A time to die

butterflies towards the light

A time to die…     

A couple of weeks ago, I said goodbye to a dear and beautiful friend, Sue. After a 5 year fight with cancer, she is now with God. She was my friend, my next door neighbour and a parishioner. I had the privilege of travelling with her through the ups and downs of her last year. The hope, the heartbreak, the fear and the peace. I have done the same journey with many friends over the years, and it doesn’t get easier. As a former palliative care nurse, in the community and hospice, I have also journeyed with many other families in a process of release and letting go. Of loving and leaving. It was a job I loved, although inevitably costly. It is possible to care for someone who is dying and hold yourself apart, with a protective distance, but that was something I could/ can never do. The end of life is ‘Holy Ground’ that requires bare, unprotected feet, in my book. It is far more abut being, than doing. And being with, means exactly that. Being. Present to, and attentive to the whole person and their needs of the moment. With. Alongside. In the dark and the light, the pain and the peace.

Part of me will always be a palliative care nurse. It is a ‘hat’ I can never take off, nor that of a midwife, an earlier profession. Both professions inform and shape the priest I am.

Sue accepted her approaching death with grace and courage. She knew the gentle arms in which she was held in life, would be the ones who would carry her Home. From home to Home. Her husband Bill, read the following beautiful poem at her Thanksgiving service.

A Song Of Living

Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die. I have sent up my gladness on wings, to be lost in the blue of the sky. I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast. My cheek like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed. Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I have kissed young Love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end, I have struck my hand like a seal in the loyal hand of a friend. I have known the peace of heaven, the comfort of work done well. I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of hell. Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I give a share of my soul to the world, when and where my course is run. I know that another shall finish the task I must leave undone. I know that no flower, nor flint was in vain on the path I trod. As one looks on a face through a window, through life I have looked on God, Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

Amelia Josephine Barr

It was not one I had come across before, but I would like it to be read at mine, whenever that is. It encapsulates my own feelings about life and death succinctly.        I have loved life. ‘I have sent up my gladness on wings, to be lost in the blue of the sky.’ I have found the joy even in the darkest of places. In the minutiae, ordinary and everyday. This God-supplied underground stream always bubbles cool and clear, a constant source of refreshment that has nothing to do with circumstances. I don’t mean to imply for a moment that I don’t get tired, grumpy and unappreciative. But the stream burbles on, regardless. Calling me to joy. Calling me to thankfulness. Eucharisteo in the centre of everything. Calling me to the wonder, curiosity and spontaneity of a five year old.

For a whole variety of reasons, I have never feared death, although I have brushed Heaven’s gates myself, at least a couple of times. I feared bereavement, and when my father died suddenly in his fifties, my darkest fears were realised. The deepest of many losses that would follow down the years. It is hard to say goodbye. Somehow, in meeting that loss face on, and in the long journey of grief that followed my father’s death, the fear of bereavement evaporated. Perhaps just as well, as it has become all too familiar territory.

A family friend who died from breast cancer (at a similar age to Sue), just three short months before my father, wrote beautifully of her acceptance of the situation she found herself, and how ‘with His Peace, he graced this place of tears‘. My father had travelled closely with Guisela, through her journey with cancer. A few weeks before she died, she shared with him a verse from Psalm 139. ” All the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be” v.16 “Isn’t that wonderful?” She marvelled to him, as he wondered just who was preparing who, (as it turned out, they were preparing each other for the start of their eternal lives in Heaven)  She found deep rest in the knowledge that her ‘times were in God’s hands’. The safest hands of all.

She expressed her feelings in this meditative poem.

Acceptance

Resignation is surrender to fate-

acceptance is surrender to God.

Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe.

Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills that universe with purpose and destiny.

Resignation says ‘I can’t.’

Acceptance says ‘ God can’

Resignation paralyses the life process,

acceptance releases the process for its greatest creativity.

