Saturday, April 30, 2022

A Farewell Homily to All Saints, King City

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on the Third Sunday of Easter, 1 May, 2022.

Well it’s time to say goodbye and time to say thank you.  Thank you for the privilege of being your priest for almost two years.   It was a long interim by normal standards, but these last two years haven’t been normal times, have they?  

I’m grateful to all of you for your kindness and hard work in keeping the church going through Covid.  When I came in on Thursday and saw so many busy people setting up for the rummage sale, I realized how much pent up energy and muscle memory has been there all through these last pandemic years, just waiting to be unleashed as we return to normal, whatever normal will look like in the years ahead.

Speaking of the pandemic, I’m grateful for those of you who gritted your teeth and learned to Zoom and who proved them wrong about old dogs and boomers not learning new tricks.  I’m enormously appreciative of the faithful who gathered to pray online, or who returned to the pews to pray with masks and, to be honest, some nervousness.   I’m thankful for those of you who continued to faithfully support the church in all the months when we couldn’t (and still don’t!) pass the collection plate.   For all of you who joined the PAR program, thank you, and for those of you who haven’t yet, there’s still time (I can’t resist one last stewardship appeal!).

So today’s very short homily is built around the idea of thankfulness.   In my life I’ve worked in academia and in the corporate sector, in the military, and in the church, and I’ve learned that the best leaders are the ones who say thank you with sincerity and with frequency.   Being thanked is how people know that they are members of a team and not just resources to be exploited.

That being said, the church is slightly different.   Clergy aren’t leaders in the secular sense, though leadership is part of the job, to be sure.   I’ve always believed that the clergy’s role is primarily to point to Christ and to remind congregations that they are God’s people, living in the kingdom of God and living out kingdom values.   In the church, all thankfulness is ultimately directed to God, to whom, as our eucharistic prayers remind us, “it is right to give our thanks and praise”.

God gave us God’s Son to remind us that we loved, forgiven, and given new life.   As followers of Jesus, we are remade as God’s people, called as light and hope for the world around us.   All Saints has been faithful to that call since 1857.   The saints have gathered here in King through good times and bad, through wars and depression and multiple (!) pandemics.   Thanks and praise has been offered through times of hope when a new church was built, and thanks and praise continued as the new church attracted fewer and fewer people as the culture seemed to turn away from God.  Since 1857 priests have come and gone, some more successful than others, but God was always here, the love of Jesus always called you forward, and the Holy Spirit always empowered the saints.

So today I thank God for you, the people of All Saints, the latest of the generations to whom God has been faithful to.    I’m thankful that God has given you a talented and dynamic new priest whose vision and hopefulness will inspire you.   I’m thankful that God has blessed you with financial resources that many churches lack, and I’m sure you’ll use them well.   I’m thankful that God has given you the resilience and creativity to adapt to new ways of doing and being church.   You will need that creativity in the years to come.  Finally I’m thankful to God for bringing us fellow disciples who have come to Canada from countries scarcely known when this church began in 1857.    As we saw so wonderfully on Easter Sunday, the future of the Anglican church is global, and I encourage you to embrace more refugees, more new Canadians, and more diversity.

Finally, dear saints, I’m thankful that Joy and I have been part of your story.   We’re thankful for your warm welcome, we leave a part of our hearts with you, and we assure you of our prayers for the bright future that certainly awaits you.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Words of Peace: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter


Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, King City, Ontario.  The Second Sunday of Easter, 24 April, 2022.

Acts 5: 27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1: 4-8; John 20: 19-31 


19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

 Today I want to talk about a particular aspect of our liturgy, the Sharing of the Peace, and about how that action in the middle of our service becomes hugely meaningful in light of today’s gospel reading from St. John.   The risen Jesus appearing to his disciples, his threefold greeting “Peace be with you”, and the grace, forgiveness, and affirmation inherent in this greeting to these disciples who abandoned and betrayed Jesus before his death, all help us understand the special greeting that we exchange right in the middle of our Sunday service.

 The Peace as an action, that moment when we move around and deliberately greet one another, is a relatively new in Anglican worship.    Some of you will remember that in the old Book of Common Prayer, there was a formal exchange between the priest and people just after the Prayer of Consecration:

 The peace of the Lord be always with you.

People.  And also with you.  (p. 83)

 Then with the Book of Alternative Services, the Peace moved to a place just after the confession and absolution.  The words were the same as the BCP, but the BAS liturgy encouraged the people to “greet one another in the name of the Lord”.

