The Fragrance of Faith

John 12:1-8 – The 5th Sunday of Lent – for March 17, 2013

“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3)

Take a breath and smell this . . .

Fresh-mowed grass.

Bread baked in an oven.

A skunk in your neighborhood.

A rotten egg, diesel engine or spoiled milk.

A puppy’s breath, orange blossoms or a Christmas tree.

mary-and-jesus-feetThere was that time when Jesus ate dinner at Lazarus’ home. What if they’d shared bread baked from earlier in the morning, grilled lamb, figs just plucked from the tree and pomegranates with red, sweet juice dribbling down chins? Can you smell the feast?

Were any doors and windows open? Did a breeze deliver the aroma of a nearby orchard? Were flowers blooming by the entry? Had Lazarus’ neighbor spent the day pressing new oil from harvested olives? Do you feast in the smells?

Jesus’ disciples crowded into the room. Judas fingered the bag of coins. Peter ached for his family. Thomas drank too much. Matthew told a long story about a tax dodger from Galilee, but forgot the punch line. All were road weary, sweat-stained and couldn’t recall their last bath.

Lazarus’ sister entered. Mary.

Readers of John’s Gospel know what happens next. Her actions led to Judas’ complaints . . . the expensive nard she possessed could’ve been sold, the money “given to the poor.” Her actions caused Jesus to comment about those same poor with a perplexing, melancholy response:  “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Mary rubbed the precious nard onto Jesus’ calloused feet. She literally welcomed the guest. She metaphorically prepared him for impending death. And impending mystery. Continue reading →

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Ash Wednesday: Strangeness Abounds

(My lectionary-based reflections are typically posted about two weeks before the Sunday scheduled for the Bible lessons. But with Ash Wednesday this week, I’ve tossed in an essay to honor Lent’s official beginnings.)

ash-wednesday+(from+stanthonyfresno.org)Nobody cares.

Which is not true, since statements with “nobody” or “everybody” (therefore meaning absolutely no one or including every single person) are rarely accurate.

But it’s true enough!

Ah, what does “nobody” care about?

Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Lent?

With Ash Wednesday on February 13, Easter’s official preparations begin. Lent is an artificial creation of the Christian church to help believers “cleanse” themselves before arriving at the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Traditionally this cleansing, this getting “right with God,” has emphasized personal sacrifice.

But it is an artificial creation. For Christians, there are no Biblical mandates to set aside the 40 non-Sunday calendar days before Easter for personal sacrifice. In fact, there’s no real “date” for Easter in the Bible either. And further, note how that second sentence in this paragraph was so confusing? Go ahead, say it out loud:  40 non-Sunday calendar days before Easter. Huh?

Who cares! Who can understand all this add-on junk for Jesus? Continue reading →

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Intimate and Affectionate

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 – The 2nd Sunday of Lent – for March 4, 2012

“I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of people will come from her.” (Genesis 17:16)

And thus the Lord appeared to Abram and gave him a different name: the man from Ur of the Chaldees became Abraham.

This same Lord instructed the newly named Abraham to rename his wife Sarai: the woman married to the man from Ur of the Chaldees became Sarah.

Important stuff, eh?

Abram means “the father is high” (and, all Biblical literalism considered, I doubt that carries any modern connotations about recreational drug use). Sarai, as you likely know, means “princess” (or “noble woman”) which is probably easier to brag about than “the father is high.” But that’s just me. I’m a bit vain about my name—Lawrence—because it’s derived from laurel. In ancient times, a laurel wreath was often placed on the head of a king or queen. Royalty. The Big Cheese. So, when you think of me, even if you use my friendly nickname Larry, please crown me with at least one metaphoric crown.

According to the writers of Genesis, the Lord made the Abram-to-Abraham and Sarai-to-Sarah name switch and, ta-da, for all the generations following these revered “parents” of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths will be known as (wait, wait) . . . “the father is high” and “princess.”

Hmmm? Is this Biblical sleight-of-hand?

In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” the old king of the title bemoans:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Are Abraham and Sarah’s swell new names mostly a “sound and fury” that “signify nothing?” merely a ruse to amuse? Continue reading →

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