Just a note: I will be on retreat after today until next Sunday at a place with very spotty internet service so I will not be posting anything after today until next Monday as frustration is not a companion I wish to welcome to my retreat. Blessings of Holy Week and Easter to all.
I often think during the days between Sunday and Thursday about what this “intermezzo” must have been like for Jesus. He was smart, I think, to leave Jerusalem for Bethany – a very close village – where he could spend a few days with his dear friends. “Palm Sunday” – as we call it – must’ve been dizzying for him. All the frenzy around his arrival in Jerusalem, the elation of the crowds and the tension created for him by those he had come to know as enemies must’ve been exhausting. How wonderful for him to be in the company of those who loved and supported him to prepare him for what was to come. The gospel today relates the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus with costly oil, an extravagant gesture of love criticized by Judas who held the purse strings. John has Jesus remonstrating with Judas, seeing the gesture as a foreshadowing of his anointing for burial. I choose to focus on it as a powerful gesture of love, something to calm Jesus in a stressful time.
We have lost a sense of the power and beauty of the ritual of anointing in our tradition. We still use it sacramentally but most times there is only a tiny dot of oil placed on the forehead, hands, lips or ears of the one being anointed. If we think of the sacred oils as healing balm, why not use them to excess? I was once in a conversation about anointing where I heard: “You can’t anoint someone without touching him/her and you can’t be anointed without being touched.” Perhaps that’s as much the issue as the cost or the messiness of the oil. Mary was not afraid to touch Jesus in a loving and comforting way. We might consider that as a lesson for us, opening ourselves to those who would wash our feet this week or anoint us with handshakes, hugs and smiles as we come together for these holiest of days.