Resignation says ‘ it is all over for me’,

acceptance asks, ‘ Now that I am here, what is next Lord? ‘

Resignation says ‘what a waste’ ,

acceptance asks ‘ In what redemptive way will you use this mess, Lord.? ‘

Resignation says ‘ I am’  

Acceptance says ‘ I belong – to you, God’

At the Thanksgiving Service for Sue’s life,

I read the following reading from Ecclesiastes :

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 The Voice (VOICE)

 For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:

 A time to be born, a time to die;

a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;

A time to kill, a time to heal;

a time to tear down, a time to build up;

A time to cry, a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, a time to dance;

A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;

a time for a warm embrace, a time for standing apart;

A time to search, a time to lose;

a time to keep, a time to throw out;

A time to tear apart, a time to bind together;

a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;

A time to love, a time to hate;

a time to go to war, a time to make peace.

What good comes to anyone who works so hard, all to gain a few possessions?  I have seen the kinds of tasks God has given each of us to do to keep one busy,  and I know God has made everything beautiful for its time. God has also placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future, yet we cannot understand the doings of God.

I was honoured to be given the opportunity to pay tribute to Sue at the service.

I have had the privilege of knowing Sue, (and her lovely family), for about 18 months, and lived next door to her, for just over a year. I was her friend, a back door, kitchen table visitor, who somehow bypassed any of the normal formalities of relationship, drawn in by the warmth of her smile and hug. ‘a time to embrace’

Others here are much more qualified than I to speak of Sue in years gone by, and will do. I simply want to give tribute to a brave and beautiful lady who let me travel with her on the last part of her journey.

Being brave, doesn’t mean you don’t know fear. Being brave is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Ernest Hemmingway said, “Courage is grace under pressure” and he could have been talking about Sue. Sue met the challenges she faced with, as Judith put it, outrageous courage and grace. Another friend of hers, who I hope won’t mind me borrowing her words, put it beautifully.

“Sue faced the highs and lows of her cancer with clarity and integrity. She never shied away from the impact of her treatments and her losses and yet she managed all this with huge generosity of spirit, often with wry humour and always with a deep commitment to her family at the heart of everything.”

This is the Sue I knew, loved and travelled with. I came across a quote that said:      “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”    A time to love..

There is no question that Sue was a woman who was deeply loved. You all here, today is part testimony to that- and look around you at the flowers- This church was ablaze with love & light last night as Sue’s friends filled this place with fragrance & colour. There was music/wine/memories/tears & laughter.. a time to laugh, a time to cry.. Sue knew and felt the love that surrounded her as a tangible force that gave her strength, very particularly so in these last months. She would often tell me, with tears in her eyes, how much she drew from the love and care of family and friends that she experienced being poured out for her.

She also knew herself deeply loved by God. Held in his love, she was radiant with it in recent weeks as her path led closer and closer to Heaven. She was deeply at Peace, as she came to the end of her life, here on earth with us all. Wrapped in his Peace, like a soft blanket, (as she described it once) she was able to face death with courage.

“loving someone deeply gives you courage” and Sue was a woman who loved with all her heart. There was no half measures in love for Sue. She gave and gave and then gave some more. She loved Bill and Charlotte and Joey and the rest of her family with a fierce passion that gave her courage. She loved the God, who called her by name, walked at her side, & into whose arms she knew she was about to be scooped up with great tenderness.           A time to die..

On the night she died, I woke suddenly following a extraordinarily vivid dream. I dreamt I knelt at her bedside, and put my arms gently around her frail, worn out body. Her better- than-well-self woke up in my embrace and hugged me back. She was grinning from ear to ear and glowing with joy. She didn’t say a word, but her sparkling eyes said it all.

“and I know that God has made everything beautiful for its time” God certainly made this lovely lady Sue, beautiful-in her time, inside and out, & now, outside of time itself, and dancing with the angels, I expect she is more beautiful than ever.

Butterfly

( Sue loved butterflies and they were the theme of the thanksgiving service for her life.)

Running on empty

Single-Tree-60x22

He was running scared. Fear was all that filled his heart and head, blotting out everything else. He had run before.

Just days before, he had run down from the mountain top, with joy giving wings to his feet. God had showed up and how! He had set the soaking altars ablaze at Elijah’s call. Fire from heaven. Then after a long drought, he sent the rain.. He had run with water running down his face, soaked in joy. God was good, and he was proud to be his prophet.

But the joy had gone. Sunk into the sand, like the rain.

