5th Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019
Readings: Isa. 43:16-21; Psalm 126; John 12:1-8
Zeal for ministry and dogged independence were part of my life as a single minister in my thirties. The freedom to leave my job, home, and beloved Honda Accord to live in Hong Kong was a great thing, the most wonderful time of life. “My” idea was to come home and get certified in teaching English as a Second Language and return to China as a single. God’s idea was way different. Long story short, my future husband came into my life, and it took a year for me to really see that he was my next great thing, my life partner. Over a weekend of praying on the decision to marry, this wonderful passage on new beginnings in Isaiah 43 jumped out: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” God was wonderful to us and we are happy people.
“It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—“God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people. And now, God, do it again.” Psalm 126:1-4 MSG
Yet sometimes we get stuck in the “former” things and forget that God’s miracles, the great things, aren’t just part of the past. “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.” Isa 43:18 (MSG). It seems the people of God kept talking and talking about the miracles of the Exodus. Yes, the Lord God is the One who “makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior, they lie down, they cannot rise…” Yes that all happened, and now God says “I am doing something new and “I will…” I will make a way in the wilderness…I will give drink to my chosen people…”
It’s Lent and these verses guiding us to thank God for the “Great Things” seem a bit out of place, especially when wilderness might be a reality and a very dry place for those suffering pain or loss. Like friends of ours have been separated from loved ones for years because of visa issues. A group of women are filled with anger over their personal experience of sexual abuse in the church. A family member has suffered with lifelong pain and immobility. Giving thanks is difficult for those who don’t see great things in their desert.
The Gospel reading turns the focus of thanking God for Great Things to worshipping God as a Great Thing. We are in the last safe place of Jesus’ life as he was looking pain and death in the face. Even after the greatness of raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus comes under threat of arrest and goes to the wilderness with his disciples. Then, the week before Passover, Jesus returns to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. For the moment, he is safe and comfortable here, reclining with his friend Lazarus around the feast Martha served. Mary once again has “chosen the good part” (Luke 10:42) and worships at the feet of Jesus, anointing him with expensive perfume. It seems Mary does a “great thing” for Jesus, an act of kindness and worship in preparation for his death. What about the tone of Jesus’ voice when he answers Judas’ complaint with, “Leave her alone!” He knew he didn’t have much time left, so please, let her be extravagant with this great thing, a precious offering of her love.
Practice. Use all your Senses. Nard was a precious oil in ancient times with a complex sweet/spicy/musky smell. It was stored in alabaster jars to preserve the fragrance. To fully reflect on this story, use your sense of smell to enhance your reflection. Open a bottle of perfume, scented soap, or bath salts. Close your eyes and use your senses to “visualize” Mary pouring the expensive oil/perfume on Jesus feet. Pour perfume on your feet, allowing for opportunity to continue to take in the fragrance throughout the day. What great thing can you offer Jesus today? How can you be the sweet aroma of Christ? (2 Cor 2:15)
Visualize the setting; see where you are, feel the textures, smell the fragrances, hear the sounds, taste whatever you can of the story. Find yourself in this setting as one of the characters, or as an onlooker and imagine their thoughts, reactions, feelings. In some way, use your creativity and imagination to offer back to God what has been given to you.
Practice. Visio Divina. “Sacred seeing” is an ancient form of Christian prayer in which we allow our hearts and imaginations to enter into an image such as a painting, icon, or photograph.
As you try out this practice, you can use the photograph here or search for other images that portray the story of Mary anointing Jesus in John 12. Allow yourself space and time free from distractions. Sit in a comfortable, relaxed position and breathe in and out deeply.
- Look at the image and let your eyes stay with the very first thing that catches your eye. Try to keep your eyes from wandering to other parts of the picture. Breathe deeply and let yourself focus on that part of the image for a minute or so.
- Now, let your eyes take in the whole image. Take your time and look at every part of the photograph. See it. Reflect.
- Think through these: What emotions does this image stir up in me? Can you imagine the thoughts or feelings of the characters? Do you see yourself in the story?
- Offer any prayers or praise that comes to you.
- Sit with the image in a final time of silence.
For an excellent resource for these practices and many more from The Upper Room Ministries, click the button: