Monday in Holy Week - Reflection

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Monday 6th April: ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me’


Introductory Music

Graham Kendrick – May the fragrance of Jesus fill this place.
Link to May the fragrance of Jesus fill this place(from YouTube, opens in a new tab)

Introductory words & pause

Welcome to our second reflection for Holy Week. Today we ponder the story from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, of the woman who anoints Jesus with oil. This story happens before the Last Supper, and possibly on the Wednesday night.

Settling down prayer

As I enter this time of prayer now, I slow down, I pause, I become still;
I breathe slowly; to re-centre my distracted self upon the gentle presence of God.

Prayer of approach

… Precious God of all, we come to you in quietness of spirit, and with a longing to find you in our lives here and today. Lift our minds and hearts to worship. Lift our wills to follow in your footsteps. Amen.

Rejoice and reflect

I rejoice in God’s faithful love today:
in the words of the ancient Psalm 45, verses 1 and 2, 6 and 7

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the King;
my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.
You are most excellent
and your lips have been anointed with grace,
since God has blessed you for ever.
Your throne O God will last for ever and ever,
you love righteousness and hate wickedness,
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

Lord, we rejoice that in the midst of uncertain lives and unsettled times,
in a season of sorrow and anxiety, your throne is for everlasting.
We rejoice in your grace, your generosity towards us.
We rejoice that you have received anointing with joy,
and that you share that joy with us.

Reading from Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 26 verses 6-13

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’

Reflection 1

In Matthew and Mark’s accounts, Jesus is in the village of Bethany. Bethany, the village near the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is the village also of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, a place of special rest for Jesus. Jesus, this evening, is in the home of Simon the Leper. As a leper Simon would have been an outcast, and we wonder therefore, whether Simon has been healed of leprosy. He can now no-longer self-isolate, but can share fully in the life of his community. We imagine that Jesus has been his healer. And Jesus goes to Simon’s house for supper. Jesus reclines at Simon’s table, the table for dinner. A most normal and everyday occurrence. A social gathering. And we hear that Jesus’ disciples are there too.

But the tension is in the air. Jesus has disturbed Jerusalem by riding in on a donkey, and accepting public praise: ‘Hosanna’! The Lord saves!’ Accepting the ancient prophecy, accepting acclamation as the promised Messiah, the anointed one.

In this Holy Week Jesus has disturbed the Temple authorities by overturning tables of money-changers in anger. He is teaching about end times, and holding his listener up to challenging excellence of life, and trust in God the Father for mercy in judgement.

And in walks the woman. We do not know her name in these accounts. Matthew and Mark do not name her, and neither does Jesus himself. But their accounts tell us that her alabaster jar of perfume, of pure nard, is very expensive indeed. And that she breaks the jar and anoints Jesus on his head. On his head.

The on-lookers are indignant. What a waste of money! The oil could have been sold and money given to the poor! What an extraordinary thing for the woman to do.

But Jesus receives her gift with gratitude. She has acted out a prophetic act. Anointing on the head is an act of great symbolic importance. To tend to someone’s feet, as in Luke and John’s Gospel, is ‘the act of a social inferior’. But on the head of a guest, by a host, would be ‘a sign of rejoicing!’

To anoint the head ‘is also to call a person to God’s service, to consecrate him or her for a special task’. In the Old Testament, prophets anointed those people who had been chosen by God to be King.

And not only so, but Jesus knows that he faces his death in only a couple of days. His body will be laid in a stone tomb. And so he rejects the irritation of the on-lookers, and instead he says: “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”

Furthermore, Jesus wishes this to be remembered for all time: “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

“Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

Music for pondering the words

We enter a time of reflection while the music plays – that we ponder these words.
We give thanks that Jesus shares his life with those who never expected it,
and that Jesus notices the gift  - and the giver. 

A Prayer

Lord and King of all, we kneel beside that table in Bethany,
we long to be there too, and offer our gift to you.
To do something beautiful for you.
Meet us in this prayer,
and hear the longings of our hearts.
Anoint us with your love.
Amen.

Please enjoy this music now, for as long as you find helpful in your personal prayer: Anointing by Jesus Culture clip. (total length is 8 min)
Link Anointing by Jesus Culture(from YouTube, opens in a new tab)

Reading again from Matthew’s gospel: 26.6-13

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’

Reflection 2

Today, Bethany is cut off from Jerusalem. It is in a divided land, and in the West Bank. But for Jesus, Bethany was a special place of refuge.  
As a leper, before he was healed, Simon would have been cut off from his community. There are many cut off from their community in this season of pandemic.
As a woman, the woman who comes to the house during the supper, simply as a woman, she would have been cut off from full participation in the life of the religious community. She would have been rule-bound. Possibly despised. A common prayer of the day: ‘Thank you God that I am not like other men, a slave or a woman, …’
And even in this story, she is not understood, except by the Lord Jesus.
There will always be big things to attend to. And Jesus is about to attend to the biggest need of all, in his passion for us. To bring those who are far away to be close to his Father God. To bring reconciliation between God and humankind. To bring those who are rejected and isolated, to a welcome, and to a new home.

So let us pray:

Prayer of response

Lord, you understand all about being cut off,
being an outsider, being isolated.
We remember those who are in that situation today,
and in silence we lift them before you now.
Silence.

Lord, you celebrated the gift of the woman.
You ask us to remember her, the beautiful thing she has done.
We give you thanks for her, for her story, and for her example.
We give you thanks now, in silence,
for those who offer their gifts in places of tension, of sickness,
and in these extreme days of pandemic.
Silence

Finally, Lord, bring us near, to your welcome and to the close place beside your side.
Thank you that you know us through and through.
We desire to be like this woman, to do the same as her.
To trust in you.
To do, and to be something beautiful for you. To bring you joy.
Silence.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he restores my soul.
Even though I walk through the valley, you are with me.
You prepare a table for me, and you anoint my head, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love shall follow me, all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Amen.

Retiring music

Modern version of the Lord’s my shepherd – Stuart Townend. 1996. 
Link to The Lord's my shepherd (from YouTube, opens in a new tab)

 

Copyright, the Bible. New International Version - UK(NIVUK) Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Hymns & Music
May the fragrance of Jesus fill this place - Graham Kendrick
Anointing by Jesus Culture
The Lord's my Shepherd - Stuart Townend version