In today’s gospel reading from John, Mary uses a perfume made of a pound of pure nard to anoint Jesus’ head, and then uses her own hair to dry Jesus’ hair. It is a most personal, most human and individual, up close physical anecdote of Jesus’ life. It is not a story of a person out there, or over there. Instead, it a Jesus next to me, being comforted by an ordinary human being and being comforted like an ordinary human being.
Botanically, Nard, from which the perfume is made, comes from high altitudes in India and Tibet. Even though Nard was expensive, it was available and shows the international, cosmopolitan nature of Jerusalem and Israel in the 1st Century AD. (There rumors of Jesus traveling to Tibet during his ‘lost years’. This is fascinating although highly speculative. But, he could have traveled to Tibet).
Nard comes from a plant which is related to Valerian, a mild sedative, as is Nard. The mood in the room that evening, with Lazarus, the 12 disciples, Jesus, Mary and Martha is one of caring and comfort for the road weary group of scraggly, dusty travelers come to Jerusalem for Passover. They are to share a last supper with Jesus.
This detail seems a small one, and it is a small detail, but it is exactly this type of detail that make the gospel real. Someone in the room that evening would remember the warmth, the love, the glow of disciples seeking Jesus, and seeking and finding God. The smell of nard would also remain a vivid memory in each of their memory, and remains an effective, powerful detail in the story as told. It is the kind of detail that is extremely important to one who was there!
Do you remember of your mother cooking breakfast in the morning, before you were wakened for school? Do you remember what a loved one smells like after they are goner? Smell is a most potent form of memory.
The image of Jesus in a room, lounging, talking, eating and drinking, and also probably laughing or crying, with his disciples, and the heavy smell of Nard in the room, with a small lamp glow on the walls around them-this is an image with which to begin Holy Week.
In less than a week Jesus will be captured, tied and bound, scourged (which is akin to deliberately skinning a live person), dragged through the streets and scorn of Jerusalem and humiliated while nailed to a cross until death. I wish I could have stopped that suffering, as we all wish we could stop all suffering of innocent life, everywhere. We can not at once do this, and have not been able to do so for 2,000 years.
But we, too are comforted, as Jesus was comforted that evening by the presence of his friends and disciples (maybe those two words should become one word). We believe Jesus was comforted by God, as we are also comforted when we call upon God, but it is good and restful to know Jesus, as a human being, was comforted by his close friends, the warmth of the food and wine, and the heavy smell of Nard.
Pray for peace,
Peace Mennonite Church keeps a prayer list for those in need. If you need prayer, or want to e-mail our pastor, e-mail billd @ peacemennonitechurch.net (Take out the extra spaces to use this e-mail—the spaces confuse spam generators).
Pray with us!
We are praying as a church, and attempting to follow the centuries’ old tradition of praying with other Christians three times a day. We are following the prayer liturgy at www.commonprayer.net
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M02 Monday of Holy Week
42Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
5Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
6Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
7How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
10O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
11Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.
11But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
15For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.
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.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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