Compline 6 April 2020
Preacher: Revd Samantha Ferguson
Reading: John 12:1-11
We are at the end of our Lenten journey and at the beginning of our Holy Week pilgrimage with Jesus towards his cross.
Tonight, Jesus, who has been travelling ever onwards with his eyes fixed towards Jerusalem, comes now to Bethany.
A place where he can be with friends, hang out with those who know him well and who loved him before he became who he was.
Jesus arrives at his friends’ house in the days before the Passover, a friend he cared for so much that he brought him back from the dead.
Jesus must have felt safe there and been able to relax, to laugh and to enjoy the company of those he trusted the most.
And in the heart of this sacred place of friendship and love, comes into blossom one of the most interesting characters in the Gospels.
Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.
Apart from the 12 known male disciples, there are about 7 women disciples who travelled with Jesus to Jerusalem on his final visit and onto the foot of his cross.
And in our reading, we have a unique opportunity to see Jesus through the eyes of one of these special women, to be in the room with him and, using our sense of smell, imagine what that moment must have been like.
In a simple everyday snapshot of normal family life, Martha is serving a meal and Mary is once again captivated, sitting at Jesus’ feet.
In a wanton display of affection Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume that costs a year’s wages.
Any of us who have lived through the shattering of a bottle of expensive perfume by accident, realise that Mary using the whole bottle of oil must have meant that the whole room was bathed, smothered, perhaps unbearably so, with the smell of that fragrant oil.
Overwhelming, over generous and over the top.
Smell is such an evocative sense.
It can transport us instantly to a time and a place where memories, good or bad, are real and vivid.
It is one cruel symptom of the COVID virus that a sense of smell and taste is lost. And our prayers are with all those suffering with the virus, all who walk alongside them and all who wait this night.
It is ironic that we depend so much on being able to be fully alive, to feel fully alive, by being able to smell and to taste.
And so we go back that room in which Mary knelt learning from her master, and imagine the sweet smell of luxury.
It must have been so natural for one of those present to condemn Mary for this unnecessary waste of good money.
We are all counting the costs in this current pandemic, who else among us would have done the same and yet who else among us would have done any different.
Jesus, of course, defends his friend saying that she has prepared him for his upcoming death.
Jesus has been telling the disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die and be raised on the third day for weeks now.
This had been his teaching all along and his male disciples were not listening or understanding his message.
What if Mary got it?
What if she listened, she understood, and she believed what Jesus had said?
He was going to Jerusalem to die.
Her act of extravagant love was not solely one of gratitude, it was a symbolic prophetic act.
Mary saw what the others did not and prophesies what lies ahead for Jesus: the grave.
Over the last few weeks, living with the virus, we as Christians have all been finding new ways to be church to one another and in doing so we too are called to be prophets.
Like Mary, we have had to make generous lifechanging acts, perhaps simply by staying home, in order to honour and keep safe those we love.
This is our mission.
For some of us, it will be one that will cost us a year’s wages or even our jobs.
For others, it will be made in the simple gestures of collecting prescriptions, phoning a lonely neighbour or waving hello as we walk on by.
However you choose to embody Christ’s mission of loving one another, always remember because of this Holiest of weeks that we do not carry the burdens of this world alone. Because unlike Mary, we know for we are Easter people there is life beyond the grave. May you be blessed as you are a blessing to all.