 It seems like The Peace is different in every parish.   I’ve been in grand stone cathedrals where people sat as far apart from one another as they could, and exchanged brief glances and slight nods at one another during the Peace.   Other parishes are much more exuberant.   People shake hands, hug, chat, seek out and welcome strangers, and it often takes a long time to call you back to order.  I suspect that you at All Saints were the chatty. Huggy type before Covid, and will be afterwards.

 Not everyone shares the Peace in the same way.   It’s one of those moments where our extrovert and introvert personalities are clearly on display.   The important thing is what we _say_ during the Peace.  Most of us say something like “God’s peace be with you”  or “The peace of Christ” or just “peace”.   Why do we use these words rather than a phrase that we might say if we greeted one another on the street, like “It’s nice to see you” or “how are you” or “how’s it going?”

 Surely the answer to this question lies in the link between our liturgy and today’s gospel.   What happens between the risen Christ and his disciples in that room makes it possible for us to say these words to one another.  The fact that Christ says “peace be with you” to these people huddled behind a locked door allows them to let go of their fear and guilt and start the process of becoming the church.    Christ’s saying “peace be with you” gives the disciples, and us, a way to imagine our own identities as church, as an Easter people.  So, the words “Peace be with you” in our greetings during the liturgy are important because peace is Christ’s great gift to the disciples in John 20, and to us today.

Let’s take a moment to remember the context of today’s gospel, to better see how powerful Jesus’ words of peace are to the disciples.   In the first half of John 20, Mary Magdalene has seen Jesus in the garden, outside his tomb, and has told the disciples about her meeting him. We would think that they might have been filled with hope and joy by Mary’s report, and that they might be out searching for the risen Christ, but to the contrary they are barricaded behind locked doors.  We are told that the disciples are fearful for their lives; certainly the detail that it is nighttime, when they would be most fearful is relevant.  

 Jesus comes in the middle of the night, stepping into their fear, shock, grief, and mourning.    He passes through the locked door as if to say that their fear and self-protectiveness don’t matter.   He comes to confirm the words of Mary Magdalene and the hope which the disciples don’t seem to allow themselves to believe.  He comes despite his own death, in his physical body with the wounds still on him, and he says “Peace be with you” and when he says these words, he says let go of your fear, for fear and grief and mourning and the dark of night have lost their power over me and over you.

 The first thing we can say about our sharing of the peace is that our action in the liturgy takes its meaning because of the resurrection of Christ.  We share the Peace in a place where there may be memories and even ghosts for some of us.   We can look around this church and see where saints now departed used to sit,  but when we say “Peace be with you”, we are reminding one anther that we are an Easter people, following the same Christ who rose from the grave and who undid the power of death.  We are reminding ourselves to let go of our fears, of our concerns for the seemingly unforgiving power of age and mortality over our bodies, and to remind one another that as the Lord is risen, so those we love and mourn are safe in his keeping, and that we will see them again on the day of resurrection.   By saying “Peace be with you”, we say, “May life, and hope, and joy, and promise, be with you”.

 The second thing that connects our sharing of the Peace with the words of Jesus in the locked room is the context of forgiveness and reconciliation.   We know from the passion stories of the other gospels that the disciples have let Jesus down in many ways.  They could not stay awake in the garden when he asked them to keep watch with him, they deserted him when he was arrested, and Peter, who swore that he would never abandon Jesus, denied knowing Jesus three times.   Presumably the disciples, particularly Peter, are feeling guilt and remorse as well as grief, and yet when Jesus comes he does not accuse or reproach them.   His words “Peace be with you”  are words of forgiveness - he gives the disciples peace from guilt and self-loathing.

 Thus, the second thing we can say about our sharing of the peace is that it is connected to the church’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation.   When Jesus says to the disciples,  “If you forgive the sins of man, they are forgiven them if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:23) he is also speaking to us.    Our act of sharing the Peace comes after the confession and absolution.   The knowledge that we as imperfect people are forgiven our sins allows us to face on another and to remind us that we all enjoy that same grace and love.    All of the frictions that are part of church life - our ways of stepping on one another’s toes, saying unkind or impatient words, our foolish rivalries over our roles and ministries - these all must be set aside if we are truly to receive the Peace that Christ gives us from our own sin and guilt.    By saying “Peace be with you”, we say “I’m sorry for what I’ve done, and I forgive you for what you have done.”

