A Sermon for Holy Week (2): The Fragrance of What Mary Did

The Fragrance of what Mary did 

John 12:1-8 

The final stage of Jesus’ journey starts here . Between the days of frantic activity Jesus rests in Bethany, the place called House of affliction. There are now just six days until the Passover. Which makes this Saturday night. The day of sanctified rest, the Sabbath, has come to an end. It is the beginning of a new week. This will be the last week of the old order. Not that anyone realises it at the moment. Jesus is present among his friends. They are together. Wherever his followers are gathered together there is hospitality, food and talk to share. But the one who gives life is on his way to his death. He is on his way to a tomb sitting beside the one he brought forth from a tomb. Jesus sits once more with the one called Lazarus. Whose name means God is my help. He is living proof of the truth of his own name. Martha waits at table. As always, hers is a ministry of service. And once again Mary is at Jesus’ feet. They are the feet where she sat to listen to him teach, the feet that she clung to in the sorrow of her brothers death. Now she pours out her love and devotion on those same feet. Mary’s act shows that love will be the hallmark of discipleship. Just as Jesus as loved her, so she loves Jesus. In an act extravagant love, she offers the total outpouring of the whole contents of her heart. She gives all that is in her that is genuine, faithful and pure. It is given out completely. Her love and devotion is like the ointment poured out on his feet. This an act of profound intimacy. She is unashamed to the wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair. Her action already anticipates Jesus’ commandment. On Thursday, as he washes his disciples feet he will tell them: 
Just as I have done for you, so you must do for one another. 

Mary is already there. Her action recognises and anticipates Jesus’ death. She anoints his body. She does for him what there will be no time to do in the desperate hours at the end of Friday. She does what no one will get the chance to do because in the end death has no power. She makes the ideal good deed. She performs a kindness for the dying who will have no opportunity to repay her. Her reward will be in heaven 
Loving service starts at Jesus’ feet. It has a fragrance that will permeate the whole house. It will permeate the whole world. The fragrance of what Mary does more than just cover up the stench of death emanating from Judas. The contrast between them could not be more stark. We can recognise the contrast between her act of love, and the rotting smell of his deed. We might almost be able to sense the rank odour of greed and self-interest, the smell of corruption, the reek of lies and self-deception. What Judas does stinks, its wicked action dressed up in good intentions. It is a worldly pragmatic trade off, that worries about 300 pieces of silver not given to the poor, but sells a precious human life for a tenth as much. The scent of what Mary does more than covers up that putrid smell. It is like the yeast that permeates the whole dough. It becomes the salt that flavours the whole dish. It is the lamp on a stand that lights the whole room. What Mary does, her love, the purity of her heart, brings a blessing that makes God visible. What she does joins her to her saviour. Just as as the Father is in him, so they are in her. The fragrance of her action lingers, so that the world may believe. That the one who dies brings life.

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The Fragrance of What Mary Did by Christopher Wood-Archer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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