Icon of Sts. Mary and Martha of Bethany
Icon of Sts. Mary and Martha of Bethany

[Given April 14, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

I speak to you in the name of God, who is Creating, Redeeming, and Sustaining. Amen.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to Calvary, on his way to death. On this trajectory towards tragedy, he decides to stop by the home of two recurring characters in the Jesus Story – Mary and Martha.

You remember them, don’t you? Martha and Martha had previously opened their home to Jesus and while Martha was busily cleaning the kitchen, frying chicken, and baking an apple pie, Mary was found sitting at the foot of our Lord, listening to the tender words of life that He spoke.

Mary and Martha, the two sisters who had sent an urgent message to Jesus that Lazarus was dying and, when Jesus delayed so long that Lazarus died, they accosted our Lord in the middle of the street and declared “Where were you Jesus?! If you had been here my brother would not have died?!”

Saints Mary and Martha, the two sisters who have a lot to teach us about what it means to walk with the Lord fearlessly, to struggle with the Lord ferociously, and to love the Lord fiercely.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – on his way to his encounter with the Sanhedrin and Sadducees, on his way to his cataclysmic collision with the Roman Empire, on his way to death –  and while on his pilgrimage towards peril, he stops by the home of his friends, Mary and Martha.

While at this dinner party, the Gospel declares that Mary took a pound of perfume, pure nard all the way from India, and she broke open the bottle on our Lord, she anointed his feet, and wiped them with her hair. You may remember this story from another Gospel. Luke 7 recounts the story of a “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. For John, her state of “sinfulness” or “righteousness” were of no consequence. Rather, John wanted to focus on the sincere willingness of her offering.

This offering, this pound of perfume, wasn’t a mere bottle of “Chanel No. 5” or “Obsession by Calvin Klein.” This perfume cost even more than those. This perfume was worth a lot of money. In ancient times perfume was considered an investment, instead of stocks and bonds, you purchased perfume, and this perfume was no small perfume. This bottle could have been sold for 300 denarii, the average yearly wages for a field laborer and in a shear act of devotion she opened it and poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.

This was an act of loving devotion. You see, dear friends, nard is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible love song called “Song of Solomon,” where the narrators recalls of his beloved:

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride,
you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride!
how much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
Your lips distil nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon.
A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a garden locked, a fountain sealed.
Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates
with all choicest fruits,
henna with nard,
nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
with all trees of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
with all chief spices—
a garden fountain, a well of living water,
and flowing streams from Lebanon. (Song of Solomon 4:9-15)

Whew! This is a love poem if ever I heard one. I am not suggesting that Mary and Jesus were involved in a romantic relationship (though I’m not not suggesting that); rather, what I am suggesting here is that her act of loving devotion sprung from a deep connection, from the deepest recesses of her soul, from “a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams…”

We ought to have such a connection with our Lord that we can’t help but offer all of ourselves to him who offered all of himself for us. We ought to strive for such a deep connection with our Savior that our souls cannot help but empty themselves in the presence of him who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but (εαυτον εκενοσεν μορφην – he emptied the substance of) himself , taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

As we make our journey to Jerusalem, I want to ask you a few questions: What are you offering our Lord today? What service of loving devotion are you offering to the one who is passing by, to the one who is going to die? What service of loving devotion are you offering to the one who offered all of himself for you?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Holy Week