He had had enough!

He was tired, overworked, under appreciated, and spent. Fear and self pity, sucked the moisture from his soul, even as the desert sun did the same to his body.

Alone. Deliberately alone, he wasn’t looking for God. He was looking for death.           Deaf and blind to the blessings of the past and the future possibilities, he could only see his dusty feet. Feel his bone weary body. Taste the bile of self hatred and failure.

Finding a scrap of shade in the burning desert, he slumped under a solitary tree.

“Enough! ” he croaked. His throat parched and dry. “finish me now. Here. I might as well have never lived.”

He lay down, expecting never to get up. To die in the desert, unwatched and unloved. Alone.

The heat of the sun gave way to the chill of the desert night. Tightly curled into himself, he slept on, oblivious to the stars above his head, and the love that sheltered him.

A soft hand on his shoulder drew him out of his darkness. The smell of freshly baked cake wafted into his nostrils before he dared open his eyes. The sun was rising, and the gentle hand insistent. ” Get up, and eat.

No questions. No judgment. No one there, but freshly baked cake laid lovingly at his head and a jug of cool, clear water. Food for his famished body, nurture for his soul. He couldn’t think or work it out, he could only eat and drink. Taste and swallow. Great gulps of life- infusing water. Sweet bites of grace.

Refreshed and filled, his body slept a different sleep. Relaxed and heavy limbs, resting on a bed of love. Same soft hand. Same gentle summons. Calling him to life. Calling him to eat and drink and go. Take in the heaven- sent sustenance, and move on. Leave the solitary tree, and travel with purpose, following the God who called his name.

Forty days and forty nights he trod a path without a sign. Seeking his God, he walked slow steps of perseverance through empty wilderness. And up, and up the sometimes sheer face of Horeb‘s peak, had been so sure he would find God in this place.

His own strenuous efforts had not been enough, and weary with trying, certainty slipped through his fingers. The cool depths of cave drew him in, and offered a place to hide. A dark cocoon of doubt. Had he heard wrong? Had God turned his back?

Fear nips and bites like the imagined creatures in the cave. Night falls and his heart plummets with the light. A tree, a cave, he is still alone, and he doesn’t know,

he doesn’t know,    he doesn’t know… anymore.

Sleep comes in snatches as his spirit seeks, his body wrestles with the hard rock floor.    In the turmoil and the stupor, finds he can still receive the Word. Asleep? awake?         The question sits down beside his head.

What are you doing here, Elijah?

The answer blurts in a gush of excuse. Overworked, misunderstood, persecuted and alone. I alone, am left.. What are you going to do about this God? The words left unsaid taste bitter on the tongue.

Come out of your deep, dark cave and stand. God is passing near.

The wind roared and shrieked and threw a hail of rocks. The power of its breath stealing breath itself.. Mountain-flattening blast. He heard anger in the wind .His own anger magnified a thousand times, but it was not God.

The ground trembled, at first as if in fear. Then fear to violence, throwing him across the cave and on his face. The underpinnings of the world, his world, pulled apart. There was terror in the quake, but it was not God.

Fire! The mountain was ablaze. No way out. A wall of flame blocking the entrance of the cave, excruciating, suffocating heat. But it was not God.

After the fire, the sound of sheer silence. Deep, bottomless quiet.

He knows, and draws his cloak over his face.

God is here. Here in this stillness.

Finding courage at last, he steps out of his cave.

The voice was gossamer. A whisper.


What are you doing here Elijah?

Singing with the Trinity

Trinity Icon

Icon of the Trinity

Trinity Sunday

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

music-notes-by-beli-on-deviantart-1377646

This beautiful sonnet on the Trinity is by Malcome Guite and is taken from his book Sounding the Seasons. You can find him, on his own blog,  here.

“This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published byCanterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..” Malcolm Guite

Transfiguration

McCray_Transfiguration-1

Jesus wanted to pray.  This wasn’t unusual. He was always praying. He would often leave us mid evening and set off by himself, and we’d see him again sometime the next morning. This time he wanted company.  It had been a long, busy day and to be honest, I could have done with my bed, but there was something about the way he asked that made it hard to refuse. There were four of us. Peter and John, Jesus, and myself.

