Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages!i Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)
Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. – John 12:3-7 (CEB)
There is no fasting from funny memes today as Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day get together on the calendar (and just wait until Easter, which falls on April 1). Many a pastor has become creative at putting these two observances together. Maybe your ashes will look like a heart or a rose today. Maybe red stoles will replace purple tonight.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. – John 13:1 (NRSV)
In Luke 9:51, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem – the city in which he will be betrayed and killed. But John reminds us that despite the suffering to come – and a very real death – Jesus continued to love. If we are to truly walk with Jesus this Lenten season (and every day), I believe we need to do the same. That is, recognize our mortality and love freely in response.
On our bodies we bear the marks of sin and death. But on our hearts, we bear the marks of Jesus Christ – our Redeemer and our Lord. We will kick up the dust of our mortality as we walk with Jesus to the cross. But as we are marked on our foreheads today with the mark of death, we remember that our heart bears the marks of love
that cannot be comprehended,
that cannot be exhausted,
that cannot be limited,
that loves us until the end.
This is a night of life and death – and love.
On Ash Wednesday, I now mix my ashes with nard, thinking of Mary’s anointing of Jesus before his death. Ash Wednesday is a day we remember our mortality without providing the immediate comfort of the resurrection. We are called to be honest about our humanity: both its shortness and our shortcomings. But the sweet smell of the nard reminds us our mortality can only be understood in relation to Christ’s life and death; his death and life. Because in life and death, we belong to God.
On this Ash Wednesday / Valentine’s Day mash-up, may the contemplation of your death be the reminder to live. And as you live, to love freely and fully knowing to whom you belong.