 The third thing that connects our sharing of the Peace with the words of Jesus in the locked room is the context of doubt and imperfect belief.    Thomas is the one disciple who cannot believe, despite the testimony of Mary Magdalene who saw Jesus in the garden and the disciples who saw him previously in the locked room.   He has essentially called his friends liars, or at best, deluded.   And so when Jesus says “Peace be with you” the third time, it seems directed specifically to Thomas and to his scepticism.  His words “Peace be with you” are again words of forgiveness, but also words of hope and encouragement, as if to say, “Thomas, you will believe”, and they lead to Thomas making the most fulsome profession of faith of anyone in the gospels, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

 Thus, the third thing we can say about our sharing of the peace is that it is connected to our doubts as much as to our faith.   We may call ourselves a people of faith, but our faith is not uniform.  Not all of us may believe as readily, or as completely, as do those around us, but when we say “Peace be with you”, we are saying that it’s ok to be where you are in you own journey of faith.   The exchange of “Peace be with you” removes our temptation to apply some sort of  faith test and to want to think that we have to be some sort of super-believer.   The words “Peace be with you” gives those who need it permission to be a Thomas.  For those who are doubtful, to hear and receive the words “Peace be with you” is to be told that it’s ok to be doubtful, that lack of faith is not a sin, but rather is merely human.  At the same time, the words “Peace be with you” opens the possibility that the work of the Holy Spirit will bring a person to also say, with Thomas, “my Lord and my God”, and for the doubtful this may be exactly the sort of encouragement they one day need.

 There are of course other scriptural lenses through which we can view and better understand this important part of the liturgy.  Of course there is the Hebrew sense of peace as shalom, the fundamental value and gift of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ breathing on the disciples and his words “Receive the holy spirit” remind us of the vision of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel (37:1-14), or of the story of Pentecost (Acts 2), which speak to the Holy Spirit’s work of revival and unification which make the church possible.   Sharing the peace can draw us out of isolation and into community, it brings us together regardless of age or race or class, and makes us one.    But in the light of John 20, we see the Sharing of the Peace as what it is, a sign of grace from the God who loves us, forgives us, gathers us together and empowers us to go on - and these are things that we can do for one another when we turn to them, extend a hand, and say “Peace be with you”.


Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Stone was Moved - A Sermon for Easter Sunday



Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 17 April, 2022.   


“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)



Just as Dickens’ begins A Christmas Carol by telling us that we have to understand that Marlowe was “as dead as a doornail” if anything wonderful is to come from the story to follow, the first thing we need to understand about Easter Sunday is that there was a stone. 


In the resurrection story, in each of the four gospels, the stone is mentioned. It was a big stone, a boulder. It needed to be large enough to close an opening that, at the very least, would have allowed a crouching man to enter. In Matthew’s gospel, we are told that Joseph of Arimathea had a “great stone” rolled in front of the tomb of Jesus (Mt 27:60). Matthew adds that the stone is there to stay, because the chief priests have it “sealed” to prevent the disciples from stealing the body (Mt 28:66). In Mark’s gospel, the women want to go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, but they know that they will need someone to “roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb” because the stone is “very large” (Mk 16:3).


Today we don’t use stones to seal graves, but we still seal them, at least on those increasingly rare occasions when the dead are not cremated. Stand by a graveside after the family and the mourners have left, and you’ll see the men in coveralls come out from hiding. While the funeral directors watch attentively, the truck is positioned and the vault lid is hoisted down into place. The hydraulic crane makes it look light, until you hear the thud as the lid falls into place.


 Then the green astroturf covers are removed from the mounded dirt, and the backhoe gets ready to do its work, sealing the vault with the weight of all that earth. It’s done quickly and efficiently, and there’s a kind of ministry to it as these men close the graves of our loved one and make it possible to nature to do it’s healing work. Grass will grow, the wound in the earth will heal, and the place will become peaceful. But it’s impossible to watch this work and not be tempted to think, how final this is, how irreversible it is is. In this respect, the vaults and lids of our loved one’s graves, like the stone in front of Christ’s grave, underscore the terrible reality of death. Death, like stone and concrete, is real, cold, heavy, and final.


If you’ve ever stood beside a bed in a hospital or a nursing home after a death, you will know this feeling. Slowly it dawns on you that the person you loved is gone from you, removed as surely as if they had been sealed behind a great stone. I well remember the feeling as I helped my brothers empty my father’s room after his death. We worked mechanically, each of us aware of the terrible finality of the moment. The man who had raised us, inspired us, and loved us was gone. To be sure we had memories, we had his example, and we had some keepsakes, but our father was gone. No more corny puns, no more chances to say I love you, no more squeezes of his hand. The great rock that separates us from the dead had been rolled into place and sealed him away from us.


