Three reflections on the woman with the alabaster jar (Matthew 26, Mark 14; Luke 7, John 12)

Mary anoints the feet of jesus by Frank Wesley

Mary Anoints the Feet of Jesus by Frank Wesley

Anointing by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Beloved,
may everything I do today
be my anointing of you;
every thought, word and deed
a pouring out of myself for you,
a gift of service, adoration and thanks.

May every act comfort you,
receive your sacred story,
join me to you in your suffering,
embrace your dying
and prepare for what will follow.
In your death may you be wrapped
in the balm of my own heart.

Give me courage to give my gifts
no matter how others may judge them.
May my life give off the aroma
of gratitude and love.
Accept the anointing of my tears,
my prayers, my being.
In your love
I carry the alabaster jar of my life
into this new day.

Why This Waste? by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
The oil is poured
The criticism comes
even while the scent is still thick in the air

Why this waste?

Why worship?
Why take the time?
Why spend the money?
The poor, remember the poor
There’s so much work to be done

Yes beloved, remember
Remember the poor and remember her
The way is And not Or
Worship and Work
Loving God and Loving Neighbor
Looking Up and Looking Out For
The cross-shaped life

The work doesn’t work without the worship
The worship’s unfinished without the work

Pour Forth by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
There… beyond the feasting circle
A woman
Who are you? What is your story?
No name, no voice
Yet coming close with your gifts

Some are easy to see
An alabaster jar full of exotic perfume
Boldly broken,
And you pour forth more gifts
Out pours your heart
Your adoration
Your gratitude
Your passion
Your sacrifice
The air is thick with your story
It oozes down your Beloved’s beard, pooling on his callused hands

The shattering brings the circle silent
The aroma, meant for all to enjoy
Instead draws an angry answer
They will not bear your story

Cutting remarks fly at you through the fragrant veil
Indignant daggers thrust into your offering
How dare you! Who do you think you are?
Too generous
Too extravagant
Too intimate
We have a better way
Such a waste… code for waste her
Shatter her spirit
Quick, to the stones
A broken body is the cure

Stop! Leave her alone declares the Anointed One!
Misspent? Misused?
No! You misunderstand!
You miss the mark!
She did what she could- all that she could
Balming my body for burial

You have loved Me
Censing my sacrifice
Grace made fragrant
An act beyond words
A silent song for the ages

Pour forth

It is blessing. It is beautiful.
You are blessing. You are beautiful.

Soak it in

You there, religious ones
You berate, rebuke and bombard
While she… she breaks open
She breaks through bearing the Good News

Your words will fall forgotten
Her story will stand… remembered

***********
The anointing of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospels and probably recounts two different events. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8

Matthew, Mark, and John mention the location of Bethany and the woman as Mary, the sister of Matha and Lazarus. Mary is criticized for the extravagance of anointing Jesus with the costly nard rather than selling it and the proceeds given to the poor.

In Luke, the location seems to be in the region of Galilee in the north. The woman is unnamed. Jesus himself is brought into question and criticized for allowing a sinner to touch him.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ head is anointed. In Luke and John it is Jesus’ feet.

The details are interesting, but do not miss the main points- the extravance, the courage, the thanksgiving, the grace, the blessing, the welcome. This is why we remember.

Pour Forth

anointing-jesus-stained-glass1Pour Forth
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

There… beyond the feasting circle
A woman
Who are you? What is your story?
No name, no voice
Yet coming close with your gifts

Some are easy to see
An alabaster jar
full of exotic perfume
Boldly broken,
And you pour forth more gifts
Out pours your heart
Your adoration
Your gratitude
Your passion
Your sacrifice
The air is thick with your story
It oozes down your Beloved’s beard, pooling on his callused hands

The shattering brings the circle silent
The aroma, meant for all to enjoy
Instead draws an angry answer
They will not bear your story

Cutting remarks fly at you through the fragrant veil
Indignant daggers thrust into your offering
How dare you! Who do you think you are?
Too generous
Too extravagant
Too intimate
We have a better way
Such a waste… code for waste her
Shatter her spirit
Quick, to the stones
A broken body is the cure

Stop! Leave her alone declares the Anointed One!
Misspent? Misused?
No! You misunderstand!
You miss the mark!
She did what she could- all that she could
Balming my body for burial

You have loved Me
Censing my sacrifice
Grace made fragrant
An act beyond words
A silent song for the ages

Pour forth

It is blessing. It is beautiful.
You are blessing. You are beautiful.

