A Reflection by The Rt Rev’d Denise Ferguson

Our Holy Week journey has begun as we walk in solidarity with Jesus toward the cross. Today, Holy Monday, we remember a selfless, extravagant act of love. I invite you to join with me as we listen once again to the words of John’s Gospel, chapter 12, beginning at the 1st verse.

Mary Anoints Jesus

12 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.”

The Plot to Kill Lazarus

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. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

A Reflection

On the surface all appeared normal, whatever normal looked like in the lives of people who were about to become participants in a world changing event.

Jesus was dining with friends. John’s gospel tells us it was only days from Passover, a major festival in the Jewish calendar. Despite the need for significant preparation, Lazarus, Mary & Martha had opened their doors and welcomed their friend Jesus, and others, to share a meal.

Being a gracious and generous host lies at the heart of Middle Eastern culture. Offering hospitality and sharing food isn’t only about satisfying hunger. It is a powerful act of nourishing relationships.

Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus, Mary & Martha was particularly special. In their greatest hour of need, when Lazarus had died, Jesus had come to them and raised him from the dead.

Lazarus literally owed Jesus his life. And Jesus’ actions had ensured Mary and Martha continued to have a roof over their heads; for without their brother Lazarus, their future would have been highly vulnerable. Opening their doors to Jesus, feeding him and his friends was an act of abundant grace and gratitude.

And while Martha served the meal, Mary once again went beyond the cultural norms, and the usual act of hospitality that saw guests offered water to wash the dust from their feet.

John’s gospel tells us

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.

Mary hadn’t always been a dedicated follower of Jesus. Prior to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Mary had chastised him for not saving her brother. It was only after she had witnessed the miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection that her eyes were opened.

As one commentator wrote,

“Mary responded by coming once again to kneel at the feet of Jesus,
this time with understanding of who he truly was.
In a beautiful act of faith, she broke a costly jar of perfume and anointed Jesus.
In a beautiful expression of humility, she cried at his feet.
In a beautiful moment of repentance, she dried his feet with her own hair.’

In contrast to Mary’s act of selfless, extravagant love, we also hear of Judas and the Chief Priests, who were acting out of selfish interests. Judas acted out of greed. The Chief Priests saw their people turning away and following this prophet. They were desperate to retain their power.

Selfless or selfish: In a few short verses we experience the best and the worst of humanity.

….. and on the surface, all appeared normal, whatever normal looked like in the lives of people who were about to become participants in a world changing event.

Today, at the beginning of a most unusual Holy Week, while the story unfolds as it does every year, we too are participants in a world changing event, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Generations still to come will find our story in their history books.

And no matter how much we would like our world to return to normal, we don’t have that option at the moment. In fact, we don’t know what normal will look like when we emerge from this global lockdown.

However, we do have some choices about how we respond during this crisis, we do have some choices about how we might emerge at the other end. Will the story of humanity be one of selflessness through this time or one of selfishness? Will the continuing story of God’s Salvation history record that we were faithful, humble, repentant followers of Jesus; giving of our best to be gracious, hospitable hosts, nourishing relationships, even from a distance, that had been frayed and fractured by isolation? Or will it tell of a people who were greedy, self-serving, trying to reclaim the status quo by removing difficult obstacles from the path?

Jesus knew that there had to be death before there could be new life. He defended and affirmed Mary’s generous act of love, his anointing, in the face of what was to come. Through Mary’s actions Jesus, as he journeyed toward the cross, felt the touch of a human hand, the bittersweet warmth of a tear, the beauty of love shared abundantly, graciously….…and the fragrance of Mary’s actions lingered long after the gift was given.

I know these are all gifts I long to share with those whom I love and hold dear at this moment, but physically I can’t, and I don’t know when I will be able to do this again, and I grieve that loss.

So, my challenge, and I invite you to join me, is to find ways in which I can reach out and touch another, beyond physical contact, and offer an anointing, a blessing, abundant grace and love in, through and from isolation.

That action may be a prayer, a flower, a candle, a conversation, palms hanging on the front door …. and maybe even writing the story, so that generations to come will hear of the faith and love that sustained us in our hour of trial.

Through our actions in this time of separation, may others experience the beauty of God’s love shared abundantly, graciously, and may the fragrance of our actions linger long after the gift is given. Amen.

Let us pray….

A Prayer for Monday in Holy Week

Lord, you bring us into being and let our lives touch your heart:
may the fragrance of our journey draw us closer to your open heart
and free us from our clinging to the things we can control.
Through Jesus Christ, the passion of God. Amen.

A Blessing

Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with you every step of the way, and be your guide as your road changes and turns, and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you, and those whom you love and pray for this day and always. Amen

Quote: The Unnamed Woman with The Alabaster Jar by Crystal Lutton.
10 January 2015