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Fragrance of Love – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester

The Fifth Sunday in Lent: Year C

John 12: 1-8

I don’t know if you have noticed, but something has happened. In fact it happened last week. And it has nothing to do with Donald Trump, or even the State Dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Obama for Prime Minister and Mrs. Trudeau. It has nothing to do with our recent election for Superior or even the unseasonably warm weather we have been having. It has something to do with the lectionary, the liturgical cycle, and the Gospel texts we have been reading at the Eucharist.

Last Monday in fact, we switched from reading our way through Luke and the other synoptic gospels of Matthew and Mark and moved into the Gospel according to John. We’ll dip back into Luke on a couple of occasions, but until Easter Day we’ll be reading our way through portions of John.

But the switch is even more significant than which gospel we are reading. What is more significant is what we are reading. Because what we are reading is less and less about who Jesus is and the controversy surrounding some of his teachings, and more and more about what will happen, not just to him, but to us as well. What has happened, is that we have begun to look forward to the events which will capture our attention and imaginations next week, and especially on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day or The Great Three Days as they are often called. What has changed is that we are now looking forward to “the day of [his] burial.”[1]

This tender scene we read in today’s gospel which takes place in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus in Bethany is a scene of great love and devotion. It shows us even more than some of the other encounters between Jesus and these three siblings just how much they loved him. For today the love is made manifest not in the gift of hospitality but of tender touch. And that touch is tenderly received.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.[2]

Now I don’t know about you, but my feet are not my best feature, especially in the summer. My doctor tells me I should pay more attention to them and keep them well moisturized, but most of the time I can’t be bothered. Until that is, they begin to hurt. By then it’s too late. I’d imagine that Jesus’ feet weren’t his best feature either. Wearing only sandals they were, at best always dusty, and at worst filthy. The custom of foot washing was not simply an act of hospitality but one of necessity. After a day of walking Jesus’ feet were no doubt dirty, covered in dust and mud and whatever with just a hint of odor de le chien. Just as we might invite a guest to “wash their hands” upon arrival, as a friend of mine euphemistically calls it, so it would be typical for a visitor such as Jesus, to have their feet washed and even moisturized upon arrival.

What happens today though, is more than common hospitality. What happens today anticipates what will happen next week. Leave her alone Jesus tells Judas, she bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.[3] In this simple act of gracious hospitality we begin to anticipate the events of next week.

Until this moment, Jesus has frequently reminded his disciples that now is not the time. He told his mother this at Cana before changing the water into wine. My hour has not yet come[4] he said to her on that occasion. He said this again to his brothers when they encouraged him to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths. My time has not yet come[5]he told them on that occasion. But something is shifting in Jesus and that shift can begin to be seen today. We get a glimmer of things to come.

Just a few verses from where we find ourselves today, and what we will in fact read on Holy Tuesday, is not that now is not the hour, but rather the hour has come[6]… now my soul is troubled[7]… now is the judgment of this world, now will the ruler of this world be driven out[8].… And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.[9]

A shift has happened and it seems to have happened in this act of gracious hospitality. Yesterday was not the time, but very soon will be the time. In a few days his hour will at last have come and Jesus will be ready for whatever comes next. And what comes next unleashes a whole host of events that reverberates to this very day. What comes next shaped history, changed lives and ultimately brought us all to this very place. For what comes next has to do not only with Jesus, but with you and me as well.

What comes next was water and towel, bread and wine, kiss and cross, tomb and terror, light and life. What comes next was seeing, and sending and saying.

Soon will be the time for Jesus and a few short days later we will hear him say it is finished[10]. And for Jesus, his work will be done. For us it will be just beginning.

So pay attention. Pay attention to what happens in these next days. Pay attention to what goes on around you and within you. Pay attention next week to the water on your feet and the roughness of the towel in your hand. Pay attention to the softness of the bread on your hand and the sting of the wine in your throat. Pay attention to the brusqueness of the kiss and the splinters of the cross. Pay attention to the coldness of the tomb and the terror that clutches your heart. Pay attention to the brightness of the dawning light and the life that bursts forth.

A shift in Jesus is happening today, and it begins with Mary bending over and washing the feet of the Lord and anointing them with costly nard. It begins in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus in Bethany and it ends, not in the Upper Room, or even at the Empty Tomb, but it ends at every Eucharist when we go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

A shift is happening, and it begins with Jesus in the home of his friends in Bethany and it ends here, with us, gathered around this Table, for this meal waiting to hear the word go. Go in peace.

A shift happened that day in Bethany where Mary gently washed the feet of the Lord and anointed them with costly nard. A shift happened that day, and we can smell its fragrance, the fragrance of love even now, ever here, ever today.


[1] John 12: 7

[2] John 12: 3

[3] John 12: 7

[4] John 2: 4

[5] John 7: 6

[6] John 12: 23

[7] John 12: 27

[8] John 12: 31

[9] John 12: 32

[10] John 19: 30

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1 Comment

  1. Ruth West on March 19, 2016 at 16:01

    Thank you, Br. James. I like reading the sermon, then hearing the audio and following the reading with you. I get so much more from it this way.
    This was an excellent sermon, so well given. May God bless you, especially during these next and final days of Lent. I so love this time in the Church Year!

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