Sermon St Mary 3rd April 2022 Passiontide begins Anointing at Bethany
Isaiah 43v16-21 Psalm126 Responsory Philippians 3v4b-14 John 12v1-8
Let us Pray:
Today, in the Church calendar, it is the start of Passiontide, that time when we follow the events in the life of our Lord Jesus that build up to his crucifixion and resurrection, that pivotal turning point in all of history. This morning we shall focus on that most lovely of stories, the anointing of Jesus by Mary in the house of Simon the Leper at Bethany.
Bethany is located about 2 miles from Jerusalem and I have walked that short distance when visiting friends. Bethany seems to have been a very special place for Jesus as he welcomed the friendship of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, as well as their hospitality. I guess Jesus used to stay with them on many occasions when he visited Jerusalem. We know how fond Jesus was of the family, and how he shared in the sister’s grief when their brother Lazarus died, when we read those heartfelt words “Jesus wept”.
Mary and Martha must have been very thankful to the Lord for raising their dead brother, so no wonder they wanted to give him a meal and show their devotion to him. When Mary anointed Jesus’ head and feet, she became the first of his followers to acknowledge his impending death. When some criticised her Jesus says, “leave her alone for she bought it-the anointing oil-so that she might keep it for the day of my burial (Jn 12v6 NRSV). And for this beautiful and costly act Jesus recognised that Mary would always be remembered for it.
Have you ever asked yourself what was that costly Nard that Mary used?
It is a hardy herb of the Valerian family that grows in the foothills of the Himalayas from which an aromatic amber-coloured essential oil is derived. It would have reached Jerusalem via Persia, either as a dried root or as an oil extract. It would have taken a long time to extract the volume of nard that Mary had in her alabaster flask, so no wonder it was very costly. Some estimates equate the cost to a years wages for a working man, such was Mary’s great love for Jesus as she symbolically anointed him for his impending burial.
It has been said that “you can sacrifice and not love, but you cannot love and not sacrifice”. Within just a few days Jesus was to make the most costly sacrifice that the world has ever, or will ever, see. He was to shed his most precious blood on Calvary’s tree so that, as the psalmist puts it (ps103), “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us”. That is the ‘gospel’ and that is indeed ‘good news’ for each one of us.
Perhaps this should wake us up, and especially during this time of Lent, to ask “What have we sacrificed for Jesus?” And further, “what may we still need to sacrifice for our Lord in order to walk as one of his faithful disciples?”
But for many here the sacrifices that you have made over the years out of your love for the Lord Jesus, will have released the beautiful fragrance of Christ to those around you, and that will have touched their lives deeply.
As disciples we are all called to take up our cross, whatever that cross may be, and to follow our Lord and Master, knowing that he will ever be with us along our pilgrim way.
But not all those at supper shared that same deep love that Mary and Martha had for our Lord Jesus. “Why was this ointment wasted?” was the cry from some there with Jesus at supper. Have you noticed that in his gospel, Saint John shows a considerable dislike for Judas who was soon to betray Jesus. Perhaps this strong dislike stemmed from John’s intense love for the Lord, and so he found it difficult to comprehend just how anyone could not share that love. This especially after having spent so much time together with Jesus over the previous two to three years.
Perhaps this reminds us of that time just a few months earlier in Jesus ministry, when at Jerusalem for the feast of dedication-Hanukah, during December of AD 29, Jesus and the disciples had to make a quick escape after Jesus healed the man born blind for some of the ‘religious’ people wished to stone Jesus for blasphemy. Then, sometime later, when Jesus wished to return to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus, and knowing that he could be stoned, Thomas said those wonderful words to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn11v16)
A really close fellowship had developed between Jesus and his disciples, and between most of the disciples themselves. We should ask ourselves this Lenten time, “how close is our walk with our Lord?” And “how close is our fellowship with our fellow believers?” Searching and difficult questions I know, but what did Jesus say to the disciples at the last supper? “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. And how did Jesus sum up those commandments? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself”. We are to ‘Love God and love neighbour’, and that is not the easiest part of being a Christian, but it is what we are all called to do. Learning the difference between ‘like’ and ‘love’ can help us with this struggle.
But let us praise God, He has not left us to do that on our own, He has given to us believers the comforter, the Holy Spirit. We have to learn to allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives, and then God enables us to do the seemingly impossible.