Mary Anoints JesusJohn 12:1-8 (NRSVUE)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’s feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
I know that we will be celebrating Easter in just two weeks, but somehow today’s scripture reading and theme make me think about Christmas.
We just heard the story of Mary anointing Jesus and Jesus acknowledging that he will not always be there with his friends. You see, just a few days earlier, Jesus had returned to Bethany after hearing from his friends Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus had died. Scripture says that Jesus wept upon hearing of the death of his friend. And then he went to the tomb where Lazarus’ body was laid, and Jesus raised Lazarus back to life!
Now the Chief Priest and Pharisees heard about what Jesus had done, and they became more and more concerned and afraid of Jesus’ authority. So they began to plot to kill Jesus. That’s why when Jesus returned to share a meal with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, he knew he did not have long to live. Jesus knew that his time on earth was short. He was vulnerable, and his life was, therefore, fragile.
Whenever I hear the word “fragile,” I think of the movie “A Christmas Story.” Remember the movie with Ralphie, who wanted a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas, and everyone told him he would shoot his eye out? Well, in that movie, Mr. Parker (Ralphie’s Dad) is informed that he has won an amazing prize which will be delivered to his house. He has no idea what it is, but he can’t wait until it comes! Well, a crate finally arrives, and he knows it contains something wonderful! He reads the block print on the outside of the crate, saying, “Fra-gee-lay. Oooh… must be Italian!” he says to his wife. Mrs. Parker responded, “I think that says ‘fragile,’ honey.” Mr. Parker then somewhat dismissively says, “Yeah, oh yeah,” and proceeds to open the crate with the innocence and wonder of a small child opening a present on Christmas morning.
Friends, the word “fragile” is not usually a word that musters excitement. “Fra-gee-lay,” however, sounds much more exciting! Often when we think of something fragile, it makes us nervous because we know that we need to be very gentle with it. Sometimes the word “fragile” even brings with it a sense of fear that it might be something that breaks easily. During our time of sharing, I asked you to share with your neighbor something that you think of when you hear the word fragile. So I wonder, what are a few things that you shared or heard?
The truth is, as much as we like to focus on the fact that our lives are full of adventure, our lives are fragile too. We like to think that everyone and everything that we love will be with us forever. Because as human beings, we don’t like to think or talk about death because it makes us sad. But every year on Ash Wednesday, which we celebrated just a few weeks ago, we are reminded that from dust we have come, and to dust, we shall ALL return.
Friends, none of us will be here forever. Everything that has life, will someday die, from a flower to a bird, and a family pet to a beloved family member. Death is a part of life, which only accentuates the fact that life is fragile. Often when talking with families about grief and how to talk to children about death, I assure parents and grandparents that kids understand death, better than adults do because they don’t carry a lifetime of baggage around with them. As Robert Fulghum wrote in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, children know that “Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.”
Families used to understand life and death more clearly because generations lived together under one roof. Before moms were sent off to have babies in hospitals and grandparents moved into nursing homes, babies were born at home, and grandparents died there too. People understood that life was indeed fragile and special and sacred. But we have lost track of some of that sacredness over the years. Let me tell you, friends, if you want to be reminded of some of the sacredness of this life, spend some time with a small child. That’s how I stay reminded of the joy around me and continue to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Today during our story time, we heard a book called You Can’t Kiss a Bubble, and I’m sure at one point or another, you may have even seen a few bubbles dancing around our sanctuary. Just like in the story, during household huddle this morning, we learned that you can’t really control where a bubble goes. Sometimes you can hold one on your finger, but you can never save it for later. Bubbles are like rainbows and sunrises and shooting stars. They can’t be kept, protected, or saved. They simply have to be enjoyed in the moment.
In our scripture reading today, Mary used the expensive nard (or spiced perfume) to anoint Jesus rather than saving it for someday. And we, too, need to think a little bit more about living for today, appreciating the people we are with, and celebrating who we are and where we are on life’s journey right now, rather than waiting for who we might be or where we might go, someday. Friends, knowing that life is fragile is not a bad thing. It should not fill us with fear or sadness. But on the contrary, it should remind us that every day is a gift!
Now because we are talking about gifts and we are also talking about the fragility of life, I want to assure you all that talking about death does not make death come more quickly. But it does make grief and planning easier for families when the time comes. So I would encourage you to take a few moments this week to let your family members know your final wishes. If you can’t get yourself to talk to family about it, at least write the things down that are important to you. Because when we are open and honest about life and death, we can more easily celebrate the time that we have been given here on earth.
Mary and Martha had just experienced the loss of their brother Lazarus, and though Jesus brought him back to life, they knew that they would soon lose Jesus too. So rather than spending their time, effort, and energy worrying about what would happen when Jesus was gone, they gathered to share food and fellowship together. And if that weren’t celebration enough, Mary pulled out all the stops and anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. She knew he would not be with them forever, so she honored and celebrated him while he was still with her.
Friends, so many times, we gather to celebrate funerals and memorial services. We gather to remember our loved ones and all the things that we loved about them. But why do we always wait until they are gone? Why don’t we take more time to celebrate our loved ones while they are still with us? Friends, our lives are amazing and awe-inspiring and precious, but like bubbles and rainbows and sunrises and shooting stars, they can’t be kept, held onto, protected, or saved forever. They simply have to be enjoyed.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, know that you don’t need to go out into your week ahead weighed down by fear or stress, or anxiety about what might happen. Instead, allow your heart to be filled with gratitude for each and every moment that you have. Let your heart be filled with joy at the sight of a rainbow. Blow some bubbles and watch them float through the air. Watch the morning sunrise as it fills the sky with colors. Look up at the night sky, watching for a shooting star, and take time to cherish your friends and loved ones. Because though our lives are busy, and we think we’ll always have more time, the truth is, life is fragile, so don’t wait for someday. Take time to enjoy the sacred moments all around you today!
My friends, may it be so, thank be to God, Amen!