Material for Worship for 5th Sunday in Lent, 3rd April 2022

As you light your candle in preparation for worship, spend a few moments with this image of Mary and her loving act of anointing the feet of Jesus and pray the collect for this Sunday.

Merciful God, look upon your family as we travel to the foot of the cross:

and, by your great goodness, guide us in body; that, by your protection,

we may also be preserved in heart and mind, through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

This Sunday, as we begin the preparation for Passiontide, we hear God addressing his people in the passage from Isaiah (chapter 43 verses 16-21)“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

The ‘new thing’ which God is promising is deliverance for his people from Babylon.  Isaiah also prophesies in this passage that God will restore creation back into harmony, not just by delivering the Israelites from captivity in Babylon, but by the reconciling of his people in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.   The gospel reading (John chapter 12 verses 1-8) contains a second prophesy of the passion in the story of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who has already worked out that Jesus’ sacrificial death is an essential part of his work.   Her anointing of Jesus is a prophetic act that is costly and courageous, both in financial terms and in the criticism that it attracts.   It doesn’t however put Mary off her act of adoration, she feels compelled to prepare Jesus for his coming crucifixion.   For Judas, and for many other people, this act of adoration is seen as being an excessive and extravagant gesture.  Others see it as an act of love, similar to the excessive amount of water which was turned into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.   God doesn’t put limits on the amount of love he pours out on us, so why should we be surprised at the amount of expensive nard that Mary uses to anoint her beloved Jesus!

In the mystery of the Passion, Jesus stands as one robbed of all worldly power and status, which is at the very heart of his kingdom.   This transformation of values has far greater implications for the social and material status of the poorest.   It demands that they are treated not simply as objects of charitable giving, but as bearers of the divine image of God.   We are all made in the likeness of God, but in the light of the cross and suffering of Jesus, we can see and feel for the suffering of others.  In the image above, you can see Martha in the background, doing what she does best, taking care of her guests and bringing them food.   On this visit, Mary, in an act of extravagant devotion, anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment and wipes them with her hair.   Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are sensitive people, whose capacity for grief and sorrow is great.   They know that the Jewish leaders are out to get Jesus and that it could end in his death.   And so, they are showing Jesus their love and devotion in this act, knowing that it might be the last time that they see him alive.

This passage from John is a rich passage indeed.   It portrays Jesus in all his humanity, enjoying a dinner with friends, one of whom, Lazarus, had received from Jesus the gift of renewed life.   It shows the care given to prepare Jesus for what was to come in the extravagant, passionate gesture of anointing the feet of Jesus, their dear friend.   As we observe the Passiontide, especially in the services in Holy Week, we should try to recognise the “new thing” that Jesus brought in his death on the cross, so that it can transform our way of living.   Jesus sacrificed his life for us, what are we prepared to sacrifice for him.

(Take a few moments here to think about what you have sacrificed for Jesus or for others during Lent). 

The message coming out of this passage from John for us this morning is, I think, that religion without passion, without extravagance, is an empty thing.   Mary’s great extravagance with the expensive nard was only a foreshadowing of the most extravagant gift of all.   Jesus gave up his life for us, he took our sins upon himself in order that we might live.   Since Jesus was prepared to give up his life for us and die a humiliating death on the cross, then the least we can do for him is to try to aspire to live our lives in and through Jesus, doing his will in all things and placing him at the centre of our lives.      Amen.

This Sunday, you might like to pray….

 For those preparing worship for Holy Week.

For strength in times of trouble.   (Pray for all who wake up each day to war and conflict, hunger, and abuse).

For awareness of the needs of others. (Bring to Jesus those on your mind who are ill or in need of prayer).

For the ability to love unconditionally and extravagantly.


May God bless you as you continue to travel into in Holy Week, Moira