Every year, of course, Holy Week is a time to stop and focus afresh on the very heart of our Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year many of us have more time than ever to do that, so let us be thankful for this opportunity and work our way through the readings set for this week, all taken from into John’s Gospel, which our church has been going through since the New Year. Now we can go even deeper into John.
Today’s reading is John 12 vv.1-11, the story of Jesus’ anointing by Mary of Bethany – just an irrelevant plug here for our previous church, St Mary of Bethany, Woking – great church and there aren’t many St Mary of Bethany’s around! But Mary of Bethany did a deeply meaningful thing – she anointed Jesus. Anointing was for priests, kings and prophets in the Old Testament. Anointing is a sign of the Holy Spirit coming to someone to equip them for the task to which God has called them.
Jesus’ anointing shows that he is indeed a priest, but Jesus talks about this anointing as being ‘for the day of his burial’ (v.7). He is not a priest who offers us sacrificial animals brought by others, but a priest who is himself the sacrificial victim. Jesus’ anointing shows that he indeed a king, but a king whose throne is not some splendidly decorated chair, but the rough wood of the cross (18 v.36). Jesus’ anointing shows that he indeed a prophet, but a prophet who will die, not just as a martyr, but as the one who points to God in his very being, because he is the Son of God (19 v.7)
Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one long expected, but anointed to die. So his anointing comes not at the hands of the High Priest in the Temple, but at the hands of one of his most devoted followers, a woman who anoints him with what is probably her life savings.
All the way through his gospel, John is telling us who Jesus is; Jesus is described by so many titles, because Jesus cannot be limited to one description. Our tendency is to see Jesus in terms that make sense to us, but we need to be ready to see Jesus as so much bigger than we habitually imagine him to be. And so what Jesus does is so much bigger than any one formula; his death is the turning point in the story of creation, where John’s gospel starts.
Let us take time to reflect on the greatness of who Jesus is, and the greatness of what he has done, and be ready for our mind, our perceptions to be blown open as John takes us further and deeper.
This is the last, final week for Jesus. But notice one other thing about this passage; the story of Jesus’ anointing begins and ends with references to the raising of Lazarus. What will the end of Jesus’ story be? Is this really the final week…?
Lord Jesus Christ, you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant, and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation: give us the mind to follow you and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.