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The Thin Space Between Mary and Jesus

REV. JODI BARON -March 13, 2016- Lent 5, Year C: John 12:1-8

Mary 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.”

 

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Good morning! It is truly a blessing to see you each this morning. As I was heading to bed last night the thought had crossed my mind, “I wonder who will be the ones to forget about Daylight Savings Time?” I actually wondered if I would be the one who forgot. Even if you had, it would’ve been fine (it’s one of those things we like to tease each other about twice a year).

 

It never used to bother me, that time of year that harkens us back to days of the early 1900s…when, after seeing what Canada was able to accomplish by adding an hour to the end of their day, states across the union began to implement this ubiquitous tradition. And it seems as though states have been tinkering with it ever since; the date for which it should happen, when it should “end”, etc.

 

But when we started having kids, all that changed! This annual tradition had now entered into this sacred zone of peace and stability for my children and thereby…the mama… affectionately remembered as ‘sleep.’ Whether throughout the day as they napped or at the end of the day when they met their bed, it was sacred time for me as a new mom. There were no longer little people attached to my limbs climbing, crying, coo-ing, or just snuggling. They were peacefully resting, rejuvenating, and I was too. That morning would happen though, and I immediately started feeling like I was behind as soon as I woke up!

 

I’m kind of kidding, but it really was a fact that I could bank on losing this precious peace for about one to two weeks while their little bodies un-naturally adjusted to the time change.

 

For me, the DST “thing” gives me pause because of the way sleep affects our brains. Scientists have told us now that sleep is that time when our brain processes and files all the things we learned throughout the day.

 

If you saw the movie “Inside Out” you can identify, bedtime was when Command Center would engage in the great memory cleanse. Riley would drift off and the Core Emotions would watch the way her brain processed the day’s events.

 

They always got especially sentimental when one of those memories became, what they called, a “Core Memory.” The ones that developed Riley’s fragile personality islands.

 

For me, some of my core memories have to do with the sense of smell.

 

People who were special to me growing up, had a certain smell attached to them. Whether that was from what they cooked for me when I visited, perfume they wore that clung to me after hugging them, or maybe even the deodorant they wore that I began to associate with “their smell.”

 

I was always amazed how my babies would know it was me before they really knew anything, because of my “smell”. Their special blankets that would accompany them each time they slept, or felt sad, or scared, had that smell about it. To this day, I get flack from them when I have to wash that precious “ya-ya” because the machine takes away that smell.

 

Smell is a powerful sense!

 

It has the power to draw one in (for food, comfort, or trips down memory lane) as well as cast one away.

 

Think about a contrast to extreme olfactory responses you’ve had over the years.

 

I have many of both kinds, I have the smells that remind me of positive family memories; apple pies for gatherings, fresh baked yeast rolls by my great grandma, dirt and rain that revealed spring to my senses…

 

And then their are those I have that elicit powerful memories, that I can now laugh about, but during the experience felt more sick than funny.

Like that time when Daisy met a skunk at 10:30 at night, and we had to give her 3 baths AND put her through the Dog Wash on “De-Skunk”-ing…TWICE! Ooh, that was BAD!

 

And then there was the smell on the other end of the spectrum, my daughter’s baptism.

 

The smells from that day elicit a much different response!

 

The priest who baptised her happen to be of the persuasion that if you couldn’t still smell the chrism (the special oil blessed by the bishop) a few weeks later, you didn’t use enough!

 

He literally poured the oil over Magnolia’s head while he said the words, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

 

The whole nave was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

And to this day, everytime I smell the oil, when I open the ambry to retrieve the reserved sacrament, the smell meets me, and I take a deep breath before proceeding.

 

Baptism oil, in many faith traditions, but I know ours best, is different than regular oil because it is usually only blessed by the Bishop. Once a year, during Holy Week, the clergy of the Diocese come together for a time to renew our ordination vows and bring our empty chrismaria (the special containers that hold the special oil) to refill them for the coming year’s baptisms.

 

So, in theory, that’s your parish’s shot for the oil to seal your people by the Holy Spirit and mark them as Christ’s own,

 

for the whole year.

 

If you use just a spear or, like the Priest who baptized Maggie, half a cup worth per candidate, you have to plan accordingly.

 

What is more, it used to be that this particular oil was something that took a long time to make. It’s usually infused with balsam. Cool little factoid I learned about Balsam is that it was made from boiling the stems, leaves, and sap from the Balsam Tree and it was the most expensive spice in Israel. So it was used sparingly, for very special occasions.

 

So we have this oil, infused with Balsam, and now, every time I even think about baptism, I remember that moment I admitted that these beauties before me that I brought into the world, weren’t actually mine to begin with, that they indeed came from God and will one day return to God, well, that was a moment I wanted to promise my best to God. That I would strive to be faithful to this vocation of rearing God’s beloved. Of following God’s example of how to Love, to the best of my ability, until the day I day. And my community promised to help us!

 

That whole memory sequence is triggered by the smell of the Chrism!

When I was meditating on this morning’s gospel that verse about the oil kept bubbling up as something to pay attention to. The preciousness as well as power of the sent from the nard reminded me of our present day chrism.

 

Mary 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.”

 

I see the anointing at Bethany as an invitation to enter into the thin space created here between Mary and Jesus. Today we have this beautiful story that radiates God’s love for us, by way of one particular follower of Jesus who does something only an intimate disciple of Jesus could do; some even call her the Apostle to the Apostles.

 

The prototype Disciple.

 

In fact, this whole dinner party was a prototype for Discipleship.

 

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus host this dinner as a response, presumably from a place of gratitude, for the deeds of power God did through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the preceding chapter (recall Martha’s response to Jesus wanting the tomb opened, “But Lord, already there is a stench because he’s been dead four days.” Yet another powerful olfactory experience, the stench of death!). That very act of resurrection was the act that some say cost Jesus his life, for it was from then on that the leaders plotted to have him killed.

 

Jesus, witnessing Mary’s love for her brother, was compelled to such deep sadness that scripture tells us, “he began to weep.” And now, here we are, zooming in on this Thanksgiving Dinner six days before the Passover. The same characters are gathered, and Mary, once again, teaches Jesus how to teach his disciples to love one another. Only this time, through the “wiping” of his feet. Two words in this passage are explicitly used in John for the Last Supper. “Dinner” and “Wipe”, which tells me Jesus was inspired by this family’s devotion that he decided to use their example when he would be at supper with his disciples on the night he was to be betrayed.

 

I like to think that this anointing, much like his experience on the mountain when he was transfigured, gave him the courage to meet the days ahead. This was before daily bath standards, and that oil had plenty to cling to so it is very likely that the nard seeped into Jesus’ feet and the smell was still present with him as he hung from the cross.

 

It is the scent of a king and dead body, all in one.

 

Mary 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.”

 

Next Sunday we greet our Lord, who enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with our Palm Branches stretched out and then walk with him throughout Holy Week.

May we be filled with the fragrance of God’s love for us as we journey the rest of the way through Lent, into the Holiest of Holy Weeks, and meet him at the empty tomb on Easter!

 

Amen.

As our closing hymn sung,

“In boldness, love, nor count the cost. Confront the world’s harsh stare: like one who washed the feet of Christ, and wiped them with her hair, poured perfume to anoint her Lord, and left love’s fragrance there.”