I wasn’t sure where we were going. Only that it was up, and up, and more up. There was very little light, and it took all my concentration to keep following. I could just about see where I was putting my next step.  There was no conversation. We didn’t have the breath for that. It seemed to go on forever. If I was tired before I started, I was exhausted now. This praying stuff was hard work, and no mistake. Finally he stopped. I guess we must have been somewhere near the top, but I couldn’t really see.  It had been warm enough as we were making the effort of climbing, but after a few minutes of pause, I could feel the chill air and drew my cloak around me. Peter, John and I had flopped down to the ground very soon after stopping. I guess we were all feeling pretty much the same.

We have never discussed that night. In fact this is the first time I have told this story. The details are burned into my memory, together with a host of swirling emotions. I have gone over them many times in my mind, but it is hard to find the words to describe quite what happened.

Jesus remained standing, a little way from us. He was praying silently. I am afraid I was shaking my head to stay awake. Too tired to pray.  Too tired to think. My body and my brain were trying to shut down and it was all I could do to fight it.  He had wanted us with him for some reason, and I was trying to do just that, but losing.  I tried to keep my eyes focused on him, and listening for anything he might say.

I thought I must have started dreaming.  Either that or the thin mountain air was playing tricks with my brain.  Jesus’ face began to radiate with light as did his clothes. It was like he lit up from within. Brighter and brighter, until I was completely dazzled. Frightening didn’t begin to cover it. It is strange how overwhelming light can feel.  I don’t have a word that describes it adequately.  I thought I knew this man I had worked alongside, but this being, radiant with glory beyond imagining, splintered all my preconceptions.

All at once there were three of them. Three shining figures talking together. It was Moses and Elijah. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I have never been able to explain that to myself – but I knew without a shadow of doubt, that is who they were, the instant I saw them. Moses was speaking to him of the ‘Exodus’ Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. A deliverance that would eclipse the rescue Moses led, by a million miles. (At the time, I barely understood what they were talking about. I heard the words, but I couldn’t take them in. I see so clearly now they were encouraging him for his journey to the cross as ‘the Lamb of God’.)  Their conversation came to a close, and Moses and Elijah appeared to be turning to leave him.

Peter’s voice made me jump. Speaking too fast and too loudly, he gabled something about making shelters for each of them. I think he wanted this extraordinary moment to last longer- I am not even sure if he knew what he was saying. The words had barely left his lips when we were all enveloped in a cloud. Weather can change very quickly in the mountains, but this was like no cloud I had ever seen. I find it hard to explain it to you. It was terrifying. Like the cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the desert- we were engulfed in God. The sense of being in the Presence of the Almighty God was electrifying. I could barely breathe. I have never felt such an intense awareness of holiness. It made me want to lie flat on my face, but I couldn’t move.  To be honest, I didn’t know if I was still alive.

Then God spoke. Spoke to me- to us.  It sounded like thunder and yet felt like a whisper. I know that doesn’t make sense, but you’ll have to believe me. “THIS IS MY SON” the words were charged with such love and power “ MY CHOSEN”

I trembled from head to foot. “LISTEN TO HIM!”  As the sound died away, the cloud melted and Jesus was simply standing there. Alone. The same man that had climbed the mountain with us, looking very human and vulnerable, and yet everything had changed.

We didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. Even Peter, for once, was completely silent. Awestruck. I was still trembling. The command to listen was still echoing in my ears and I was listening with every fibre of my being.  Jesus didn’t say a word, but his face and his eyes spoke volumes. The light no longer blazed from his face, but my heart was aflame.

Some months later I heard him describe himself to those listening to him as “the Light of the world” and that “those who followed him would never walk in darkness” and I was instantly taken back to that mountain. How it felt as I walked back down. As if I was carrying the Light I had seen.  I understood him even less than before, and yet I would follow him wherever he led, even if I didn’t know where he was going.  I had to follow him even into the darkness, as how else would I see? How else would I hear?

And to think I almost fell asleep.

