Tag Archives: Mary of Bethany

Mary of Bethany is Worth Knowing [OR Unrestrained Adoration Finds a Place] John 12:1-8

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 7, 2019 – Fifth Sunday in Lent

[sermon begins after Bible reading]

John 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 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. 4 But 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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

[sermon begins]

 

 

Mary of Bethany is gloriously unrestrained at Jesus’ feet.  Fragrance fills the room as oil pools on the floor. The senses are engaged – sight, sound, smell, and touch. She’s impossible to ignore. Being there must have been wild. Socially awkward, for sure. She was touching a man, lavishing him with adoration and oil in plain sight of everyone else at Lazarus’ back-from-the dead dinner. Just before the sensual ritual of anointing feet with hair and perfume, Mary’s brother Lazarus had died. She wept at Jesus’ feet at the edge town.[1]  When Jesus finally showed up, she ran to meet him and knelt on the ground – holding him accountable for not being there as Lazarus took his last breath.  Jesus cried with her.  And then he raised Lazarus from the dead. The Gospel of Luke describes yet another moment when Mary of Bethany was at Jesus’ feet.[2]  This time, though, her pose was scholarly as she listened to what he was saying.  In that moment in Luke, Jesus affirmed her spot on the floor as a good thing.

Mary of Bethany spent a lot of time at Jesus’ feet.  She learned at his feet.  She wept at his feet.  She oiled his feet in adoration, anointing him for death.  I’ve been wondering what Mary of Bethany’s adoration looks like for us today. There are things we do in worship that infer adoration.  We turn toward the cross as it is carried in and out of the Sanctuary.  Our praise-filled hymns and psalms raise a joyful noise of adoration.[3]  Some of us meditate on various crosses during worship while we sing, or commune, or confess the faith of the church.  Some of us kneel as we’re able to receive Jesus in the bread and wine of communion. Being in worship together is a moment to adore Jesus in ways as old as God has been worshipped.  Surrendering as Mary did to the unconditional grace of Jesus. Not solving the mystery of God in human form but entering into the mystery by faith.

It’s a wonder that Mary of Bethany doesn’t get more of our attention.  Scholarly, passionate, and unrestrained, she’s a gift to all of us who struggle to embody the liveliness of the faith within us.  I can make a few guesses as to why but it’s probably better to let Judas have a go at it.  Honestly, I don’t really want to give Judas the time of day in this sermon. He can take a hike as far as I’m concerned. It’s boo-and-hiss the moment Judas opens his mouth.  Information about betrayal and thievery stuck in those parentheses in the reading incite that reaction.  Judas’ words sound like a noble church leader guiding the flock to do-goodery on behalf of people living in poverty. But. Jesus. Knows. Better.  Jesus paraphrases a bit of Deuteronomy that talks about the people who will never cease to be in need and the Lord’s command to “open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”[4]  Then Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone.  We can comfortably point at Judas the way he was pointing at Mary.  But I want to spend a little time in Judas’ shoes.  Let’s wonder about the way he portrays righteousness to hide whatever is dark inside.

Whatever is dark inside takes cover in those parentheses.  Like those parts about Judas’ betrayal and his embezzlement from the common purse.  He has some pretty big things going on in those parentheses.  What I want us to consider is that we have parentheses of our own.  The dark inside ourselves that struggles to love God, love self, and love neighbor.  The dark place that kick starts its own agenda while looking pretty righteous on the outside.  The part that takes other people down because their unrestrained adoration is too much for us to bear.  Extravagant grace is often label as offensive or, at the very least, not normal.  Think back to last week and the father running with flying elbows and flapping robes toward his wayward son.  Undignified right through the massive hug and undeserved party including a main course of fatted calf.  Like Judas, we see an act of grace and define it as excessive.  This puts it far away from us in a category of giving we label as extreme.  As in, not part of how we see ourselves. Judas’ petty righteousness stands in stark contrast to Mary’s lavish devotion.[5]

Mary’s lavish devotion fills the room and the senses.  At the same time, she points us toward a death on cross that won’t smell near as pretty.  The Gospel of John repeats a similar logic of contrast from its opening verses to its ultimate message of Jesus lifted on a cross and drawing all people to himself.[6]  Bringing Lazarus back to life intensifies the pace to that cross as some are drawn to faith and others begin to plot Jesus’ death.  Today’s reading tells us that Passover, the night on which Jesus is betrayed, is only six days away.  The story is building to Jesus’ inglorious end that reveals his glory. Next Sunday we’ll hear about his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Then he’s just a foot-washing away from being taken into custody to stand trial.

