St. Mary Nanoose Bay
April 7, 2019
Most of us of us wake up slowly, it may take years for us to realize the kingdom of God within and around us. As we meditate and observe and engage with life around us, we get glimpses of the divine. And slowly build an awareness of God permeating all we see, all we hear and all we know. For many, it takes loss, or the fear of loss, to wake us up to what we really have and are. And even those moments of insight, realization, awe and wonder can soon be rationalized away or forgotten over time.
In today’s gospel reading we learn of Mary; the Mary who is the sister of Lazarus; Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, whom Jesus has recently brought back to life after being dead for several days. This Mary has woken up to the reality of who Jesus is. She takes something costly, something she has been saving for the future, and in an act of extravagance, anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume meant for the preparation of a body for burial. She blows the equivalent of a year’s wages for a labourer of that time in an outrageous expression of love for Jesus.
To many, this just doesn’t compute. Judas speaks for many of us, “What a waste! This money could have made a big difference in the lives of the poor!” In other words, “Hey! Let’s be thoughtful and always keep in mind those who are less well off than we are!” (Of course the author of this passage gives us the insider view that Judas is only appearing to be caring; he is, in fact, not only going to betray Jesus, he is also a thief who steals from the common purse!)
Mary is in the company of many saints who share her seemingly reckless way of expressing love for her teacher in the 2000 years since he died: I always think of Francis of Assisi who gave up a privileged lifestyle to become a simple and faithful monk, challenging the church to return to her roots. Or, countless others who have given up prestige, power, wealth and position to serve the poor. Does anyone come to your mind?
Back to Mary and her expensive perfume. Did she know where Jesus was headed? Did she know what he was about to give up? Jesus was about to undergo the most lonely and unbearable torture imaginable, and Mary’s expression of love was her gift to him, her expression of support. And yes, she was one who made sure to stay with him until the end, and beyond. But more on that come Easter!
Jesus seems to know Mary’s heart. He accepts her outpouring of love. And, in my imagination, Jesus snaps at Judas whose heart is not on his sleeve like Mary, but in the dark, “Leave her alone, you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Something unique is about to happen. Literally a once-in-a-lifetime event in the history of the world, is about to occur. And Mary must have intuited this. Something is moving her to honour her teacher and master in this usual and extravagant way. Mary is responding to Jesus love for her and her family in a way that acknowledges a deep truth, I think - that while we can’t control or even know the future, we can give thanks for, and in, the moment. And sometimes that gratitude overwhelm us and spill out of us spontaneously and exuberantly. We may feel moved to dance, sing, cook, serve, be lavish and generous with what we have and who we are.
This is a wonderful story for Lent, where we are asked not to do like Judas, and hide the darkness of our hearts and pretend to be pious for the approval and acceptance of the world, but to look at what is holding us back from giving, really expressing our love for God and neighbour.
I can think of so many experiences I’ve had of this lavish expression of love, not in the way some people try and impress each other with their status and wealth, but in a way that really celebrates life and shows deep welcome and appreciation. When Jim and I were married, for our honeymoon we took a road trip in a rental car with camping gear for a month. We ended up in Appalachia where Jim had lived for several summers and been ordained a Roman Catholic deacon in a predominantly non Roman Catholic community. The welcome and acceptance he received profoundly impacted him and he wanted me to meet these people. So we did. We arrived at Bud and Bertie’s unannounced and were greeted so warmly and enthusiastically that I almost felt uncomfortable. I mean, did they know me?! Bud and Bertie insisted we sleep in the master bedroom, their room, because after all, “wasn’t it our honeymoon?!” This was a 2 bedroom house, no insulation to speak of, cracks in the wall. This was home where they had raised their 3 children and now took care of Bertie’s mom. These people were terribly poor by our standards yet there wasn’t a hint of shame. That house was simply full of love, generosity, music and delicious home-style cooking. They put on a lavish party for us. Day after day. They wouldn’t let us leave! And we weren’t allowed to contribute a thing! They were simply delighted and honoured that we’d come to visit them on our honeymoon. After six days, we slipped away when everyone was out of the house for the morning. We simply had to make our get away. They were never going to let us leave!
Again, last summer in Belgium. Our first night walking from the south of Holland on our way to France. Exhausted, with both our phones not working, we had knocked on the only door in a small town that our guide book said welcomed pilgrims. We were turned away; in our limited French we understood her saying she had company coming, her grandchildren. But after sitting on a bench outside their door by the river trying to muster the strength to walk another 5 km to the next village, we suddenly heard a hiss and turned to see a man waving us in to the same house we had been turned away from. Within minutes we were being plied with food and beer, and later, a veritable feast and a night in the nicest and most comfortable room of our whole trip. The next morning, when we thanked our hosts for their warm and generous welcome, what we understood them to say was, “Well, you’re pilgrims….. but please, please don’t tell others what happened here last night!”
And closer to home, we have our reading from last week, the parable of the prodigal son whose father throws a lavish party when he returns home after squandering his inheritance. Others, like the older son, don’t understand, they don’t think it’s right, it doesn’t make sense.
But does love make sense? Does a God who lets the sun shine on everyone make sense? Love doesn’t make sense. Or you could say, it makes complete sense! And so we celebrate it whenever we can.
Jesus came to show us the way back to love, to life, to relationship with our loving Creator.
And so this morning, let us come to the meal of extravagant love, come prepared to have your heart opened, softened and changed. And may you leave the table longing to share this love freely and fully with others.