Taizé

High on the ‘Bucket List’, Taizé is a place that has called me most of my adult life. I haven’t been able, for a variety of reasons, to answer that call. Until now. God’s timing, however is always best, and this has been a timely visit. At the end of a long, busy summer that has been high on the ‘demand’ factor. Placements, essays, exams and overseas trips calling much from me and stretching me in many dimensions. Growing stuff, I wouldn’t be without, ( except the exam bit, perhaps) but God’s rhythms require balance. Retreat and rest, as well as service and growth.

Taizé is like a long hot soak in a scented bath. A gentle place. Gentle in pace and approach.  Room to unwind and relax in a restful, spiritual environment. A truly ecumenical centre, where the sharp boundaries and denominational divisions are deliberately blurred. A confluence of nations, people come week after week, from all over the world, predominately large numbers of young people. Language barriers are overcome with careful listening, love and laughter as lives are shared within the context of small groups.

The accent is on simplicity. In everything. Worship is both simple and profound. The pattern follows the rhythm of the Community, with morning, noon and evening prayer. Firmly God focused, the liturgy and music flows naturally and easily. Led by various of the monks, who occupy the central aisle of the church, disembodied voices, in a variety of languages, guide the prayer and song. There is little to get in the way, in this very ‘thin’ place. It is a very moving experience to worship with thousands of others from all over the globe- all sitting or kneeling together on the gently sloping floor. All pretensions, roles and higherarchies are left at the door. Child or bishop, are as one before God. When you are already on your knees, the only step to bow the spirit, is on your face.  Lighting is soft, with the dancing flames of a hundred or so candles gracing the chancel. You are bathed in God, in a wash of Love.

We were told the story of a young German atheist who came to Taizé out of curiosity. She could give you a thousand reasons why God simply could not exist. At the end of the week, however, she confessed to one of the brothers, ” I am beginning to have my doubts about that.”

Presence. Gentle and unassuming, and yet inescapable.  Brother Roger started the Community in the tiny village of Taizé, in France, during the Second World War, as a ‘mustard seed’ of Peace. An alternative to the craziness of war. Bringing people and nationalities together in reconciliation and understanding. His faithfully planted seed has become a spreading tree under whose branches the nations have gathered to find rest and discover God.

Spoons. All you need to eat with, at Taizé. Food is simple too, but wholesome and nourishing and a miracle of provision. Feeding thousands a day, in a well practised organisation of willing volunteers that has to be seen to be believed. Within minutes all are eating, from trays on their laps, spread out across the site. More than once I had a picture of a hillside in Galilee, and a carpenter from Nazareth, a couple of thousand years ago.  Shortly after, it is all cleared away and washed up, by yet more volunteers,  often singing, with their arms in buckets of suds.

Taizé is somewhere to bring others to. Young people in particular. Those of faith and none. It is a place you can take at many levels. Forget any ‘Taizé’ services you may have attended. Good or bad, they are very different from the real thing. One of the brothers described Taizé as ” a place to re-discover the joy of living, the joy and the love of God” .  I couldn’t agree more.

To find out more go to: http://www.taize.fr/en

All in a name


It was dark in the garden. It was dark in her heart. She had known plenty darkness before. The cold, eclipse of rejection. The pitch black of shame. The midnight of self hatred. But none like this. This was worse than all of those combined. Hope had been hammered out of her with the nails that they had roughly banged into his already broken, feet and hands. Even now, she didn’t know how she had stood there, and watched them do that to Him, except that she couldn’t tear herself away. The excruciating anguish of seeing his agony, and being helpless to do anything to help him, had torn her apart. That was Friday. A blur of pain and fire. Saturday she had been mute with grief, unable to think, or take anything else in. This morning she had forced her exhausted body to move. There was one more thing she could do for him.

This time, no one would see her, and criticize. No mocking words or sneers. She would pour her love  out for him for the last time. She would tenderly anoint his beloved, broken body with precious perfumed oils. This time, however, he would not smile at her. His scarred face would be still. His extraordinary eyes would be dull and closed forever.

She didn’t know how she was going to get past the guards, hadn’t a clue how she would move the stone with which they they had sealed his tomb. Nothing would stop her though. If it was the last thing she did, she would say her goodbye, and prepare his body properly for burial. That was the least she could do. What more had she got to lose?

