St. John’s Episcopal Church, Kirkland
April 9 2017, Palm Sunday
It has been a long road to here.
We have walked every step of it, the rabbi and his rag tag band of followers. The heat of the day is settling and the evening birds are calling over the olive groves on the hillside. Nestled among them is a poor little house all by itself. Light pours out of the door around the ragged fabric that marks the threshold. Inside is crowded, every bit of room taken up by travel stained men and women. We are seated on the floor, tired backs leaning against the walls. Simon sits beside Jesus, he’s not really a leper but a big birth mark covering half his face gave him the nickname long ago, and the isolation that goes with it. He is talking quietly to Jesus while his wife and daughters serve us a simple meal of olives and cheese.
The room is close and crowded, overwhelmed with the smell of sweaty unwashed bodies, and more than a little fear. We are uneasy, shifting and jumping at any sound from outside. The Mary’s sit close around Jesus talking quietly to themselves and watching the rest. Some of us are expecting soldiers and arrest at any moment, some are whispering together, plotting a rebellion. Almost no one notices a woman slip inside the room, but Jesus sees her, catches her eye. Her face is set and resolute; grim. She marches across the little house as if it were a grand banquet hall.
And everything changes. She has upended her jar of precious nard oil over Jesus’ dark curls. The oil drips down his sun chapped cheeks, and runs into his beard. The scent of nard drives everything else from the room. It is sweet, and aromatic, spiced like a bazaar and rich with resins. We go silent and completely still while Jesus, and the woman who stands before him, regard one another.
Jesus nods to her, his eyes sad and he gives her a sad smile, a secret smile. She kisses the top of his head. And chaos erupts. Suddenly everyone is talking, complaining, a voice shouts: “what is this?? What is this? What a waste of money! Tell her what you could have done with that money Jesus?” And while we are still yelling and arguing and shocked someone slips out into the darkness.
The prophets have never had an easy time of it. To be seized by the living God is not really something to desire, to be given the words of God, the actions of God to carry out is a frightful and dangerous thing. Very rarely does anyone respect a prophet while they do their work, for what they do makes us wildly uncomfortable. And their stories usually end in despair, death, or loneliness. Or perhaps they are simply forgotten.
A woman, whose name we have forgotten, was Samuel to Jesus’ David. On the Eve of his betrayal and passion she, wise woman that she was, saw the storm clouds gathered on the horizon, she heard the drum beats beneath the sounds of hosanna and she heard her call. She anointed Jesus in the tradition of the kings of Israel, pouring precious ointment over his head in a show of abundance that shocked and offended those who witnessed the moment. Perhaps she really wanted to shock them, to show them what she saw. Perhaps she wanted Jesus to have this final affirmation before his long and terrible ordeal. Perhaps we really cared about the money, or perhaps she had offended something deeper, revealed something more fundamental in us.
In this moment Jesus’ followers split between those who get it and those who don’t. It probably won’t be the “right” ones who get it. It will be the doubters, the fence sitters, the ones who have been there all along but who have never been noticed; it might be you. Judas, wise man of the world that he is, is getting out right now. Don’t go with him. Peter and the sons of Thunder are blustering and making excuses, and sharpening their weapons. Don’t listen to them. Nervous, disappointed men are hedging their bets, you might be too. Mary and Mary, and Salome, and women whose names we don’t have are packing extra bred into their sashes because they know they’ll be holding vigil soon.
Our own journey starts now, the choice lies before us. All around us is a stew of possibility, the stink of fear and anger calling us to the drumbeat of violence. Calling us to fall back on what we know, to strike with an angry fist. And the heady scent of Nard so strong it makes the air feel thick as honey, golden like crystalized amber. It tickles our throats and beckons us a different way, behind the tired shoulders and glistening head of a doomed Rabbi from Galilee. That way lies a road we don’t want to chose. We will lose everything we love if we walk that way. We will shout ourselves hoarse with words we will later weep over. We will be emptied. We will find ourselves, finally, alone on a windswept hill watching a group of women do what is unthinkably needful. And if we follow them in the end we might find ourselves on another hill, with dawn light revealing something new. But not yet, not yet.
Today is the first day of the end of the world, and today is the first labor pains of the birth of the new creation.
While the nard is still in the air. While hosannas ring in our ears. Now is the time to chose the way we will go.