Sermon on Mark 8:27-38
My husband flew to Argentina this week to be with his mother before her death, which occurred on Friday. Her name was Anastasia, which comes from the Greek, Anastasi, which means resurrection. I didn’t think of this until a friend wrote to me: We are reminded of the promise of resurrection in Gregorio's mother's very name. Anatasia. Very true and very beautiful.
As a way of understanding today’s gospel, I want to take you back with me to last Sunday when Gregorio got word of his mother’s grave situation which caused him to leave church early.
If Gregorio had said to you, “My mother is near death.”
You would not have said; Oh no, don’t be ridiculous. Don’t say that.
She won’t die yet. Don’t go there.
I don’t think you would have said that. I hope you would not have said that.
Because when someone tells us something painful.
and we say, No, don’t say that. Don’t go there.
It’s really a way of saying that we don’t want to go with you to that
disturbing place. It’s a way of distancing ourselves from another person’s pain rather than a way of cheering them up. False hope is not cheerful.
It’s just unreal and unhelpful. Fake.
And it’s exactly what Peter does in today’s gospel….Jesus speaks of his approaching suffering, rejection and death and Peter “rebukes him.”
Rebuke means to say, “No! Stop! Don’t talk like that. Don’t go there!”
And Jesus responds quite strongly. Jesus rebukes Peter right back. “I’m not going there with you Peter, to that false place. To that plastic place.”
Jesus was angry and I think Jesus was also disappointed and maybe sad.
Sometimes when we are facing something hard, weneedto talk about it,
to share it with those close to us, not just one time, but maybe two or three times. We need to talk about our hurt or anxiety about what has happened or what may happen, multiple times as a way of processing it.
Jesus does this in the gospels. He speaks with those closest to him, the disciples, about his upcoming suffering and death, multiple times and each time, they try to evade the subject. To dismiss it. To distance themselves from it.
At last, on the night before his death, Jesus invites a few of them- Peter, James and John, to stay awake with him, to keep him company as he struggles. But they fell asleep. He keeps waking them up and begging them to stay awake with him. They can’t fix anything or stop it from happening, but there is something they can do. They can accompany a friend in his grief.
They can sit with him and keep their eyes open, as Gregorio and Anastasia’s other children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren did all night on Friday night in their grief. Which is why it is called a wake. But Jesus disciples kept falling a-sleep. And then they ran away. They just weren’t willing to go there with Jesus.
But someone was. She’s not in today’s gospel but she appears later, as Mark tells us about Jesus final days. We read about her here on Wednesday night. Mark has just told us about the plot to arrest Jesus and kill him…then we read:
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."
One of the things we discussed on Wednesday is that the people who criticize this woman for wasting costly oil on Jesus instead of spending it on the poor, are the same people who are constantly annoyed by Jesus’ concern for the poor. They are the same people who criticize Jesus for spending time with the poor and outcast, like sitting at a table to eat in the home of a leper named Simon, someone who was considered poor, unclean and untouchable. Someone considered as good as dead. In fact, the exact same rules about not touching the dead went along with not touching lepers. So these people are not really worried about the poor and if they are, as Jesus says, they can show kindness whenever they wish. This woman is not being wasteful, She has done what Jesus calls “a good service.” And what service is that?
First, she has poured out oil to anoint Jesus on his head. A similar story is told in each of the four gospels and in two of them, the woman is pouring out oil and anointing Jesus’ feet. Anointing feet is an act of hospitality and it was usually performed by women. When we were trying to find cover art for our worship bulletin it was difficult because most art, not only simple drawings but paintings throughout history, show the version of foot anointing. But Mark’s version of this story was the first, the closest to the event and it’s not a foot anointing. In fact, anointing Jesus’ head was a even more telling act. Something a woman was never supposed to do at all. In the OT, kings are anointed by pouring oil over their heads as a part of their coronation and kings are never anointed by woman. They are always anointed by male prophets.
