Lenten Devotional: Monday of Holy Week

Posted by Martica.Luckey on March 21, 2016

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with Jesus. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one about to betray him), said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.'

– John 12:1-8

A few years ago I officiated at three memorial services in nine days for members of our church. It felt like death was all around us; death behind us, death in front of us. That is how it must have felt at the home of Lazarus on this day.

Death is all over this text. Jesus is dining with dear friends, Mary, Martha, their brother Lazarus, and his disciples. This is the newly un-dead Lazarus, yanked from death or near-death by Jesus a few days earlier. But remember, Lazarus was merely resuscitated. This is not resurrection. He'll live to die another day, and he knows it.

Within the week, Jesus will also die, and he knows it, too. Mary anoints Jesus' feet with a substance called "nard," expensive perfume derived from the spikenard flower. It suggests impending death. It was commonly used to prepare bodies for burial. Nard was the smell you associated with funerals. The rich fragrance that filled that house was the odor of death, more precisely, the odor that covered up death. Jesus says as much in the last verse from our reading, "She brought it that she might keep it for the day of my burial."

So what do you do with death all around you? Mary decided to wash Jesus' feet with that very expensive perfume and wipe them with her hair in an extravagant act of love. That is what you do when you know death is coming. You love extravagantly, you love passionately, you love without counting the cost.

The thought of my own death always brings me back to appreciating and valuing the very present moment. In fact, I have a good friend who says that he needs a memorial service about every six weeks to remember to live with urgency. It reminds him of what is important and that he does not have all the time in the world to care for the people he loves. Anne Lamott puts it this way, "Dying tomorrow, what shall I do today?"

The gift of this text, and maybe the gift of Lent, is knowing that life will end one day, so live today with urgency. Tell the people you love that you love them and then show them how you love them. Forgive someone who has wronged you because that thing likely will not matter when you are on your deathbed.

Be generous. Be kind. Go out of your way to help someone in desperate need. Love extravagantly, love passionately, love without counting the cost.


Rev. Brent Barry, Pastor, NorthPark Presbyterian Church