In the meantime, we witness Mary’s moment of adoration of Jesus right down to the tips of her hair. One way into adoration for us is poetry.  Psalms and hymns are poetry.  As are the haikus we’ve been invited to write leading up to Holy Week.  Haiku is short, non-rhyming verse made up of three lines – five syllables in the first, seven syllables in the second, back to five syllables in the third and last verse.  Those details are also in the worship announcement page, Friday’s e-mailed E-pistle, and the April Tower newsletter.[7]  Take a few moments this week to write a haiku in adoration of Jesus with whom we travel to and through the cross into new life.  Mary of Bethany’s excess also invites our own extravagance toward Jesus in this season.  Lent is a time of sacrificial giving and a time of adoration.  Both of which Mary exemplifies in her discipleship.

But her discipleship is not an end unto itself.  Through the curtain of hair and the dripping oil is the One who is worthy of adoration.  Jesus empties himself extravagantly to bring life through death – unconditional grace when the darkness inside of us is overwhelming.  Longing for his goodness, mercy, and peace we discover that Jesus already gives us all that and more.  Now we sing to Jesus and adore…

 

Hymn of the Day – sung after the sermon

Thee We Adore, O Savior ELW 476

Thee, we adore, O Savior, God most true,
thy glory clothed in bread and wine anew;
our hearts to thee in true devotion bow,
in humble awe, we hail thy presence now.

O true remembrance of Christ crucified,
the bread of life to us for whom he died;
lend us this life then; feed and east our mind,
be thou the sweetness we were meant to find.

Fountain of goodness, Jesus, Lord and God,
cleanse us, O Christ, with thy most cleansing blood:
increase our faith and love, that we may know
the hope and peace which from thy presence flow.

Jesus, by faith we see thee here below;
send us, we pray thee, what we thirst for so:
some-day to gaze upon thy face in light,
blest evermore with thy full glory’s sight.  Amen.

 

Holy Week Haiku
Submit a haiku or two about Holy Week anytime between Sunday, March 31 and Good Friday, April 19. Haiku is a 17-syllable verse form consisting of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Haiku will be shared via Augustana’s printed and online publications.

Submit your haiku online here: http://www.augustanadenver.org/holy-week-haiku/

OR e-mail it to Lyn Goodrum (goodrum@augustanadenver.org).

 

Hark! It is finished!
Heard upon that wooden cross.
No! It’s just begun . . .
–Robert Herbst
 

__________________________________________________________________

[1] John 11:32

[2] Luke 10:38-42

[3] Psalm 100

[4] Deuteronomy 15:11

[5] Matthew Skinner. Commentary on John 12:1-8. March 21, 2010. Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=544

[6] John 12:32

[7] https://mailchi.mp/190dfe517438/augustana-e-pistle-april-5-2019?e=705114770e

A Baptism in the P.I.C.U – John 12:1-8

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 13, 2016

[sermon begins after the Bible story]

John 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 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. 4 But 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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

[sermon begins]

There are Bible moments so absurd and disruptive that they are difficult to imagine.  Mary’s anointing of Jesus is one of them.  Oil and hair and fragrance are dripping, cascading, and emanating.  There is no ignoring this moment if you’re around that dinner table.

Lazarus is there, having just recently been raised from the dead by Jesus.  His story is told in the chapter just before the reading today.[1]  We can imagine this dinner as a celebration.  Lazarus is back and people are ready to party.  His sister Martha is serving. Judas is there enjoying the circle of friendship as a disciple of Jesus.  Then there’s Lazarus’ other sister, Mary of Bethany. Her exuberance knows no bounds. Her adoration of Jesus must be expressed.  And so it goes, with dripping oil, cascading hair, and emanating fragrance.  A feast of the senses at a table set for dinner.

How are we to understand this adoration she pours on Jesus?  The purity and price of the nard are emphasized.  A rare, imported Himalayan treasure.  A year’s wages.  The nard’s purity and price lead me to wonder about the purity of Mary’s adoration and the cost to herself as she disrupts the dinner party.

