Midst all the tension of Jesus onward move towards Jerusalem, we have an image of what Sheila Cassidy calls “A Party at Bethany”
She writes. “Jesus knew he was going to die and yet he smiled and joined in the conversation because that’s what polite people do. But Mary knew something that the others didn’t know or wouldn’t face and she did the only thing she could think of which was to make a massive public declaration of love by pouring a box of expensive embalming ointment over his feet and wiping it off with her hair. I love to imagine the scene, an commotion it must have caused and the pungent smell of the aromatic oils as it spread through the house.
And why did she do it? The commentaries talk about her doing it for Jesus’ burial, but I can’t say that makes a lot of sense to me. I think Mary wanted to say ‘I love you’. I care that you are lonely and afraid. I wish I could stop it happening but know it’s got to be. So here is a SIGN, a sign that I know how you feel, that you are precious to me. My wasting this stuff on you is the only way I know how to make up to you for what you’re going through now.”
She then goes onto to speak of how her work within the hospice movement correlates with Mary’s actions. She continues, “The Bethany story is especially important to many of us who work in the hospice movement for we too pour the precious ointment of our time, our skill and our love over those who are dying and who, therefore, in human terms are of no further economic worth.“
We can similarly compare the plight of the Ukrainian Refugees and those sheltering in basements whose lives are seen as worthless by the invading oppressors. And so she prays,
Lord of the Universe, Master of all,
look in love upon your people.
Pour the healing oil of your compassion
on a world wounded and dying.
Send us out in search of the lost,
to comfort the afflicted,
to bind up the broken,
and to free those trapped
under the rubble of their fallen dreams. Amen
A party Lord, how can this be
Within this life’s uncertainty?
How can you settle in this way
With friends upon this doubt-filled day?
For there you gather, rest and pray
In spite of glooms own darkening way.
Where comes this inner sacred power;
Of peace beyond time’s troubled hour?
The resurrection life you claimed
With truth so earnest, unashamed.
As Lazarus lay in stone cold tomb
Your word called forth beyond death’s doom.
At Beth’ny too I halt a while
To sit and capture love’s dear smile
To hear the calm of gentle voice
And in my heart sing and rejoice.
For here through joyous friendship, care
Your loving kindness, you would share
Beyond the travail soon to rule
With vicious, callous, torture, cruel.
Lord, I would sit at your blest feet
And there behold the mercy seat;
Safe in your presence, there by grace
To gaze upon your lovely face.
© 2022 Paul Collings