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 26: CELEBRATE

It’s early in the season of Lent to contemplate a word like CELEBRATE, yet that’s the image that rises up in today’s texts. And after all, while people often associate Lent with a solemn time of fasting and deprivation, it can also be a time of lightness and being present. It can be a timing of giving, versus giving up. It can be cause for celebration.

day26Perhaps we should consider why we celebrate. In Joshua, the Israelites mark Passover, which is always a time of remembrance of Exodus, and their liberation from slavery. It is both bittersweet and joyful, it has a sense of obligation and ritual, but it is also an important time of family gathering and community-building.

In Psalms, people are invited to rejoice and shout for joy from a place of righteousness. I would interpret this to mean celebrating once we are in right relationship with God, self, and other people, as well as creation.

Finally, in the parable in Luke, the feast is laid when one son returns after an absence that his family experienced as if it were a death. His homecoming has the element of resurrection in it, a return to life and renewal of connection with everything that gives meaning to his life.

Remember, it’s too soon to say Alleluia … we don’t say that until Easter. Yet we are preparing for this day, for the time when Love overturns death and returns into the world to meet us where we are. Isn’t every communion both a remembrance and a celebration? And doesn’t every meal, shared with others, hold this same potential?

So in this season, celebrate with intention. Celebrate thoughtfully. But do celebrate. This, too, is a spiritual practice.

Excerpts from today’s Biblical passages:

  • Joshua 5: 10 — While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.
  • Psalm 32: 11 — Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
  • Luke 15: 31-21 — Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Ash Wednesday, Lent Day 1: HEART

feb10_lent1_ash_heartMeditation

Today we receive the hopes and passions of last year’s palms, burned now to a carbon dust. One thumbprint’s measure, worn like a tattoo, but without the conviction of ink on skin.

From ashes we once arose, and to dust our bodies shall someday return. In between … might we be stirred to life once more by the Breath of God?

Selections from today’s scriptures call out to the heart. Yet not just any heart … a heart broken open. A heart rent by weeping and mourning. A world-weary, beaten-up, endured-too-much heart. A contrite heart. A clean heart. A treasured heart. A returning heart.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Joel 2: 12-13a — Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
  • Psalm 51: 10a, 17b — Create in me a clean heart, O God. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
  • 2 Corinthians 6:4-7 — but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God …
  • Matthew 6:21 — For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.