Jesus has completed his signs. We have seen “the Word made flesh,” God enfleshed in Jesus; we have seen and heard and tasted and felt God’s over-abundant Grace upon Grace through the 7 signs. Grace upon grace: indescribable abundance shown to us in the taste of 1000+ bottles of the best wine and the taste of enough bread and fish to sate the hunger of a large crowd in the signs of Jesus turning the water into wine and the sign of Jesus feeding the crowd with 5 loaves and 2 fish. We have seen Grace upon Grace in Jesus as our eyes have been opened along with the Blind man who receives his sight and we have heard the call of Jesus to come forth as the dead and buried Lazarus emerged from the tomb after 4 days. We have also experienced Jesus inviting us into relationship along with the disciples who he called to “Come and See,” along with Nicodemus who is invited to be reborn of water and the spirit and along with the excluded Samaritan woman who goes and tells and invites.
This brings us almost to the beginning of the Book of Glory, but first we have one more encounter – a transitional encounter that looks backward and brings our experiences with all the signs and the other encounters together; and also a transition that looks forward to the events that will shortly transpire – that is the last supper, the arrest, the crucifixion, the burial, the resurrection and the resurrection appearances to those who are in relationship with Jesus.
But first, this beautiful story of Mary anointing Jesus looks backward to the first 11 chapters of the Gospel and brings them all together. Of course the story is directly related to the Raising of Lazarus in chapter 11. After this amazing sign, Jesus dines with Mary and Martha and their now alive brother Lazarus before setting off for Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover for what will be the last time. As Martha serves the food and Lazarus reclines on Jesus, Mary comes forward with perfumed anointing oil made of pure nard – and she has a lot of it, a pound to be exact. We learn from the conversation between Jesus and Judas that it is worth 300 denari! Bear in mind that the going wage at the time was 1 denari a day, so 300 denari would be about a year’s worth of wages spent for perfumed oil which is made of “pure nard.” What exactly is Nard? Well nard is produced in India and traded around the ancient world. It originates in the Nardostachys jatamansi plant. That it is pure means it hasn’t been combined with other ingredients that would water down its potency, and also make it less expensive. This is an extravagant act by Mary – this is also a scandalous act. For a woman to kneel at the feet of a Rabbi, pour costly perfumed oil all over them and then gently and lovingly wipe and wash his feet with her long hair was a scandalous act of intimacy and love.
Mary’s act reminds us of Jesus’ acts of excessive love and grace: turning 6 large stone jars of water into 6 jars of wine, enough to create over 1000 bottles of wine by today’s standard; feeding a crowd of 5000+ with only 5 loaves and two fish; Jesus reaching out and touching the sick and bringing them healing, spitting on his hands and anointing the eyes of the man born blind. This is what grace upon grace looks like and sounds like and feels like and tastes like. And not only that but we finally get a chance to experience what grace smells like for the Gospel writer is careful to tell us that the smell of the perfumed anointing oil fills the whole house. And this smell of grace completely overcomes the stench of death that emanated from the tomb of the dead Lazarus in the final sign.
You see, the Gospel of Jesus – the story of God’s incarnation in Jesus is not just a story for the mind. Grace is not only a “theological concept” to be pondered and analyzed and thought about. God’s gift to us of amazingly and overwhelmingly abundant grace is an experience for the senses – all of the senses – every bit of us can experience God’s love and grace. In this way John wants us not only to know, but also to experience God’s gift of grace upon grace as a sensual experience. Through the signs and the encounters in the first part of the Gospel including this story of anointing we have a sense of what Grace tastes like, what Grace looks like, what Grace sounds like, what Grace feels like and what Grace smells like – our eyes, our ears our noses, our tongues and indeed our whole bodies are engaged and overwhelmed by the amazing abundant love and Grace of God.
But this story also looks forward to the events that are still to come that will be narrated in the Book of Glory. Mary is anointing Jesus for crucifixion and burial. So when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early in the morning on the 3rd day she will not need to anoint Jesus, because he has already been anointed. She will not need to be worried about the stench of death for it has already been obliterated by perfume of the pure nard that Mary used in chapter 12. As we gaze with Mary into the empty tomb we can smell the sweet and intoxicating smell of Grace. We will then hear Jesus call her name – “Mary;” we will stand with her as witnesses when she tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord” for indeed we too have seen the Lord. We will be there when Thomas reaches out to feel and touch the wounds of Jesus and we will join in his confession – “My Lord and my God.” And we will taste the fish that Jesus serves on the beach to his disciples as he calls upon Peter (and us) to love and serve and feed my sheep.
Finally this brings us back around to the question of relationship. Jesus invites all into relationship – Jesus attempts to restore relationship with all of God’s children. But not everyone who is invited will accept the invitation – the disciples followed, but Nicodemus declined to enter into relationship because he didn’t understand; the Samaritan woman accepted the invitation and went and invited others as did the man born blind, but the Jewish leaders who questioned the man declined to enter into relationship. And here in this story Martha is serving, for that is what one does when one is in relationship with Jesus – we serve; Lazarus is “reclining on Jesus” in the same way that the “beloved disciple” will recline on Jesus at the last supper – they are both in relationship; Mary gives everything she has to reach out and show her love for Jesus by washing his feet with her hair, just like Jesus will wash the feet of the disciples at the last supper and then send his disciples to wash the feet of others. In serving in this way, in loving in this way the relationship between us and God and us and others is restored. But not everyone is in relationship. Judas cannot accept the gift that Mary extends to Jesus. He stands outside and refuses to enter. His relationship with Jesus is broken and will remain broken.
And so, as we stand on the cusp of the Book of Glory; as we slowly begin to enter into the stories of the last supper, the arrest, the crucifixion, the burial, the resurrection and the resurrection appearances where do you stand? What is your experience? Have you tasted, felt, seen, heard, smelled the gift of grace upon grace in your life – or have you shut out the experiences, dismissing the sensual experience in favor of mental exercise? Have you allowed God through Jesus to restore your relationship with God – and with others? For they do go together - we cannot be right with God, or be in an intimate relationship with God while we at the same time shut others out, for any reason.
According to John and Paul we all stand in need to healing – of healing our relationships with one another and our relationship with God. This evening/morning we offer anointing and healing. This gift of healing is offered to you and you are invited to receive it prayerfully, asking God to heal your relationships with others and with creation – and thus to bring you into a more intimate relationship with God through Jesus. Like Mary you are invited to enter completely into the experience and to prayerfully give yourself to God during this experience. To feel the touch, and the smell the perfume, as we use perfumed anointing oil. Following the anointing then you are invited to then receive bread and wine – the very body and blood of the crucified and risen Lord himself. This reminds us of God’s super-abundant gift of grace upon grace which is showered freely upon us and which we saw manifest as Jesus provided abundant wine and bread in the signs and as Jesus gave to his disciples “on the night in which he was betrayed…”
Come – Experience – Receive and then Go and Tell – Go and Share!