So this woman has taken on the role of a prophet anointing the messiah, and Jesus does not condemn her. Unlike some politicians who do not want to see women in positions of authority, politicians who condemn women for wanting to be given equal opportunity to make it to the top in the workplace instead of staying home, even women who want the power of access to birth control. But Jesus does not condemn this woman who is breaking gender barriers as she breaks the seal on the alabaster jar and pours out the anointing oil. Jesus does not condemn her but plenty of Biblical commentaries do. Their comments often echo contemporary comments
about women questioning authority. They call this woman a slut. They label this woman as a prostitute. Why? Because how else would she have the money to purchase this costly oil? Jesus’ comments, however, are quite different. According to Jesus she has done “a good service.”
The Bible fails to mention her name. I’m going to call her Anastasia because she rose, with open eyes to open the eyes of the world.
Anastasia rose up as others stepped away and she bore witness to who Jesus is. And she does this while recognizing that this messiah, Jesus, is on his way to his death. Unlike Peter, Anastasia does not skirt around this truth. Anastasia anoints Jesus as a prophet would anoint a king and at the same time, she anoints him, as Jesus says, in preparation for his burial. Unlike Peter and the disciples, Anastasia is willing to go there with Jesus. And I think he took comfort from that. From her willingness to enter this disturbing place with him, to break the boundaries, entering a leper’s house with him, assuming the role of a prophet, keeping her eyes open to what his own disciples refused to see, that the messiah must undergo great suffering, be rejected and be killed.
Jesus commends her act. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."
Ironically, what Anastasia has done is not often told. Her story is not in our three-year lectionary. Which means you can come to church every single Sunday year in and year out and while you will hopefully hear good news proclaimed, what Anastasia has done will never ever be read or mentioned. We do get versions of this story, especially the foot-anointing by Mary Magdalene. But we do not get the story of this head-anointing woman
But I decided to go outside the lectionary today, to consider this disturbing and somehow comforting story.
The spiritual writer Richard Rohr wrote:
“The most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection—and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth. ”
I would say that the most amazing fact about Jesus is not so much that hefoundGod in disorder and imperfection but that he entered into our human disorder and imperfection, being God, with us in such places. Because he was willing to go there. To come here. And Anastasia was right there with him.
As Jesus said. She has done what she could. This is true of many people here. You rise up each day and you do what you can. But today, I would like to point out one person in particular who does what he can and that would be our director of music, Mr. Horace Beasley. Yesterday, March 3, marked his 35th year as an associate in ministry in the Lutheran church. For all these many years, Horace has taken the alabaster jar and broken it open, pouring out his rich musical gifts for Jesus. For the body of Christ. For us. Horace is mightily talented. He might have used his gifts in other places where he would have received greater recognition and remuneration. Some might ask, “Why does he waste his talents on the church? On this church?” But Horace pours out the very costly ointment of musical nard for Jesus. For the body of Christ. For us. He does what he can.
Horace pours out music that accompanies us in dismal grief and in soaring joy. Like the woman who anointed Jesus, Horace goes there with us, to those soulful places, to the places where we find ourselves in the shadows and to the places that bear us forward in glory. Like Anastasia who entered the house of Simon the leper, Horace comes into this house, to meet us, with all of our impurities and imperfections, to anoint Jesus, to anoint the body of Christ, to anoint us beforehand for burial and for resurrection, pouring out the costly melodies of grace.
We leave church each Sunday anointed by the Holy Spirit, but often, a goodly portion, a rich portion, of that anointing, comes to us by way of music. It comes to us because Horace has done what he could.
9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what he has done will be told in remembrance of him."
It won’t of course. Just as what you do to accompany others and inspire others, to touch the souls of others in deepest soreness or radiant gladness, will not get much play or publicity. But the One who watches over us, the One who neither slumbers nor sleeps, the One who matters most, sees. And today, Horace, we want you to know, that in our limited way, we see as well, we see you doing what you can. And we are grateful. Thanks be to God.