Reflection for Passion Sunday
”Mary took a pound of costly perfume….anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” From St John 12:1-8.
”Smells are surer than sounds or sights
To make your heart-strings crack….
I have forgotten a hundred fights
But one I shall not forget…..
Through the crack and the stink of cordite(Ah Christ! My country again!)
The smell of the wattle by Lichtenberg
Riding in, in the rain!” From ‘Lichtenberg’, by Rudyard Kipling.
The fragrance filling the house when Jesus’ feet were anointed by Mary is in sharp contrast with her sister Martha’s earlier comment when the grave of their brother Lazarus is opened: “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” (John 11:39) On Jesus’ command , Lazarus emerges still wearing his grave clothes and this is so controversial that, from that day, there are plans afoot to have Jesus put to death (John 11:53). Later, those plans are extended to have Lazarus killed too (John 12:10) though it’s not known whether this happened or not.
After what he’s been through, it may seem astonishing that Lazarus is present at this meal, six days before Passover, when Jesus comes to stay with them all in Bethany and the costly nard is used. This is Spikenard, aromatic honeysuckle oil, and the generous outpouring of such expensive perfume would have cost about the yearly wage of a labourer in those days. Its use is also in sharp contrast with the indignation of Judas, the treasurer and thief, who protests that the money could and should have been given to the poor. Jesus tells him to leave Mary alone, that she has bought it for his burial and that the poor will always be with them although he won’t. Was it this that began Judas’ later betrayal and led to the death of them both?
Stench and fragrance – it was so in Rudyard Kipling’s poem about the evocative stink of cordite and the fragrance of wattle, or mimosa, written in the context of the Second Boer War in South Africa. So it is today in the war in Ukraine with evidence of atrocities being committed and implications not just for the starving but for world supplies of wheat, sunflower oil and fuel, next year as well as now. The road to the city led to terrible suffering and death for Jesus as he was apparently killed by violence and hatred, but it also led on to resurrection, when love and hope could not be defeated. This Passion Sunday, amidst the stench of corruption and what has been called the sweet smell of some success in the fighting for the cities of Ukraine, love, hope and peace talks are also battling on. May John Newton’s hymn bring words of hope that, in our own lives as well as in the ongoing warfare, grace, mercy and justice may overcome and the victory of new life eventually prevail: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…..‘Tis grace that brought me safe this far and grace will lead me home.”
With my prayers; pob bendith,