Soak it in

You there, religious ones
You berate, rebuke and bombard
While she… she breaks open
She breaks through bearing the Good News

Your words will fall forgotten
Her story will stand… remembered

*********
I am indebted to my friends Jan Richardson and Garrison Doles for their inspiration and encouragement. Their offerings at a retreat on the anointing of Jesus from Mark 14:1-11 broke open this poem for me. I encourage you to learn more about their powerful and faithful ministries. – Lisa <><

© 2011 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this poem in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for more information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Be sure to also check out the devotion Anointing, by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Click here for a devotion on a similar passage, John 12:1-19

John Day 23: Jesus Predicts His Death

rebirth_by_rev_donald_suigii_liu

Rebirth by Rev. Donald Suigii Liu

Gospel of John Reading Plan
Day 23 Reading
: John 12:20-50

Bringing the Word to Life
Spend some time with your hands in the dirt.
Plant seeds if possible.

Pastor Lisa’s Journal
Scripture
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
-John 12:20 (NRSV)

Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life; that which happened thirty years ago in the womb of the Virgin Mother was happening now, but now it was happening yet more secretly, yet more mysteriously, in the womb of the whole world. Christ had already told those who flocked to hear Him preach that the seed must fall into the earth, or else remain by itself alone. Now the seed of His life was hidden in darkness in order that His life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning.
– Caryll Houselander

Observation
With just a few days before his death, Jesus continues to proclaim his mission. He will choose to die for the salvation of the world.

Application
I have often read this passage as part of graveside services. It is hard to describe the poignancy of hearing these words while encountering the darkness of the cavity, the descent of the casket/urn, the scraping sound of the shovel, and the smell of earth as the hole is covered. Lowering a loved one into the ground is a time of profound sorrow. For some, this is the moment where the death finally becomes real.

In this passage, Jesus tries to make his impending death real to his disciples. He uses images of seeds and soil, a softer image than bodies and graves, but the point is clear. Jesus is facing his death and the disciples can’t imagine it to be true. In his dying, there is sorrow and loss and Jesus wants them to be ready.

Jesus also wants them to be ready for the good of his death. In his dying, there is a loss but there is also gain- forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, salvation, resurrection, new life… That’s how the redeeming love of God works. Good out of evil. Hope out of despair. Life out of death. The gain from Jesus’ death is for now and forever- for us, for others, and for the redemption of all creation. He wants them to be ready for that as well.

In this world sow seeds of righteousness,
and in the Resurrection gather them in.
– Ephraem the Syrian

In Christ, our dying is now like his. Yes, it remains full of human loss, but it is not in vain because of the gain. A Godly gain- divine, eternal, whole. This is true not just in our final dying, but also the dying to self in the present in order to become more Christ-like. What needs to die in me that the fullness of Christ might be gained?

Now we begin to see why repentance is a uniquely Christian path of liberation from self. All great religious traditions recognize that the deepest desire of the human heart is for freedom from inner oppression. We feel “conditioned”: bound by the chains of our habits and compulsions, our likes and dislikes, our fears and guilt, our inability to love. Our great tragedy is that we so often mistake these habits and compulsions for our true self. … Our false self must die, so that we can find our true self, the self which God meant us to be and which he created in his image and likeness. -Irma Zaleski, The Way of Repentance

Prayer
Jesus, what needs to die in me? What needs to be buried forever; planted in the soil of your sacrifice so it will grow into something good that can be shared? Come Good Gardener; use the end of your cross to break open the earth in my soul. Dig deep. In your grace, I surrender to the pain and loss. In your grace, I trust you to bring forth a harvest of forgiveness and new life. How can I thank you enough for redeeming rather than condemning! How can I love you and praise you enough! My hope is grounded in you, now and forever. Amen.

Click Here for a prayer of surrender and hope based on this passage by Steve Garnaas Holmes entitled Seed

Now the Green Blade Riseth by John Macleod Campbell Crum
United Methodist Hymnal #311

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid him, Love whom had been slain,
thinking that He never  would awake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
Jesus who for three days in the grave had lain,
Quick from the dead my risen Christ is seen:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

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For more information on the Gospel of John Reading Plan, click here