Today is ‘Monday of Holy Week and our gospel reading is John 12.1-11 where Jesus has a meal in Bethany with Mary, Martha and Lazarus and Mary anoints his feet with perfume.
The symbols you are invited to use with today’s meditation are the stone and an incense stick or perfumed handkerchief or cloth..
If you don’t already have them with you, I suggest you pause this and find them for yourself.
Centring & Seeking God’s help
I invite you now to settle down, sit comfortably in a space where you can relax and be attentive to this time of prayerful meditation.
Let yourself stop, perhaps close your eyes and become still and more relaxed.
Take time to be aware of God’s welcoming you to be present as you come to be with Christ today.
As you settle, become aware of how you are feeling about coming to this time today. Your hopes, your concerns. Notice your desire to be with Jesus.
Tell God, simply openly, and ask for God’s grace to help you in this time.
Reading John 12.1-11
This meal in Bethany becomes focussed on how Jesus is or isn’t treasured. Brought out by the action of Mary, in anointing Jesus’ feet, the judgemental reaction of Judas and the response of Jesus.
Mary does something extravagant and unrestrained. Pouring expensive perfume over Jesus feet and then wiping them with her hair, she offers a very physical and emotional treasuring of Jesus. Perhaps foremost in her mind is gratitude for raising her brother from her dead. None present could miss the aroma filling the air. While all may not have seen what she was doing, the consequence of her act of appreciation was ‘out there’ filling the air.
Take time now with the fragrance that you have brought to this time. As you let yourself appreciate the smell it brings, ponder your appreciation of Jesus – and how you express this.
Judas, clearly uncomfortable with Mary’s action, perhaps because of his greed, perhaps because he is being shown how he does not treasure Jesus, is critical, harsh, disturbing.
Notice where you are disturbed by this story as you pay attention to holding your stone.
Can you recognise your own critical and judgemental tendencies… is there a different treasuring lying beneath them?
Yet Judas helps bring out something significant in Mary’s action – picked up by Jesus’ response – this is a preparation for burial – a deeper, final treasuring.
So holding your stone and sensing the aroma, is there a deeper treasuring that comes as you sit with them both.
Take time to talk to Jesus about what has emerged for you…
Notice any response from him
Ask for help in treasuring the most important things
O Lord hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto thee.
Tomorrow is Tuesday in Holy Week and our gospel reading will be John 12.20-26 Where Jesus talks about his coming death as being like a seed falling to the ground. It cannot grow and produce many more unless it dies.
The symbol that I suggest you find to go alongside your stone is a seed, perhaps a grain of wheat or rice
The psalm that can be read before listening to the podcast is Psalm 55 v 12-22
May God bless your Holy Week journey.
Reflections on Mary anointing Jesus' feet
One of the key aspects of today’s meditation is the sense of smell. Perfume and incense have a long history in religion and spirituality. There is an implicit recognition that this sense is an aid to our engaging with God. The Old Testament has multiple references to the use and importance of incense particularly in worship and prayer. In the New Testament, the Magi at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel bring alongside Gold, incense and perfume. Symbols of important dimensions of life – financial (gold), prayer (incense), death (myrrh). Mary in the gospel today uses nard, another perfume used for preparing the dead. I find the effect of smell on my consciousness quite profound. It can evoke memories, shift my mood, enable my tasting. All this from a sense I have prior to this consciousness paid little attention to.
I have two experiences that have informed my approach to this meditation.
Firstly, my own experience of praying in imaginative contemplation. Being present while Mary made this extravagant gesture, I found myself cringing with embarrassment and shame. Embarrasment, I realised because this was far more expressive of emotion than I was comfortable with. Shame, because I had never expressed anything of my love for Jesus in such a powerful and unselfconscious way. That led to some profound conversations with Jesus and a degree of healing,
Secondly, when I was a curate in east London, I did a funeral visit to a woman whose sister had died. I was very moved by the way she talked about the contrast between how this death was being handled compared to a recent experience in Italy, where staying with her daughter, she had been involved with her daughter’s mother in law’s funeral, and been involved in preparing her body, washing her etc. She had clearly been profoundly affected in a positive way by this – how the mother in law had been so carefully and tenderly handled by her family in preparation for burial had impressed her as a profound honouring and her involvement a real privilege. Consequently, there was disappointment that she was unable to do for her own sister, what she had been able to do with a much more distant relative. In our current context of all the social distancing because of Covid-19 there is a particular poignancy and tension with these perspectives on honouring the body in very sensate and intimate ways.