Given the reality of death, it’s difficult for many Christians to take Easter that seriously. I personally know some who tell me that it’s ridiculous to believe in the resurrection. Such people might say that Easter is merely a poetic way of saying that Jesus lives in our hearts and lives as a spiritual presence, like my father lives by example and memory to me and my brothers. But tell such people that a great stone was rolled away, that Jesus returned from the land of the dead, and you are asking too much of them.


“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1). 



In medieval art, Jesus is sometimes depicted as emerging, not from a cave, but from what looks like a stone vault or sarcophagus. A heavy looking lid has been tossed to one side, as casually as a sleeper might throw back the covers in the morning. The figure of Jesus is muscular, his expression determined as he raises his hands to heaven in triumph and thanksgiving. 


This picture reminded me of the force behind the event that John is describing. The Easter story begins with this sign that God has done the unbelievable. That great rock, so final, so immovable, has been brushed aside by God’s power. All through our Lenten journey we’ve heard hints of this power, such as the voice that calls Lazarus from his tomb. All these stories have suggested what God has sent Christ to do. Now the promise is fulfilled. The rock is moved. Jesus is walking in the garden. Death has no dominion. Nothing is beyond the power of God.


A preacher once said,  “No Easter, no faith”. These are words that challenge us to believe big or go home.  As St. Paul reminds us, "if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Cor 15:12-20ff).  If we don’t want to accept a God who blows the lids off graves and brings the dead to life, then our preaching and our worship our empty. But if we want a Saviour who can move boulders, revive hopes and bring us to life, then our worship is glorious and our hopes our rich and we are to be envied, not pitied.


Go forth and believe big. Ask God to remove the biggest boulders in your lives: the stones that keep our hearts from loving, the boulders that we can’t let go of because of our guilt and shame, the heavy rocks of grief that lock us away from the world. When these stones seem too big for you, you’ll find a muscular and living Saviour, putting his shoulder to them and rolling them away, and calling you forth into the light. 


Go forth today and love big. The love of Jesus for us was so big that he went to the cross for us. His love for us was so strong that it brought him back from the dead, because he knew that there were people like Mary in the garden, like you and I, that needed his love. Receive his love, draw strength from it, and share it with others.


Go forth today and trust big. For those of us with loved ones on the other side, who have let them go behind the heavy lid of death, don’t lose heart. Nothing can keep us from the love of God and the life of God. Those rocks and stones will be moved, and the dead will be raised.


“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1). Alleluia, Christ is risen.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Waste: A Homily for Palm Sunday.

Preached on Sunday, 10 April, 2022, at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.  Readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14 – 23:56


“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).

Do you want to improve your mind? I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to improve their mind. If you’re a parent, you want your children to develop their skills and be good learners. During our careers we are challenged to be active in continuing education and professional development, to keep our skills sharp. Seniors too are encouraged want to keep the mind active to stave off dementia, whether it’s doing crosswords, reading, taking courses at night school, or learning languages or, of course, Wordle.

All of these pursuits pale in comparison to what we are asked to do as Christians. Today, in our second lesson, we hear Paul’s challenge to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ” (Phil 2:5). Do any of us really think that we can do this extraordinary thing that Paul is asking of us? Surely Jesus had no ordinary human mind. He knew things that others didn’t, as we saw three weeks ago when he knew the secrets of the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4). He had the mind of a great and serene thinker. His mind was full of great love and patience, even at the end of his life. Our minds however are cramped and undisciplined, full of dark and worried thoughts. How could our minds ever become Christ-like? I suspect that if we voice this objection to Paul, he would say “Exactly! That’s exactly why you need the mind of Christ”.

What can we say about this mind that Paul wants us to have? At the beginning of our second lesson, Paul says clearly that Christ “was in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil 2:6). Paul suggests that Jesus, as one of the three persons of the Trinity, knew God completely, including knowing the mind of God. That for me, if you’ll pardon the expression, is a mindblowing passage I can’t imagine anything more beautiful or peaceful than knowing the mind of God. For Jesus to set that glory and equality aside and come to earth to be one of us is an amazing testimony to how much God loves us and wants to help us.

