Monday, 8 April 2019

The anointing at Bethany

5th Sunday of Lent : John 12:1-8

The sermon opened with a short extract from piece of music from Gabriel Jackson’s The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and also makes reference to Velasquez “Kitchen scene with Christ in the house of Martha and Mary” which is in the National Gallery

That piece of music is  from Gabriel Jackson’s “The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jackson was born in Bermuda in 1962, so many many years after J S Bach but he too as Bach does in his St. Matthew Passion begins his piece following an introduction with a setting of the “Anointing at Bethany.” Jackson’s music captures the ecstasy and worship of Mary and somehow too with those falling notes of the harp the slow pouring out of the costly perfume. And it was costly, the  price was more than a year’s wages for a labourer. In the passion and in these two musical settings it stands and prefigures the coming pouring out of Jesus’ life for us. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume as our lives are to be filled with Jesus’ love.

But, I wonder when you hear this story where are you in the house?

Are you, as I have often thought I would be, in the room somewhere watching Mary do this amazing thing? Not only does she pour out the perfume but she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair foreshadowing Jesus washing and wiping the disciples’ feet in just a few days time. Or are you Martha?

I would like you to look at the picture by Velasquez, “Kitchen scene with Christ in the house of Martha and Mary.” Now, I am cheating a little because this composition is based on Luke 10 where Jesus is not in the Pharisee’s house but in Mary and Martha’s house. In this account Martha askes “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me do all the work?” The Gospel of John has I think conflated these two events as he tells us in our reading Martha served - while Mary worshiped and wiped.

But look at the painting and imagine the young woman in the kitchen to be Martha; she is pounding something in a  mortar, being active her strong arm grinding the garlic and the pepper, the fish waiting for the sauce. She is in the foreground while behind in a picture within a picture through the hatchway is Mary kneeling at Jesus’ feet, still, thoughtful, attentive, rapt, not as I say about to anoint Jesus but she might be …… Looking again at Martha we see the tension, she is welling up with tears, she wants to be with Jesus but duty and fish and eggs keep her tied in the kitchen.

Where are you in the house?

Do we find ourselves drawn by activity ,good creative and necessary though it may be? Are these things in our foreground while the prayerful, quiet, reflective parts of us are pushed to the back? Is there anything we Marthas can do to be more like Mary, to be in the room with Jesus?

You may have noticed that in Holy week I have put three services of Compline. Compline was the last of the canonical hours included in the rule of St.Benedict and is said before retiring to bed. It is a very old service, predating Benedict, and I invite you to come on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Holy week at 6.30. I ask you just to come, you have to do nothing but bring yourselves, to contemplate a candle and let these centuries old prayers take you to into the house and into the room at Jesus’ feet.

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