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.

Day 6 of Lent: HAND

day6_Lent_open-handsOne of the words that rises up out of today’s texts, when placed side by side, is HAND. These are the parts of the body into which we entrust ourselves, when we turn ourselves over, when we release ourselves into someone else’s care and keeping, or into the potential safety and refuge of a reciprocal relationship.

We place ourselves in someone’s hands.

In a prayer from David, seeking deliverance, he places himself and his people into God’s keeping: into God’s hands. Later the writer of John claims Jesus Christ as our advocate, the one to whom we turn.

We are partners in this process of becoming vulnerable. When we extend our hands, and hold them open, sometimes we catch and uphold, as much as we release and receive. We are called to move toward God, and risk all, by making ourselves available, just as God moves toward us.

A relationship occurs when our hands are involved. We hope it is one of tenderness and compassion, and also of justice and service.

Consider that we are God’s hands in the world. We walk, as the writer says, as Emmanuel walked. By using our hands as Christ used his hands, we are called to be in relationship with others in a way that models that ethical engagement: forgiving, truth-telling, healing, community-building, educating, feeding, washing, rescuing, pouring, fishing, mending, holding, transforming, carrying, praying, yielding, and so many more acts of connection.

I should note that these scriptures are excerpted from Biblical passages that also include images of violence and vengeance, sometimes done with hands holding weapons. So let’s acknowledge that hands can also inflict harm, and bodies can be landscapes that experience hurt.

Yet in his deepest need, David, one of the greatest kings of our sacred texts, cries out to be in the shelter of God’s merciful hands. Rather than focusing on what David may wish to happen to his adversaries and enemies, I pay attention to what he hopes for himself and his people. David’s human, after all, and there’s a limit to what he imagines God’s grace can accomplish. From our perspective, we can also hope that what God can provide for us is also possible for ‘others’ too, so that ‘others’ can become more than enemies and oppressors.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 17: 7 — Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
  • 1 Chronicles 21: 13a — David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great.”
  • 1 John 21: 1b — But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
  • 1 John 21: 5b-6 — By this we may be sure that we are in him:whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

Day 5 of Lent: BRING

Today’s excerpts from scripture can cause us to ponder, what do we bring into this season? What do we carry with us, in our minds, bodies, and hearts? Are these things we bring gifts or burdens?

The challenge, ultimately, is to bring all aspects of ourselves into relationship with our community, our creation, and our Creator. All of ourselves … the parts of which we’re really proud and the parts we hide out of hurt, fear or shame.

Part of the opportunity today is to consider that sometimes the things we bring into a relationship with ourselves, our community, our larger world, and our God may serve as both blessing and burden. In this way, we may be able to re-frame how we understand and engage certain concerns or celebrations.

We can consider bringing our whole selves in different ways:

  • Part of what we bring into this season is a gift of ourselves to others … stretching or offering more of ourselves as a gift … so let’s name these blessings we’re making available. We make this offering to be more present (in some way) to ourselves, to each other, to creation, and to God, following Jesus commandmant to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves (notice the three entities named in this commandment: God, others, self).
    For example, I aspire to offer time set apart just for my family, being emotionally available to people with whom I have intimate relationships by making time to talk and be together, committing to personal wellbeing through practices such as better eating and walking daily, or being aware and ethical about the environment by using renewable resources such as  a washable cup vs a disposable to-go cup.
  • Part of bringing our whole selves means sharing our burdens or brokenness. And who isn’t burdened or broken somehow? So we can take this chance, during Lent, to bring these concerns and vulnerabilities to our community and God also.
    I confess, in my own life, a few of these tendencies and ask for support around them. I acknowledge my preference to be anxious and controlling when I need to relax and collaborate. I admit that I get quiet and withdraw, faltering in consistent communication where it’s most needed, in stressful times. I say right here that sometimes my body’s softness and roundness (all euphemisms for harsher internal critical words I use about myself, like flab and obesity) embarrasses me. I inhale and confess that I avoid being honest and direct when I sense conflict or tension surrounding an issue.
  • Can we share our whole selves, whether we understand these parts of ourselves as gifts or burdens? It’s easier, sometimes, to bring and share our gifts to help and support someone else than to bring and entrust our vulnerabilities to someone else’s care.

Allow this season to be a chance to put down burdens, let them go, and give them over to God. feb14_lent5c_bring_steam_trunkThis doesn’t mean we get to set aside accountability. We remain responsible partners in our relationships. Yet we can share the burdens, as well as the gifts.

Let us trust that those gifts we bring will be put to use, and their purpose revealed. And also trust that if we relinquish some of our burdens and concerns, God will hold them with us.

Later we may look backward, and reflect about what committing ourselves fully,  bringing our whole and broken selves into these relationships, renews in us at Lent’s ending. What will we bring away from this season? What insights, personal growth, experiences, healings, or renewals come to us, as we enter into the spirit of exploring and acknowledging our own mortal brokenness? Of trusting and believing we are in the presence of One who loves us enough to bring our lives into God’s own keeping?

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Deuternonomy 26:10 — “So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”
  • Romans 10: 15 — And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
  • Luke 4: 1 — Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.
  • Luke 4: 8b — “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.’”