Scripture for reflection: St John 12:1-8
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
Take a moment to ponder
St Lucian poet Derek Walcott has a poem entitled “Love after Love.” In it, he invites the subject of the poem to embrace self-love. This love, which is giving of the self unconditionally to others as in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave…” is absent from the person described in the poem. In other words, self-hate is dominant in the person and is sometimes described as alienation. It is this separation of the individual from self-love that the Book of Common Prayer lifts up before us as “we have not loved ourselves as we ought” (p.124). Walcott invites the individual, the subject of the poem, to therefore hold on to love, pure love, which Charles Wesley writes about in the well-known hymn Love divine all loves excelling. In it Wesley says,
Love divine all loves excelling
Joy of heaven to earth come down
Fix in us thy humble dwelling
All thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus, thou art all compassion
Pure unbounded love thou art
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart
Writing at a turbulent time in the Church of England and inviting the faithful to renew their commitment to a life of holiness, Wesley who was credited with the founding of the Methodist Church, emphasized the incarnate love of God in Jesus Christ. This love of God invites us into an eternal relationship with a commitment to share with others, especially those who are marginalized and outcast.
It is this sharing of love, which poet Christina Rosetti writes about in the hymn “Love came down and Christmas” and St John highlights in chapter 3:16 as “God so love the world.” A verse well known to Christians and non-Christians alike, it extols the love of God which moved God to create the world and makes it possible for it to share eternity with God as “pure unbounded love.” Walcott refers to this love as “A Feast of your life” in the poem entitled “Love After Love.” It is eternal love yearning for the embrace of the beloved yet, at the same time recognizing that if it is to be authentic, real love cannot be forced. Such love can only be demonstrated or shared with the hope that it will be accepted in favourable ways and confirmed as in the action displayed by Mary in the reading from John’s Gospel chapter 12:1-8.
It is pure unbounded love that led Jesus to enter into and maintain a relationship with the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This love made Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, prayed to his Father, and then raised Lazarus from the dead. Immediately following this great miracle, John has another Mary, presumably the one from whom Jesus casts out seven devils, although this is not said in this passage, lavishly demonstrating love towards Jesus. By pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ head Mary prepares Jesus for his upcoming arrest, trial, execution, burial, resurrection and ascension. This very expensive but unconditional loving act caused the wrath of Judas who later betrayed Jesus but showed nonetheless that even in the midst of challenges love prevails. As St Paul says, it never ends (I Cor 13:8).
This Holy Week is an opportunity to court love, the love of God for us. It is the gift of God’s very self to the world, given freely for all to accept, embrace and share extravagantly and lavishly with others. For this reason poet, Derek Walcott says “to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf…Sit. Feast on your life.” Life is of God and from God and is available through Jesus Christ to everyone; a life we celebrate in the resurrection and on which we feast in love at the Eucharist.
In the final analysis, my friends, to be loved and to cherish self-love are in the will and purpose of God for all of creation and should bring out our unconditional response of love. The same is true in reverse, that is, to love is to react to God’s unconditional love so freely given to all of creation and human beings in particular. To this end, I close with the words of the hymn usually sung during the Holy Eucharist:
My God and is thy table spread,
And doth thy cup with love o’erflow
Thither be all thy children led,
And let them all thy sweetness know.
Let love’s sweet aroma fill you this Holy Week and Easter. Allow it to reign where self-hate flourishes and instead always put God’s love first.
Spend some time thinking about God’s love for you. Think also about the unconditional nature of this love which led Jesus to suffering and death and God raising him from the dead. As your love letter to God, give a special offering on Palm Sunday or Easter Day as an expression of affection for God and then commit to lavishly show others that God is love by your acts of kindness towards all whom you meet day by day.
A moment in prayer
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners; grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts my surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Contributed by Canon Garth Minott