Sunday Service 3rd April
Prayer of approach
Loving and living Lord,
as we welcome you into our midst
we call upon you to hallow this time:
that we may know your blessing
and you may know our devotion;
that we may know your will
and you may know our willingness;
Open our hearts to be transformed
by the new thing you are doing,
so that our lives may proclaim
the extravagance of your love for all.
We confess, Anointed One,
that we excuse ourselves
from reaching out to those who need your care.
We take your words – that there will always be unmet needs –
as a reason not to try to meet the needs we can.
Forgive us, and help us to change.
Renew our determination to live
as faithful followers, faithful disciples, faithful Christians.
Help us to work with you for the well-being of your creation,
that the fortunes of all your peoples may be restored.
Loving God, how lavishly you pour out
the costly gift of your grace upon us.
Fill our homes and our lives
with the fragrance of your love,
so that we may show your glory
and serve your people.
And now in the words Jesus himself taught, let’s say together Our Father…
What do you make of today’s passage?
It’s well known, and a version of the events is usually read sometime during either Lent or Holy Week.
Do you think it’s a bit weird? Washing someone else’s feet? Yeugh!
Using a pint – a pint! – of expensive perfume! And forbye that, so expensive it cost about a year’s wages! Aye right.
And then there is the snidey remark about Judas being a thief as well as the betrayer of Jesus. What’s that all about?
And what about Jesus’ saying about the poor? What is he meaning here?
It is all a bit odd.
It’s nothing like the parties on the Back Road, at least so I’m told.
Can you see yourself in the story? Or is it all a bit too different to your experience to identify with anyone?
If you find it all a bit unexpected and unusual, then I think that those who were there did so too.
It wasn’t like an ordinary dinner party.
It was unusual that someone would use such a costly amount of perfume to clean someone’s feet.
It was unusual that Jesus would put a downer on the proceedings by talking about his death.
It was unusual that he would engage in an argument over dinner with one of his disciples.
But what was most unusual was who did the anointing. Mary anointed Jesus.
Now if you think about it, this is most unusual in Scripture. Men anoint other men – for example, Samuel anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king.
But here, it is Mary a woman, who anointed Jesus. And she used her hair to do that. She let down her hair to do it – with all the connotations of wild, gay abandonment that goes with that act.
What we should remember is it was a party – a celebration, so perhaps it was wise to expect the unexpected.
It may be useful to set some context for this story.
Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. He knows what is coming, even if his friends and companions refuse to see it or acknowledge it.
We know that the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
And we know that Jesus had just brought Lazarus back from the dead, revealing a power and authority that threatened their own religious and political control, so they were now determined that Jesus should die.
Jesus knew that the end was coming.
So it was with this context that Jesus visited his friends in Bethany, and they prepared a feast for him.
We don’t know why the meal was held. But it was shortly after the raising of Lazarus. Was it a thanksgiving? A celebration? We don’t know, but we are led to believe it was special, as they prepared a dinner “for him”.
We don’t know everybody who was there. We do know Lazarus, Martha and Mary were there, as was Judas. But who else? All the disciples or some of them?
We know that Martha helped to serve the meal, but who else did? We’re not told.
Nor are we told who prepared the meal – only that “they” prepared a dinner.
And then Mary makes her extravagant gesture.
She holds nothing back and saves nothing for another day or a better time or the proper context.
She washes Jesus’ feet with a perfume to the value of a year’s wages.
And receives affirmation from Jesus.
Why did she do it? What did she mean by it?
It was a lavish gesture of unreserved devotion. She threw aside all caution and practicality in an extravagant, outrageous social act.
It’s like the prodigal’s father who threw aside his dignity and ran to meet his returning son: kissing and hugging him and later begging his elder son to come to the party.
The father pours out his extravagant love on both his sons like Mary pours perfume on Jesus’ feet.
Mary, intuitively seeing more deeply than the disciples who still hope to find themselves on the inside of a new empire, gives expression to a powerful impulse arising within her. She sees Jesus and understands the power of his vulnerability.
She can’t find words to say it and so pours a fortune in purest nard on his feet. Its’ fragrance fills the house.
Mary senses the faithfulness of Christ and pours herself out in gratitude.
And Judas does not.
Judas gets it spectacularly wrong. Judas does not see the anointing of Jesus as precious and special. He sees it as a waste. He can only see the financial cost of the gesture.
Perhaps he wants to be seen as pious and caring for the poor – whatever, we will never know.
Jesus then makes a statement, which to our ears can sound unexpected from him.
He says, “You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me.”
To some, this can seem to be dismissive of poor people. Some hear, “Never mind the poor. There will always be poor people. But you won’t always have me.”
But this is not what the people at the table would have heard.
They would have heard “You always have the poor with you…” in the same way that we hear “Do unto others…”
You see, Jesus was rebuking Judas’ protest by quoting Torah—Deuteronomy 15:11, to be exact.
This commandment begins “You always have the poor with you,” but finishes “Therefore I command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’”
In other words, this is not a missed opportunity to serve the poor and needy; the call to care for the poor is constant.
It never ceases.
In fact, if we are called to love Jesus without limit or calculation when he is with us, then we are called to the same limitless and uncalculated extravagance when the poor are with us.
Which is always.
So, what does this mean for us?
God can be found in the unexpected.
Where are the unexpected places in our lives that God can be seen at work?
Who are the unexpected people we meet who God works through?
God can use surprising situations and people to do his work of love.
Go out into the world, and look for traces of the unexpected God, the one who shows up where you least expect it.
And always working in love.
as we wait upon you now
- as we listen for your voice in the silence of hearts
and as we offer our prayers to you
- we think of those people in our lives
who have loved us with a generous love
-- we think of those who like Mary
- have not counted the cost of what they have given us;
and we thank you for them
- and ask you to bless them
-- and for you to make us like them.
Bless O God those in our midst and those around the world
known to us who have a special need;
whom we name in
our hearts before you at this time;
May we bring your love and care.
We pray for those who poor
for those who are poor in the basic needs of daily living;
and for those who are poor in love;
May we be bold in showing our love.
We pray for those who need healing or hope in their lives,
those who need justice,
and those who require mercy.
May they know your compassion.
We pray for those who are suffering war or oppression,
especially the people of Ukraine and all the places
where war is a constant but are out of the headlines,
Embolden the peacemakers and surround them with your care.
We thank you God for hearing us - and for answering us - We thank you in
the name of Jesus, Amen.