Rev. Rebecca Heilman

I’ve known my best friend since we were both three years old. It was love at first sight when her family walked through the doors of Waldensian Presbyterian. From there on out, we were attached at the hip – same age, same preschool, same interests, and a soaring imagination.  So much so, that even our mom’s joked that if Anna and I were placed in a completely blank room, we would still be voyagers chased by cheetahs, genies flying on carpets, and chefs making endless amounts of nature soup. Anna especially had an exuberant imagination at a young age. In preschool, we created a yearbook where we were asked specific questions like, “what would you like to be when you grow up?” There were the solid, basic answers, you know, “a policeman, a baseball player, a teacher, even a Ninja turtle.” Then there was Anna, who said, “When I grow up, I want to be purple.” Yes, the color purple. Gosh, a child’s imagination reaches into the realms of creativity. Do you still use your imagination? I bet there are children here already drawing monsters on sheets of paper, making faces at their siblings, or wondering what it might be like slither under the pews like a snake (I’m not giving you all any ideas!). Wasn’t it Henry David Thoreau who wrote, “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” For whatever reason, children embrace creativity and shape the most random, quiet, and mundane objects and make them soar, sing, and become something beautiful, something rare, something bold, like saying you want to be purple when you grow up. It takes some cracking open for us adults to revert to that mindset, but when we do, our bold creativity runneth over. And so Mary, in our story invites us into those types of brave acts, those types of bold decisions – where maybe it’s not what we’re used to, but it’s an opportunity to create something new, different, and beautiful.

6 days before the Passover and after the chief priests had given orders to arrest Jesus of foul play, Jesus is heading straight towards Jerusalem, knowing he’s heading towards his death. But first, he makes a pitstop in Bethany to be with his dear, dear friends one last time – Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. When Jesus and the disciples arrive, Martha is doing Martha’s thing by preparing and serving a meal, but more importantly, creating a hospitable environment for her guests, yes HER guests. Lazarus, Jesus, and the disciples are doing their thing of lounging together to share in a meal. And then there is Mary, our dear Mary, doing her thing, nowhere near the kitchen and completely enthralled by Jesus.

As we’ve heard from other stories about these two women, they have different motivations when Christ is around –  all valued and important for us readers to know. Martha is certainly more outspoken, productive, organized, and hospitable in the classic understanding of welcoming people into her home. She’s a doer, rational, a problem solver – if you know and understand anything about  personality test, the Enneagram, Martha is probably a one or two. Mary, Mary is quieter, feels and expresses herself deeply. She’s probably a deep thinker, a listener, maybe even an introvert who’s introspective. On the enneagram, I’d guess she’s a four, five or six.

Two very different sisters, and yet there is one thing they share together, a deep faith. Just a few chapters before this, Martha boldly names Christ as Messiah and Son of God. And now it’s Mary’s turn, Mary’s turn to express her faith to her God. She doesn’t say it in words, but in deeds. To Judas’ dismay, Mary takes a pound of expensive perfume and pours the entire bottle on Jesus’s feet and then wipes it with her hair. It’s her response to Christ and what he’s done for her family. It’s an act of devotion. A way for her to express her faith and honor her God. She was preparing him for his death. Mary and Martha are one of the first disciples to understand the encroaching death and resurrection of Christ. They understand and name him as God.

Author, artist, and theologian, Makoto Fujimura writes about this moment in his book, Art and Faith. He writes, “Remember what the disciples deemed a waste, Jesus called the most necessary. We have much to learn from Mary. What is our act of devotion today? What is our ‘art’? Mary’s act of extravagance is what it means to create in, and through, love.”[1] It was normal to anoint heads of guests at a banquet and it was normal to wash their feet in the ancient times, but it was not normal to pour the entire bottle of perfume on to someone’s feet and then wash it with your hair. She embodied creativity and crafted something rare, something bold, something outside of the box. Something that wasn’t tradition or how things are typically done. She created in love and invited those around her and even here today to do the same. How can we create anew out of love?

Mary knew her actions both honored Christ, but would also be a comfort to him.

Fujimura believed that “the only earthly possession Christ wore on the cross was the very aroma of the perfume Mary poured upon him.” An aroma he would smell during his last breathes and would linger on him as he was wrapped in cloth and laid in a tomb. An expansive aroma that would fill the disciple’s noses and remind them of their beloved Jesus, of Mary’s act of pure love.

Mary not only extravagantly cracked open the perfume for the sake of honor, but she cracked it open for herself – allowing her love, her creativity, her emotions for her God to fill the room and the hearts of those around her. And when she cracked herself open, there was no other reason but for God’s grace and love to enter her. Mary celebrated Christ’s life that night, while knowing death was on the horizon. Mary understood the meaning of resurrection in that moment. That yes, death would come and grief with that. But alongside death, resurrection would come too. A new life, a hope, a confidence of God and what God can do, an expansive, overflowing, room-filling grace where we might not feel worthy, but God shows us differently.

Our artist today, intentionally lined the cracks in the jar with gold, referring to an ancient Japanese practice called Kintsugi.  When teacups, bowls or jars would break, The Japanese people would not toss the clay as a waste, They would instead repair the bowl with gold lacquer. Something some would call old, broken or deemed a waste would now be made new and worth more than it was before. Lisle, our artist, wanted to include this in her work because Kintsugi, “embellishes the cracks and transform a shattered vessel into a new object of beauty. In this embodied act of worship, Mary is practicing Kintsugi – boldly celebrating the beauty of life, even as death approaches.”

So much has changed in our world since the pandemic, so much has changed about church. There are cracks and brokenness all over the place. What used to be deemed worthy, is for some, now a waste. What used to be “how things were done,” well they just don’t fit anymore. We’ve certainly felt grief, puzzlement, worry, fear, lots of fear. Things are not how they used to be. And this story reminds us that we too can think outside of the box and lean into Spirit that invites us, just like Mary, to create new life, new programs, new missions, new friends, new hopes, all purely out of love. If there’s anything we know about Lent, it’s how it will end. Death will come, but resurrection, new life, and the beauty of life will be celebrated three days later.

Pray with me. Loving God, We believe, help our belief. Amen.

[1] Fujimura, Makoto. Art and Faith. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.