Lent as we journey with Jesus on his way to the cross, we recognize the fragility and preciousness of life. We know what it is like to gather with friends like Jesus in this story as we recognize that death is all around us – from wars to pandemics to racism. We all know those moments of joy of gathering with loved ones even as we feel hopeless or afraid of all that is going on.
Our story from John today seems very relatable to the situation we find ourselves in today. Mary and Martha had been in deep mourning just days earlier as their brother Lazarus had died. Jesus wept for their pain, even as he raised Lazarus from the dead. The group’s mourning turned into joy. And as they made their way toward Jerusalem they began to hear warnings that Herod was planning on killing Jesus. Joy back into mourning. Jesus knew where he was headed and most of the people around him at that dinner table recognized that death was right in front of him – because you don’t challenge the Roman Empire and enter the capital city of the region and expect them to be ready to welcome you in with open arms.
Once again, I think we can relate to the opening and closing of the pandemic as we move forward, knowing the joy or opening and the pain of closing again. We know the hopes and the longing for something better. We recognize that we need one another and we have waited and waited to regather safely.
And it is into these precious moments of interaction, of gathering, of dinner that Mary enters with her perfume to remind them all of their call to live into God’s world – a world of extravagant love and abundance. This moment becomes a sacred ritual to celebrate the love they have for one another and to prepare their hearts for the terrible days ahead. And into this moment I was reminded of the beautiful symmetry in this passage of Mary’s acts to Jesus’ acts by theologian Debie Thomas. She says, “Just as Jesus later breaks bread with his disciples, Mary breaks open the jar in her hands, allowing its contents to pour freely over Jesus’s feet. Just as Jesus later washes his disciples’ feet to demonstrate what radical love looks like, Mary expresses her love with her hands and her hair. Just as Jesus later offers up his broken body for the healing of all, Mary offers up a costly breaking in order to demonstrate her love for her Lord.” (Debie Thomas, “Beauty and Breaking.”)
This act of brazen beauty and excessive love has something to teach us today. Mary has spent time learning at Jesus’ feet about the preciousness of life and the need to celebrate any and all joys. Mary knows to spare nothing in loving one another. So as we regather again, as we struggle with distancing and hybrid, as we open the gifts of this new season, as we remind ourselves how to be human together – let us enter these spaces with brazen beauty and excessive love for one another. Let us break open the good wine at dinner. Let us invite our friends over for a dinner party. Reach out to a friend who is hurting and offer your time and ears. Cradle the new baby in the family. Spare no expense in providing healing and care. Do not waste a single moment. Jesus celebrates that Mary has learned how to love abundantly and encourages all of us to do the same! Mary invites us to celebrate all moments with spontaneous love and generosity right now! Let us go opening the gifts before us, with all the love we have, for each precious moment. Amen.