After Jesus became human to serve us, how much of God’s mind did he still know? In his book Simply Christian, Bishop Tom Wright says something that I found helpful. He thinks that Jesus didn’t walk around knowing that he was divine the way you and I know if we are hot or cold, male or female. Wright suggests however that Jesus knowing that he was part of God’s mission. Because of his deep prayer life and his sensitivity to God’s will, Jesus knew that “He was called, in obedience to the Father, to follow through the project to which that love would give itself freely and fully” (p. 119). To that extent, we can say that Jesus knew the mind of God better than any person who ever lived. To borrow the title from a recent movie, Jesus had a beautiful mind, fully aware of God’s love and God’s desire to rescue his creation from human sin.

If we go beyond these generalities and look at the rich feast of scripture for today, Passion Sunday, we can say some specific things about the God-mind of Christ that Paul wants us to have.

Jesus has a humble mind. He sets aside his equality. In Paul’s wonderful phrase, he “emptied himself”. Yes he comes into Jerusalem like a king, but there is no chariot, no army of grim soldiers with sharp swords, only a simple figure riding a donkey. He doesn’t put on airs, he doesn’t strut, he doesn’t ask for special treatment. He doesn’t want to be an earthly king because he knows the limits of earthly power.

Jesus has a determined mind. In our first lesson, Isaiah says of God’s servant that “I have set my face like flint” (Isa 50:7). If you look at the face of the simple man riding that donkey, you don’t see a meek and mild face. Instead you see a face as intent and as resolved as any athlete or soldier. You see someone who isn’t fooled by the crowds and the hosannas, who knows that pain and death are at the end of the road, someone for whom there is no turning back.
Jesus has an alert mind. He is, as Isaiah describes him, the “teacher” who comes to help the weary (Isa 50:4). In the garden of Gethsemane, we see him literally as the teacher who is surrounded by sleepy students. Jesus alone stays awake and alert, ready to do what god wants him to do, waking others from sleep.

Jesus has an obedient mind, obedient as Paul says “to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). He is human enough to want to live – twice, Matthew describes him in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking his Father to spare him (Mt 26:39, 42) – but when he sees Judas come with the soldiers, Jesus accepts the job God has given him, the job that only he can do.

Jesus has a loving mind. In Matthew’s account of the last supper, we see Jesus spending his final hours with his friends. The disciples don’t know it yet, but in giving them bread and wine Jesus is showing them how he will give himself for them on the cross, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Jesus can look around the table and know that some of these sins will be in the future – betrayal, denial, fear – and yet his love for these ordinary people rises above any anger or disappointment that he might understandably feel.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Or, in other words, make yours a beautiful Christ-mind But how do we do this? I think that if we fall into the trap of seeingJesus as a moral example, and saying that we have to be me more like him, it won’t work. It’s like trying to tell an amateur golfer that he can improve his game by being more like Tiger Woods. That’s only a recipe for frustration. The golfer might like to be like Tiger Woods, but there’s only one Tiger. Our minds aren’t normally humble or determined or alert or obedient or loving. Our minds are more like the disciples, doubtful and sleepy and frightened. Fortunately for us, it’s not about trying harder to be like Jesus.

Look at the first word of today’s text: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). When a friend says “Let me do this for you”, or a musician says “let me entertain you”, you’re not being asked to do the thing yourself. Rather, you are allowing the other person to do something for you. Jesus wants you to allow his mind to enter yours. It’s not an invasion. It’s not an obliteration of the person you once were. Rather, it’s like an invitation to dance with someone. You may not be a good dancer, but you can follow the lead of the other dancer and together as dancers you can become something more beautiful and more graceful than you were by yourself.

C.S. Lewis once said that it’s the job of “Every Christian to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else” (Merely Christian p. 177). Day by day, week by week, Jesus comes knocking on the doors of our hearts and minds. It’s up to us to let him in. We let Jesus in when we present a child for baptism and ask Jesus to be part of that child’s life. We let Jesus in when we agreed to be confirmed as young people. We let Jesus in when come to the altar and hold out hands to take Holy Communion. We let Jesus in when we pray, when we serve, when we put another’s needs before our own.

You don’t need a university degree to have a beautiful mind. I’ve met quite a few university people with very unpleasant and barren minds. You do however need Jesus to have a beautiful mind. A beautiful mind is humble enough to serve, determined enough to follow, alert to what God is asking, obedient to God’s will and loving others despite their faults. That’s the mind of Christ. This Sunday we celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, but we really celebrate his willingness to enter into our hearts and minds. Will you Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus?