One cost is Judas’ poor opinion.  Judas feels free to give his opinion. He demeans her adoration with pious words.  He attempts to put her into her place and uses the poor to do so.  His argument is a vulgar appropriation of the poor – using them as a means to an end.  Jesus is having none of it and slams Judas’ argument.  There are plenty of other Jesus stories that assure us of his determination to eradicate poverty and not leave the poor to their subsistence or our hands clean of their plight.  Regardless of Jesus’ intervention, what does Judas’ poor opinion matter?  He can put it into pious language all he wants.  Mary’s joy will not be stolen by him or anyone else.  Judas’ disapproval is but a pittance.

A few years ago, a fellow seminarian said about Mary’s anointing of Jesus that if he had long hair this is what he would do for someone similarly important to him.  His comment opens the story slightly differently as the imagination plays across gender and time between Mary of Bethany and our moment in time today.  What does adoration look like on a personal level this century?  Set celebrity culture aside for a moment.  Groupies are a different conversation. Mary is in her home. Jesus is known to Mary and her family personally over the course of time.  Her adoration of Jesus is pure and costly.  And she is breaking gender barriers all over the place.  She is a woman of her time whose hair should be tucked away.  She should not be touching a man in the company of others.  In fact, it is life-threatening for her to do so. He, a man, would ordinarily rebuke her like Judas does.  Yet, there they are, oil dripping, hair cascading, and fragrance emanating.

There is something else happening in parallel to Mary’s adoration.  After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is now a target for death himself. The story of Lazarus raised from the dead is followed by the plot developing to arrest Jesus and kill him. [2] And then we get this dinner party. Mary of Bethany calls Jesus “Lord” in previous texts and now anoints him.  Jesus talks openly about his death when he says to Judas, “Leave her alone…She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”[3]  The implication is that she is anointing him for his death.

This past week I received a phone call from a man who asked me to come baptize his one month old son who was on life support.  They were at Children’s Hospital having been flown in by Flight for Life.  He was not expected to live. We arranged for me to come out that evening.  Via text, the father rescheduled our time for the following morning since the baby’s mother was arriving in the middle of the night from out-of-state.  When I arrived, they were both in the room along with the baby’s grandparents.

We talked briefly.  I assured them that, despite whatever we thought we were doing, this moment is first and foremost about God’s promise to be present for their baby even in this most painful time.  Then, with water from a clay bowl, this little one was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  His head dried with the linen baptismal napkin from the church.  I told him he was sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever while making the sign of the cross on his forehead with oil-lotion scented with frankincense and myrrh.

As the fragrant cross was made on his forehead, Mary’s anointing popped into my mind along with these words from Thanksgiving for Baptism in the funeral liturgy which begins, “When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death.”[4]  These words took on new meaning for me in the P.I.C.U. this week.

After this little one was baptized, I handed the parents the un-lit baptismal candle and told them that his light was shining even in his short life and that God is with him.  The family and I shared the bread and wine of communion and then the grandfather asked if I would give this little one “last rites.”  I briefly explained that I would pray what we call the “Commendation of the Dying.” And so we did.  He died within the next few days.

The anointing of this little one in baptism echoes with Mary’s anointing of Jesus before he entered Jerusalem for the last time.  It also echoes the prayer and anointing for healing that you can choose to receive during this worship service.  The Health Minister will anoint your hands with olive oil and say this prayer for you: “May our Lord Jesus Christ uphold you and fill you with his grace, that you may know the healing power of his love…Amen.”

Lent invites reflection on our own baptism.  We reflect on the things that are being “put to death” in us so that something else, something we cannot imagine on our own, may come to life in us by the power of the Holy Spirit through each of our baptisms.  This is part of the healing for which we pray.

Jesus is about life and living.  Lazarus discovered it first-hand. Mary of Bethany adores and anoints Jesus.  She adores and anoints him for the life he brings even as she prepares him for the death he will face because there are those who find his life threatening.  But, even in Lent, we are an Easter people – celebrating that Jesus brings life even through the darkest times by way of his death on a cross.  We remember this promise at funerals with these words, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.”[5]  This new life is for today.  For you.  Our baptism is God’s daily promise by way of a cross and a savior in whom “we live and move and have our being.”[6]   All glory be to God for this indescribable gift![7]

 

[1] John 11:1-44 – These verses tell the story of Lazarus’ illness, death, and being raised from the dead by Jesus.

[2] John 11:45-57 – These verses tell the story of the plot to arrest Jesus and put him to death for bringing Lazarus to life.

[3] John 12:7

[4] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Funeral. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 280.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Acts 28:17

[7] 2 Corinthians 9:15