Suffering Love: In Remembrance of Her (sermon)
Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31
Mark 14: 3-9
Rev. Loren McGrail
March 15, 2015
St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church
And the women were there….
From the beginning Lady Wisdom, Hochma, was present. She was there when the world began and later she could be found in public places like street corners or crossroads. Her call for discernment and truth telling is urgent because we are much more comfortable with a godhead that is omnipotent than a God who calls us into action for truth and justice, to be co-creators in building the Beloved Community.
We acknowledge her presence and call this Mother’s Day, this fourth Sunday in Lent, as we begin to make our way toward Jerusalem. We find her steadfastness in the women who accompany Jesus along his way of suffering. She can be found in this story of the woman who anoints Jesus for burial, in the daughters of Jerusalem who weep as he passes, in the women at the cross, and later the women who go to the tomb.
The women were there….
And so the question is why? Or what are we to make of their radical acts of discipleship?
Mark’s passion narrative begins and ends with stories of women who wish to ritually anoint Jesus for burial. They understand that discipleship involves acting in the moment and accepting suffering. They are not only unafraid of death, they know how to meet and prepare for it. And most importantly, they know how to give of themselves—-their tears, their oil, their faithful witness. They are not afraid. Lady Wisdom lives in and works through them.
In our gospel story from Mark, we meet an unnamed woman with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, nard, which she ritually pours over Jesus’ head, anointing him for burial. Her extravagant gesture of love is not welcome by the disciples. Many were angry and said, “What a useless waste of perfume. It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor.”
Some have preached that Jesus is being dismissive of his mission to serve the poor. Others have said that he is simply saying that the church will always be involved with the poor. But another reading is that this unknown woman has discerned correctly that the world will not always have him, that his way of suffering love will lead to death. She is the only one who gets what he has been trying to say all along and she is the only one bold enough to break the social norms and anoint him now for the future. Like him, she crosses the cultural boundaries to express compassion and solidarity.
And because of this her extravagant offering becomes the story that must be remembered, “Wherever the good news is announced what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Scholars have noted that these words “In memory of Her” have been substituted for the traditional words of institution found in the other gospels, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But the question remains. Why? Why should we remember her? And equally important, how do we remember her? How do we incarnate her spirit?
One way we do this I believe is to be willing to look suffering and even death square in the eye. It is not easy because it is painful and there is a risk of losing it, falling into despair. I would like to share with you a poem I wrote this summer during the attack on Gaza about such a moment. The poem is about Baby Shayma, the Miracle baby that was pulled out of her dead mother’s womb during one of the missile attacks. She was delivered alive and lived for four days. In the poem I explore the meaning of her birth and death and like the woman in our Gospel story I ritually prepare her for death.
I allowed myself
I can live on bread alone
fragments of hope
tea lights in a dark cave
born from her dead mother
was my miracle baby
She was my sign that death doesn’t win
that resurrection is still possible
So when she died
in her state of the art neonatal unit
because the oxygen was cut off
because they bombed the power plant
I lost it
I let my faith go
like a kite without a string
I let myself sing
into a heap of blown up body parts of children
sisters brothers mothers fathers uncles and aunts
I couldn’t breathe
I allowed myself to sob rock and keen
to become her mother
I allowed myself to curse and finally to sing
her a lull-a-bye while I pulled out
her tubes so I could
hug her one more time
I allowed myself to touch the horror of it all
We remember Her because she was willing to touch the horror coming, Jesus’ crucifixion. We remember and honor her when we too go there—-emotionally, spiritually, and physically. We remember her when we give an offering or a blessing that is as the poet/painter Jan L. Richardson says is, “a needful extravagance, both lavish and crucial.”
The one who anoints is also anointed. The blessing “drenches the one who gives, the one who receives.” Radical discipleship isn’t always about picking up the cross or even carrying someone else’s cross. It is about compassion, that ability to bear up God in the world, to withstand or stand with God. It requires having the wisdom to discern the Kairos moment and the courage to move into it. Sometimes it is a lone act of solidarity like this woman with her jar while at other times it is an act done with others like the women weeping as Jesus passes, or standing at the foot of the cross, or going to the tomb.
So dear ones, followers of the Way, who is calling out for anointing today?
Who needs your precious and fragrant oil?
Who needs your tears of mercy?
Who needs you to stand vigil?
Who needs you to roll away the stone?
Do these things in remembrance of Her who was there from the beginning of time, who knew Him and the way of suffering love.