**On occasion, we like to share the sermons that our Church Relations Officers share with congregations they visit. We hope that you will enjoy this reflection from this past Sunday as we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week.**
16Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
12Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary 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. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(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.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9When 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. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
John 12: 1-11
We are quickly approaching the end of Lent– a season during which we take time to refocus our lives and seek ways to live out God’s call for us as individuals and as the Church. Some of us might still be struggling as we discern where God’s call will take us while others are pulling the final pieces together, preparing for the Easter journey. This morning though, three-quarters of the way through our Lenten journey, God reminds us that it isn’t our job to make the way — God has already created it for us.
I love the language of the text from Isaiah, especially during this time of year. I have enjoyed checking on the progress of my vegetable seedlings that I planted during the first week of Lent, some are even ready to be transplanted into their larger pots where they will begin to flourish, I hope, and produce food that will feed us through the summer. The bulbs that I planted several months ago, on All Saints Day, have begun blooming one by one and offer their own burst of color along our front steps. As I wrote this, I sat on our back patio enjoying the first truly warm day of the season with the smell of our citronella candle pushing away the memories of ice we broke off of the same table only weeks ago. This is the season for new things to “spring forth”, a season that reminds us that we are to live in the present and no longer dwell on the past.
These two texts, though, offer us an interesting dichotomy. The Old Testament offers us hope and excitement, urging us to jump from our beds when the sunlight begins pouring through our windows at an earlier hour and to stop and admire, and of course Instagram, pictures of the flowers that are pushing through the once hard and cold ground. The New Testament text turns our attention to the impending death of Christ.
In the midst of celebration that Lazarus has been raised from the dead, Mary drops to her knees at the feet of Christ. Mary, one of the first to really grasp what is coming down the road, takes the richest of perfumes and after pouring some on his feet she begins to wipe and massage Christ’s feet with her own hair. This act, anointing Christ’s body with these oils, is one that is typically reserved for after someone dies so that the aromas might cover the smell of the body. This personal and physical act clears the way for the final steps of Christ’s journey.
When Mary begins to anoint Christ’s feet, Judas is appalled. I, however, am left in awe.
Think about it— feet are probably the dirtiest part of our body. Most of our sweat exits our body through our feet. Day after day, our feet sit enclosed in old and dirty shoes or, now that the weather is warming up, they are exposed to all kinds of dirt and germs as we walk barefoot or in sandals.
Mary, however, recognizes the incredible things that feet allow us to do— the incredible things that the feet of Christ have allowed him to do.
Christ’s feet have wandered through the desert, climbed mountains, crossed (and walked on) the waters, woven through towns, entered the homes of those who are ignored and forgotten and soon they will carry Christ up the mountain to his death. When the others still aren’t getting it, Mary does and so she kneels at those feet which have walked the pathways cleared by God, and anoints them not just with oil but with her own body.
As I picture Mary wrapping her hair around Christ’s feet, I remember the many old movies and books that I have seen in which the young girl or woman sits at the vanity and brushes her hair 100 times before she goes to bed. Or the TV commercials that play up the nourishing qualities of a shampoo or conditioner, as well as the reaction that individuals have to the healthy look of hair. Emphasis is put on length, thickness, and color of hair as actors and actresses walk the red carpet, as bachelorettes line up and wait to receive a rose, and even as exhausted mothers weave their way through the grocery store aisles. A person’s hair is what makes them beautiful. A person’s hair makes a statement about who they are. Mary made the statement that she puts Christ before everyone and anything else. Mary let go of the former things and began down the path that God cleared for her, helping to clear the way for Christ.
I wonder, if this story were written today, what would it look like?
If we were playing the role of Mary, what would we do?
That is the challenge; that is the road that has been cleared for us today.
More than bulbs and vegetables, more than bees and longer days– this final portion of the Lenten season ushers in opportunities for us to kneel with Mary at Christ’s feet, anointing Christ with our life.
Last week I had the opportunity to discuss the changing landscape of ministry with two different churches, one large and one small. In both instances the churches were seeking answers, seeking a new path of ministry that appropriately responds to the world today while staying true to their faith. It is in these Holy conversations that we find the opportunity to kneel at Christ’s feet and look with Christ down the path that God has cleared for us.
As we begin to move from Lent into Easter, celebrating the resurrected Christ, our path might look similar to what it was before– maybe with an extra stop or two or maybe we have wandered through the overgrowth and found another path to take as we answer God’s call. This morning, no matter where we are in our journey, let us remember that God has already cleared a way for us.
As we make our way down God’s path, how will we anoint Christ’s life in such a way that it is as if we were wiping his feet with our own hair and the most precious of perfumes?
Smiling at our neighbor.
Praying with the brokenhearted.
Offering a bottle of water to the homeless person on the corner.
Working side by side with congregations in our community.
Welcoming the stranger at our table.
Walking with another, gaining new perspective through their feet and eyes.
Throwing a ball with the child who sits on the step alone.
Putting our phones down so that we can really come together around the table.
Welcoming differing opinions rather than taking them as an attack.
Seeking the positive in what is seen as the negative.
LOVING ONE ANOTHER AS CHRIST TAUGHT US, AS GOD LOVES US.
God did make a way for us in the wilderness so that we might move forward, and that way has been shown to us by Christ. As Christ nears the end of this part of his journey, he leaves with us the most important lesson of all and one that is exemplified by Mary in this particular text– love one another.
In all that Christ has done up to this point, he has preached and shown that we are called to love one another. In so many cases these lessons might have seemed unattainable– for the disciples, for the people on the mountainside, and for us. Mary, however, shows us what loving one another means. Mary shows us one of the most physical acts of love, apart from Christ’s death on the cross.
Mary takes her hair and anoints Christ’s feet– she shows ultimate love for Christ in all that he has done, and in all that he is about to do. Mary, having listened and heard what Christ has been saying, shows us what is needed to complete the journey. When so many listened but had yet to hear what Christ was saying, Mary gave her life to Christ who would soon die for her and everyone else. When so many stood around in wonder and confusion, Mary showed that she understood and took the first step with Christ toward his ultimate lesson, his ultimate sacrifice.
Tresemme might add body to our hair but opening and giving our lives to God, anointing Christ with our life, will not only change us, but it will change the world.
In this final portion of Lent, which flowers are springing up in your path so that you might bring them to the cross on Easter? What opportunities will you take advantage of so that you might anoint Christ with your life?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer