Saturday, March 23, 2013

Have I (shown) told you lately that I love you

Last Sundy's sermon


An elderly couple went to see their parish priest. They were in their 60s and she was feeling taken for granted.

He was a man’s man, ex-navy, not good at showing his emotions.  During one session, the priest asked him, “Do you ever tell your wife that you love her?” “Of course I do”, he said. She looked at him and said in a really sharp voice, “You never tell me you love me!” He looked away from her and looked at the priest: “Yes I do,” he said. “I told her I loved her on our wedding day in 1961.  Nothing’s changed. Once is enough. She doesn’t need telling every day!”

Personally I think it’s probably important to express our love to others a little more regularly than once every 52 years! When Mary expresses her love for Jesus - she does it in such a way that is intimate and beautiful and hints at the  extravegance of the love of God.

Jesus comes to Bethany to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. We have met this family before. There is a warmth and depth in their relationship - Jesus weeps at the grave of Lazarus his friend before He raises him from the dead; He affirms Mary as she sits at His feet to listen and learn.

As they eat, Mary brings in some perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet with it. It’s an odd exchange, yet it is an extravagant exchange of love.  No wonder Judas gets cross - if a Denarius was a average days wage and the perfume that Mary brings was worth around 300 Denarii - that’s a years wages! Much could have been done with those resources to help and support those in need.

The perfume she brings is also utterly extrvagant - made from nard which grew in India and China which made it a luxury item. Nard was also used as a scent for incense burned in the holiest places in the Temple, but also because of it’s powerful scent, it was also used as an embalming spice.

It would have more normal to anoint Jesus’ head - and there are many references in the Bible to anointing the head of royalty with oil or perfume. Starting at the feet was what was done after death as part of the burial rites. But the extravagance continues - Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. This would have been shocking - women wore their hair tied up. Hair was let down as a wife undressed for her husband or as part of the mourning rites. Wiping the perfume away this way was a strange and sensual act but will have basically served to spread the scent around the room.

Mary doesn’t tell Jesus that she loves him - she shows him in a way that could not be misunderstood - it is gentle, passionate and deeply intimate.  By this extravagant act, Mary introduces Jesus to anyone who still doesn't know who he is. She anoints him beforehand for burial, because he will soon be the lamb slain, the crucified Messiah. She carefully and reverently cleanses his feet, because he is the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, who will soon perform the same service for his disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper.  She lovingly bathes his feet because, after the Resurrection (as Mary Magdalene discovered) the opportunity to offer physical comfort and affection to the earthly Jesus will be a thing of the past as he prepares to ascend to his Father in heaven.

By her actions, Mary says, "I would like to introduce Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the suffering, serving Son of Man, the Son of God who, for a little while, gave us the opportunity to sit at his feet. I would like to cherish him for one bright, fragrant moment, before the sewage of hatred and the violence of His trial and crucifixion washes over him and carries him away.

As we baptize Daniel and wash him with water and anoint his head with oil we are entwining his life with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As we do, we are not preparing Daniel like Christ, for his death, but for the life Jesus offers Him always and everywhere filled with extravagant intimate and eternal love.

Mary clearly demonstrates her deep and intimate love of Jesus in actions beyond words. Jesus will do the same and as we turn our faces with him toward Palm Sunday and beyond we are reminded of the unbounded limits that that love would not cross - not even death on a cross could reign it in.

As we turn with Christ to His passion, what in us demonstrates our deep and intimate love for Jesus? What in us demonstrates our love for Him beyond words? Mary’s loving actions point us forward to Jesus who’s love for us takes away the sin of the world and offers us eternal life.

May our love for Jesus not be reserved - spoken of very sparingly occasionally and ecclesiastically only in church - but may our love for Him be like Mary: demonstrated passionately and lavishly in acts of loving kindness wherever and whenever we are, living lives full of going-out-of-our-way-ness, to the economically, socially, spiritually poor as if to Jesus Himself.

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