Saturday, April 2, 2022

What Was She Thinking? A Homily For The Last Sunday Of Lent

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 3 April, 2022. Readings For The Fifth Sunday Of Lent, Year C: Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8

1 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." (John 12:1-8)

What was Mary thinking? Judas must have thought that as he sat that night in Bethany and watched the sister of Lazarus making a spectacle of herself at the feet of Jesus. The way John tells the story, dwelling on the fact that Judas is a thief preoccupied with money, we are led to think that Judas sees that Mary's action is a terrible waste. All that "costly" perfume, wasted in this one action. We aren't told what motives Judas might attribute to Mary for choosing to do this expensive act. Her motives don't seem to matter to him. It is as if Judas, already on the outside of the circle of disciples and looking in, simply can't understand why she would do such a thing, even for Jesus.

What was Mary thinking? Why would she do such a thing for Jesus? For friendship and love, certainly. and perhaps for gratitude. We know from earlier in John that Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, are friends with Jesus. After Lazarus dies, it is the sisters who send for Jesus, and John tells us that Jesus comes because he "loves" them. Perhaps Mary is thinking of her love for her friend, and of her gratitude to him for returning Lazarus to her and to Martha.

What was Mary thinking? Besides love and gratitude, perhaps she feels concern and even fear for her friend. After Jesus raises their brother from the dead, news of this action spreads quickly, so that the Jewish leaders were afraid of Jesus and plot to kill him. John tells us that Jesus could no longer travel in the open, but had gone to a place near the wilderness (Jn 11:54). Pretty soon all of Jerusalem is buzzing with speculation as to whether Jesus will dare show his face (Jn 11:55) and now here he is, in Mary's home, on his way to Jerusalem and danger, maybe even death. We can't tell if Mary understands why her friend Jesus feels he has to go to Jerusalem, but perhaps she understands enough to be annointing him as if he were already dead. Annointing a person's body is part of getting ready for a funeral, which is what Jesus seems to refer to when he says "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.".

What was Mary thinking? If she was thinking that her friend might die, was she also thinking of how he might enter Jerusalem, triumphantly, like a king? In the Jewish tradition, kings were annointed with oil to show that they were consecrated, set aside for certain tasks (see Exodus 40:15; 1 Samuel 16:12). It may be that by her action she recognizes that Jesus is indeed a king, a certainty that is in contrast with Pilate's mocking question later on, "so you are a king". And what sort of king will Jesus be? The fragrance which permeates the house with fragrance contrasts with the stench that filled the tomb of Lazarus where he had been for four days before Jesus arrived. and here is Lazarus, alive and healthy, sitting in the midst of that fragrance. It is as if Mary senses, somehow, that her action of annointing with this perfume as much to do with resurrection as it does with the funeral, and points to Jesus special role as the king who God sends to conquer death itself.. but more of that at Easter

And so to us, as we watch Mary at Jesus' feet. What are we thinking? Are we thinking of excess? If we saw it done today would we think it a waste, as Judas does? Would we cringe, finding Mary's actions too familar, too intimate, too over the top?

If, however, we think as Mary seems to have been thinking, then we may see something of our own call to discipleship in her action. We see the idea of selfless service to others, for Mary’s posture, washing Jesus feet, will be the same posture that Jesus will take a few days hence in John’s gospel, a posture often reenacted in worship on Maundy Thursday, when he wraps himself in a towel and kneels to wash his disciples’ feet.

If we see Mary’s action as a gift of love and concern for a dearly loved friend, then we see something of God’s love for us. The extravagance of Mary’s generosity, pouring out all that costly perfume, points us to the extravagance of God’s grace and love, just as we saw last Sunday in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke. We are reminded that God’s love for us does not count costs, and we will see that extravagant love, most clearly and terribly, when we look to the cross on Good Friday.

If we see Mary's action not just as friendship but as worship, the outpouring of devotion for the son of God, then we may see a posture that we have resisted or not embraced fully in our own devotional lives. As we approach Easter, we have the opportunity to renew our devotion and love for Jesus, our compassion as we see him led to the cross, our gratitude to him as he hangs and dies there, and our wonder and joy as he returns to us - for really, what have we to offer, but these things?

What was Mary thinking? We can only guess by her actions. What are we called to think as we draw near to Holy Week? If this gospel story reminds us of our love and devotion to God and his son, if it reminds us of our call to service to others, and if it points us to the fragrant victory of life over death, then we are well prepared for the miracle of Easter.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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