On Sunday March 13th our local preacher Rosemary Green led worship at Wesley Chapel. The Lenten introduction focussed on Sanctuary. The next candle was extinguished for war and oppression. We then sang ‘Praise to the holiest in the height’ before Rosemary led the opening prayers of praise, confession and the Lord’s Prayer. We sang ‘Come divine interpreter’ before we heard the readings from Isaiah 43.16-21 and Psalm 126 and 2 Corinthians 9.6-15 and sang, ‘Behold the servant of the Lord.’
Rosemary reminded us that it was Passion Sunday, when we think especially of the last week of Jesus’ life. The set reading was anointing of Jesus by Mary. Sometime previously Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. After the great miracle Jesus had retreated into the desert, as he was determined not to be arrested till the time of the Passover. John 12.1-8 was read.
Rosemary told us how the setting of the gospel reading was quite an occasion when Jesus returned to the place of the remarkable miracle. All would have been overjoyed to see Jesus. In the other gospels the meal was held at the home of Simon the leper. Had he been a leper cured by Jesus? In Matthew and Mark the woman was not named, but otherwise it must be the same woman. A village party was not just for the family, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Martha was the practical sister who bustled around doing things as usual. Lazarus, who had previously been declared dead, was eating normally with the guests. Rosemary wondered what Mary was doing; was she sitting at Jesus’ feet? She knew when Jesus needed rest and relaxation. Mary was not a practical person like her sister Martha but chose a strange way to show gratitude to Jesus for having restored Lazarus to life; she broke open a bottle of nard and made an exhibition of herself, literally letting her hair down, behaving like a shameless hussy. There were murmurings of criticism towards Mary for pouring the nard on Jesus’ feet and drying them with her hair. Judas spoke of the waste; the money could have helped the poor. A lot of us would have sympathy with that reaction. What was the point of it? Mary had to show her love and gratitude in the best way she possibly could. She was anointing Jesus’ body before his death, as the shadow of death was over him. What a waste or was it?
In the past the number of flowers at a funeral measured personal affluence, but nowadays we are more practical with family flowers only and those who want to show their respect can give to a specified charity. At Christmas people often spend less on presents for others, choosing to send gifts to charity to help those far off in desperate need. Sometimes we see flowers at places of a road accident for years. What is the point? Jesus rebuked Judas and Mary’s other critics telling them to leave her alone, as she had done what she could to show her love. What better way was there to express her love now than to wait for his death? It is better to give a button hole to a friend than lay a wreath on his grave; to visit a person and not wait for his death. Judas was not really bothered about the poor, but he was the treasurer. Was it this particular episode that pushed Judas over into the act of betrayal? It did not stop him from bargaining to sell Jesus, as money was important to Judas. Jesus accepted Mary’s gift in the way it was given to anoint him for burial; he could not be anointed after death as he rose from the death. We are being challenged on our giving; to give and give again and again to God and not to count the cost; to God who gave all for us. Must I keep on giving again and again? No, just give till the master stops giving to you! Mary offered a gift thanking Jesus for Lazarus’ life and offering her love and devotion to Jesus.
We sang ‘My God I love thee not because I hope for heaven thereby’. Rosemary led the prayers of thanksgiving and intercessions. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘Take my life.’