Church of England Diocese of Norwich St. Peter, Sheringham

A Meditation for Monday of Holy Week - John 12.1-11 - A Home and a Fragrance

29 Mar 2021, 4:30 p.m.
I have read this account of Jesus’ being anointed with scented oil at Bethany many times, but for me today, one line stands out. From verse 3: “and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” Perhaps it is because this is so obvious that it never before seemed important. We all know that fragrance does not stop in the place where it started! Whether it is the tell-tale evidence of a curry supper, the weekday after-scent from Sunday’s incense in church, or the lingering perfume as the airline hostess passes down the aisle, these delightful olfactory evidences impact upon us. They come as gifts – silent and unseen witnesses to that which has been - shed abroad and shared with unsuspecting guests drawn into their circle.
Mary’s action is pure gift, a package of over-the-top generosity that draws attention and criticism from one of the on-looking disciples. His calculation cannot be faulted, for Mary’s extravagance could have been re-directed to bring much blessing to those in need. Instead it is spent on one person ... just one ... like a massive and ridiculously expensive Valentine’s Card that has no use except to say ‘I Love you’. It is a love-gift. Romantic conclusions have been drawn, but are not essential. Love comes in many packages, and there is here no warrant for supposing John’s Gospel was authored by Barbara Cartland! As I ponder this account I realise that love gifts always spill out from their original containers; always splash around so that others receive the gift of their fragrance. It sometimes comes as a big surprise – shock even – following a wedding. The bride and groom have made their vows, pledging love and faithfulness to one another – she to him and he to her. Then dawns the discovery that this ‘him’ and ‘her’ seem to come, not alone, but as part of a package. They have each married just one person, yet seem to have acquired their family and sundry hangers-on! The terrified attempt at redress, “But YOU’RE the one I chose” will not suffice, nor will complaints “but I don’t LIKE your auntie ...!” Love has a habit of including those one has not chosen, doesn’t much like, and with whom there is seemingly nothing in common. The couple will have to work out how to handle this, and there may on occasion be good reason to distance from one or more members of the package, but excluding all will typically result in a marriage which is possessive and constricting rather than blessing and enabling. Love, it seems, demands to be shared! Whether a couple or single, we may find our love engulfs our own or others’ children and journeys with them as life unfolds; or perhaps it stretches forth to encompass aged relatives as they approach life’s end. In the present circumstance it comes in nursing and medical care, with all its attendant risks. But love gifts come in rather little packages too, a smile, a word of encouragement, a listening ear, a kindly-meant giving way to a motorist in need of a bit of voluntary co-operation. These too, have a habit of multiplying . . . setting off a chain-reaction of little love-gifts that change life for the better.The fragrance of Mary’s generous gift reaches us in the form of a challenge, and many of us currently have more than usual time in which to face it. It bids us look at our own love-sharing. Are there those we have excluded simply because we ‘don’t find them very easy’, or because we seem to have rather little in common? Has our habit of love within our closest relationships settled in to a rather introverted rut? Have we perhaps convinced our self that we have nothing of value to share? All these things are understandable, and can become habits of which we are largely unaware.Settle down comfortably now, for a brief meditation. In stillness, become aware of your breathing. Take a moment to breath in the scent of Mary’s love-gift. Use your imagination to let it splash around you. Let yourself become an onlooker. Will you be a critic of Mary’s action? Will you see the love? Are you revolted by the public extravagance? Would you be found doing anything like this? The scent lingers. It will still be here tomorrow, and the next day. Should Mary have taken more care instead of letting her ointment spill on the carpet? Will Martha ever get rid of this smell, and get the house back to normal again?What is normal in your house? Is there any fragrance? Does it splash around in blessing to others? How can you make this happen in the present processes of isolation? What fragrance will you wear, among those with whom you are currently in close quarters, and when you next have the opportunity to go out to work, the shops, the party ...? Note down your thoughts, your hopes, any actions or changes you resolve to make. May God bless you wherever you go. MN Holy Week 2020