Finding her way to the place she had seen his body hastily dumped, before the onset of the Sabbath, she was stopped in her tracks. They had taken even this last goodbye. Guards gone, the tomb gaping in yawning emptiness. They couldn’t even leave his body to rest in peace. Anger and confusion spurred her feet as she ran back to tell Peter and John of this final desecration. They ran too, looked and left. Unable to deal with themselves, unable to deal with her. She was left, and like at the foot of his cross, she couldn’t tear herself away, even though there was nothing to stay for. Nothing to live for. The tears flowed, as she wept for all that might have been. She had never known love and acceptance as this Man had showed her. Never experienced forgiveness and heartbreaking mercy that lifted her out of the dust, and breathed new life into her beaten down soul. She had watched him do it for so many others too, but now all that was gone.

The tomb was empty. The beloved body stolen, who knows where. She shuddered to think what they might have done with him. As if they hadn’t done enough. She looked again into the hollowed out space in the rock, wondering if she might at least gather his grave clothes. There were two men sitting in there, where his head and feet would have been. She couldn’t take in who they might be or why they were there. They asked her a stupid question.

Why are you crying?

WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO AT A GRAVE?!” she wanted to shout at them- “ isn’t it obvious?!”  “They have taken him away, and I have lost- everything”  She turned away – unable and unwilling to engage. Lost in her loss.

The sun was just rising, lifting over the city and bathing her in light. The light hurt almost more than the darkness. Another day. Another day he would never see. She folded in on herself.

There was a sound close by. A footstep. Suddenly concious of another person , who as she looked up, was standing in the brightness of the dawn. She could only see his outline, framed with light, and blurry with her tears.

Why are you weeping?”  the same question.

Gently and compassionately asked with a voice that sounded as if it cared about the answer.

Who are you looking for?” 

He could only be the gardener, but the question  reached right into her being. Right into the depths of her pain. Somewhere deep inside, in the darkness, there was the faintest glimmer of light.

If you know where he is, if you have moved him- tell me”  she pleaded. There was just a whisper of a chance she would find his body, after all.

He didn’t answer and she still couldn’t see his face, or read his expression. Silence. A pause in which the world turned, and her heart lifted towards hope, against herself.

Mary” 

No one else said it like that. No one else had ever put such unconditional love into the simple saying of her name. That beloved voice called her a second time out of a nightmare     of darkness, bringing her back to life.  It couldn’t possibly be – and yet it was. She had been looking for a corpse, and she had found a living Lord, who knew her, and called her by name.

Rabbouni!”   was all she had breath to say. She fell at his feet. The feet she had anointed with her tears; the feet she had seen hammered to the rough wood of the cross. Reaching out to hold them – she wanted to stay in this moment forever. Be sure it was real. That he was real. That her teetering mind hadn’t tipped finally, over the edge.

Gentle hands lifted her up. His smile was as wide as the sea, and the eyes she thought had closed for ever, twinkled with life and laughter. A name, a smile. A smile that reached out and found all the shattered pieces of her heart, and drew them together again, into a new whole.

Now go– and tell my brothers who you have seen”  he asked of her. Be the one to tell them I am alive. Be the Hope Bearer. Turn their lives upside down, as yours has been.

She didn’t hesitate. Carrying the good news- she ran with joy, in the glory of the rising sun, that was lighting up the world.

Who do you see?

Dinner with friends. Relaxed, familiar environment. No surprises. Or so we thought. I should know by now, it is always different with him. People react. All sorts of ways – they love him, they hate him, but they always react to him. It had been tense for a while. The rumours were flying. We were laying low. The authorities were muttering, and when they start muttering, somebody ought to start worrying. Well I was worrying. No idea what was coming next, but I had a bad feeling it wasn’t going to be fun.

John 12 (Amplified Bible)

John 12

1SO SIX days before the Passover Feast, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, who had died and whom He had raised from the dead.2So they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those at the table with Him.

3Mary took a pound of ointment of pure liquid nard [a rare perfume] that was very expensive, and she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. And the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4But Judas Iscariot, the one of His disciples who was about to betray Him, said,

5Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii [a year’s wages for an ordinary workman] and that [money] given to the poor (the destitute)?

