Lent Day 34: ANOINT

poured-outWow. Yesterday we read a scripture passage about a woman anointing Jesus. Today the texts are filled with anointings.

Anointings can be a revolutionary act. And it can be done by common people: you and me.

Anointing was first reported in Hebrew scriptures as an event that sets aside priests and prophets. That happens in today’s Exodus text. After the time of Samuel, anointing with oil acknowledges kings and judges, starting with David and Solomon.We see it here in Psalms, when a king raises up a song of victory and praise to God.

In later Christian traditions, oil anointingwas also applied sacramentally for healings. Or to bless the dying. It was often called extreme unction or last rites, but has since been called ‘sacrament of the sick.’

In the Gospel story, the woman’s act of anointing is personal. Yet it can also be heard as political and public, since she stands in the tradition of prophets who anoint kings. She marks Jesus as a leader. And as we know, his coming death on a cross was a political form of execution by the Roman empire.

Since this anointing is also done by a woman, in a patriarchal society, it’s even more unusual. Lots of layers of social and cultural and spiritual complexity!

m26-richardsonAnointing shows up in today’s texts in more traditional ways. Oil is used to mark something as holy. In Exodus, it is used to mark generations of priests descended from Moses’ brother Aaron. And it marks the tabernacle as holy. Plus anointing shows up in the song of the king.

Yet in yesterday’s story, a woman anointed Jesus. A regular person, a householder, sees the holy identity of God walking among us, and lavishly pours herself and her resources into naming and claiming that One with expensive oil.

Note to self: We tried anointing each other in church yesterday, and I learned not to use tea tree oil again; it’s very pungent. Try olive oil, right? We didn’t have access to nard …

Others in the house, in the Gospel story, protest the expense and waste of pouring so much oil on Jesus. She uses the equivalent of a year’s salary in this act!

Jesus defends her. He says her act shall be remembered, and that she’s preparing him for burial. He foreshadows the events of the Passion Week.

Jesus’ language of remembrance recalls the sacramental language of the Last Supper. “When you do this, remember me.” And in the versions of the story wherein she pours oil on his feet and washes his feet with her hair, it also recalls the foot-washing by Jesus for his disciples after the Last Supper.

spirit-of-creation-colleen-kwong-milwaukee-wi-5640This story shows up in all 4 Gospels, and in two versions, the woman who anoints Jesus is unnamed, in one she’s called a sinner, and in one she’s named as Mary of Bethany. So over the course of history this woman’s identity has often been collapsed into that of Mary Magdalene, and she has been labeled as a sinner, ie prostitute, which makes the scene seem even more sensuous and outrageous. Scholars and church authorities now admit that Mary Magdalene wasn’t aligned with the woman called ‘sinner’ in some texts, so that complexity has been lifted, although its hard to rid ourselves of hundreds of years of storytelling.

Anyway, it’s a sensuous, fleshy story. It’s a bodily sign-act.

Such perfume – nard — is often used to tend to the feet of a corpse. And in one version of this story, Mary and Jesus are indeed in the home of a former corpse, Lazarus, who was raised by Jesus from the dead. More allusions to death and resurrection.

On Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent, we anointed each other in church. We claimed the same role as the woman in the story. We put oil on each other, and gave each other blessings. Because in the UCC tradition, we are all empowered to do so. We are all ministers. We are all followers and servants and doers.

We are — each and all — allowed to receive such a blessing. And we are invited to offer it! Not just kings and prophets and priests. Regular people. Common folk. Householders. Women. Lepers. People brought back from death, or the edge of death.

When you think about it, the woman in the story lavished such oil on the body of Christ. And who is now the body of Christ? Us … you and me.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 20: 6 — I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
  • Exodus 40:9 — Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy.
  • Exodus 40:15 — And anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests: and their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout all generations to come.
  • Hebrews 10:22 — Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Lent Day 24: DRIED

lent24_dry_fishToday’s word is DRIED. We often refer to the embodied connection between people and God. Such metaphors place us in our earthly, messy, physical world. They plant us inside our own mortal, fleshy, vulnerable bodies.

When something is dried out, it is withering and dying due to lack of moisture. Or it has been deliberately preserved by removing fluids.

How do people dry out? What depletes us? Sometimes it’s real; we are thirsty. In literary terms, often it’s about lack of energy: mental, emotional, or physical.

lent24_dried_broken_earthIn this case, the Psalmist equates green, fertile soil and waters with life, and dry, parched places as sites of wasting, weakness, suffering, and death. Famine and drought was often a theme in the agrarian societies of the Bible, and the risk of starvation and suffering and death was real. Wandering in the desert, the deadly wilderness where Israelites were lost for 40 years, was also part of one of their greatest narratives: Exodus. Restoration of strength and vitality comes when we have access to Godself and the benefits that come from God.

And yet, at other times in these texts, dry ground is the path to safety. For instance, in Joshua, it was the crossing point through waters that otherwise overwhelm, such as the Jordan or the Red Sea. Life came with release from bondage, and trust in God’s goodness and power, through a covenant relationship.

Ultimately, Gospels and the writings of Paul compare Christ to a wellspring of water. Our Messiah’s love and grace serves as a font of life, too. Baptism, one of our sacraments, includes water. The sacrament of communion includes juice or wine, the liquid drawn from the pulp and flesh of the fruit of the vine, representing also the life and blood of Christ. We have a long history of encounters with water and wine among people of faith.

When you have felt withered and dried up, whether emotionally, psychologically, or physically. What revived and restored you? In what way do you need to be connected to yourself, to others, to creation, or to your God? Often disconnection is the source of the drying-up.

During Lent, we encourage disciplines of self-care, reflection and spiritual practices. These can be ways of seeking renewal.

As you renew yourself, you are also capable of caring for others. Caring for others, thinking and doing for others, is another focus of our spiritual Lenten practices. We can become wellsprings of resilience and hope for others, too. We can refresh other people, and parts of the world, with our choices, words, and acts.

  • Psalm 32: 4 — For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
  • Psalm 32: 3 — While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
  • Joshua 4: 14-24 — For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea,which he dried up for us until we crossed over.
  • 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15 — 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

Lenten Meditations: One Word, One Day

Ashes-Heart-01As a Lenten spiritual practice, I’ll post one word drawn from the daily scriptures. It’s an up-close visit with  sacred texts; a chance to meditate on a few syllables.

This isn’t a new practice. It’s a common spiritual exercise.

You can do it for yourself, if you want to spend time sinking down into the layers of sound and shape of the day’s readings. What word calls to you? Here’s a link to explore the daily lectionary selections, if you want to find out.

Or you can start with just this singular, bite-sized, roll-it-around-on-your-tongue word. Let it slip into the excited, electric current of your brain. Spit it back out. Trace it with your fingers. Write it on the back of someone else’s hand. Whisper it. Shout it. Pray it. Listen to it.

Let your body spend time with this word. Own it. Claim it. Change it, as it might change you.

We are flesh and bone beings, with souls intertwined into the messy, mortal bodies that mediate our experience and understanding of the times and places in which we live. We carry ancient history in our genetics, and more recent events marked into the folds and creases of our own skins.

We are living, breathing stories. Yet we are connected to an ongoing, unfolding narrative. To the Word spoken over the void, that created world and life. To the living One that walked among us and shaped our tales. To the Wind that inspires and moves us even now.

For this sacred season, I’m visiting ancient texts, one word at a time. Feel free to partake of the journey with me.