6Now he did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief; and having the bag (the money box, the purse of the Twelve), he took for himself what was put into it [pilfering the collections].

7But Jesus said, Let her alone. It was [intended] that she should keep it for the time of My preparation for burial. [She has kept it that she might have it for the time of My [a]embalming.]

8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.

9Now a great crowd of the Jews heard that He was at Bethany, and they came there, not only because of Jesus but that they also might see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.

10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also,

11Because on account of him many of the Jews were going away [were withdrawing from and leaving the Judeans] and believing in and adhering to Jesus.

The above passage was the one I was preaching on to video camera earlier this week. ( An exercise in self/peer assessment, looking at your style, content and physical mannerisms when speaking- scary stuff.)  The thoughts below were my reflections, having spent time at this particular table, and watching my own reactions.

“Extravagant waste!” The Tuttting Club were having none of it. The sneer became an audible tut, that became a whisper, and because no one seemed to be taking any notice,  the harsh voice of Pious Reason broke the uncomfortable silence. “Should have been used for the poor!  (Think how many we could have helped!) Ridiculous thing to do!”

“And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” Mary’s love and heart outpoured. Breaking open the costly perfumed oil, Mary held nothing back. She gave until it hurt.        Gave Jesus perhaps the most costly thing she owned. Gave him her dignity as she lavished on him a public display of love, affection and esteem . An ‘over the top’ unselfconscious gesture. The room may have been full of people, but it seems Mary was only aware of Jesus. She poured out the oil and then wiped his feet with her hair. She didn’t care what people thought. What it may have done to her reputation. Her passionate self giving was unstinting. Unreserved. She laid her heart at his feet.

Judas was affronted. His cold logic and cutting words were intended to put her down.            He wasn’t interested in the poor. He was thinking of his pocket, but in contrast to Mary, he was all about appearances. He wrapt up his bitterness in sanctimonious social concern. (You would have thought he had been around Jesus long enough to know how that would go down.) I imagine Jesus giving Judas a long sad look, before telling him to leave Mary alone.  You really don’t get it do you Judas? You have travelled with me, watched me, listened to my words- but none of it has touched you. You have been my disciple, but you don’t know who I am or what I am going to do. Love hasn’t touched your heart, or melted any of the ice there.

Mary had understood.She may not have grasped the whole picture, but she had listened deeply to his words, and his life, and seen him have power over death –  and her response was abandonment of self. Jesus was all she saw. The week before he got down on his knees and washed his disciples feet, Mary poured out her oil on his feet, in extravagant love. I wonder if they remembered and made the connection?  Smells create powerful memory associations in our brains- which is why  incense works so well when associated with worship. Those disciples in the house that night, and anyone else who was there, wouldn’t be able to smell Nard again without thinking of Jesus. ( and sacrificial worship)

The fragrance filled the whole house. It was overwhelming. Mary’s actions no doubt challenged those who witnessed them, which was probably why Judas reacted as he did.    She didn’t care if she was misunderstood . She could have given Jesus the perfumed oil in the sealed jar as a  generous gift. She could have done it discreetly with perhaps only her family present.  But it wasn’t perfume until it was spilt. She gave it to him in a way that she couldn’t take it back. She gave him far more than simply a precious possession, or a ‘nest egg’ for the future.   She gave him her heart. And Jesus received it. The week before he got down on his knees to wash his disciples feet, he let someone else wash his.

Both Mary and Judas’ reactions to Jesus challenge me . It is easy enough to look down my  nose at Judas, as he did to Mary, and dismiss him. To think that I wouldn’t belong to the Tutting Club. Mary’s lavish, public gesture of self- abandon asks big questions of me,              as to where my heart is, and who fills my vision? She both inspires and scares me.                           But then Love is a scary business. It requires uncomfortable amounts of vulnerability.

Judas saw Jesus, but didn’t see him. Mary saw Jesus and He was all she saw.

I can only pray as we sang this morning…

Open our eyes Lord, We want to see Jesus, to reach out and touch him and tell him we love him, Open our ears Lord and help us to Listen. Open our eyes Lord, We want to see Jesus.