One of the things that I love about working with TKT at Saint Paul’s in Foley is his willingness to experiment liturgically. Sometimes we border on violating the rubrics, and on occasion we’ve smashed right through them, but as low churchmen interested in how the liturgy can work as an evangelistic tool, we’ve also done so having first reflected theologically. In recent years, we’ve become a little more tame about our wanton flagrance against the rubrics, but the desire to allow our people to experience the liturgy fully remains strong. As was the case a few years back when TKT decided that on Lent 5, Year C, we would set out some spikenard essential oil so that we could smell what that dining room smelled like the evening that Mary anointed Jesus. TKT bought a small bottle of nard oil, and poured it into a small dish, and I swear to you, I can still smell that Godawful stink to this day.
This next sentence has rarely been said by a disciple of Jesus, but here goes. I agree with Judas, that money would have been better spent on food for the poor. Such is the power of nard. But nard has a metaphorical power beyond its overwhelming stench. Following on the heels of the Gospel lesson for Lent 4C, Mary exemplifies what it looks like to offer the same sort of prodigal love that the Father shows in sending Jesus to live and die as one of us. Mary is wastefully extravagant in anointing Jesus with pure nard, but she does so out of love, honor, and respect for a man who as taught her what love incarnate looks like.
“You’ll always have the poor with you,” Jesus says, “but you won’t always have me.” Mary knows this to be true, and so before she misses her chance, she wants to show Jesus what she has learned about the love of God, a love so extravagant that it doesn’t make sense on a human level; a love more extravagant than spikenard is stinky. I know that I’m not there yet. I try to love God in the same wastefully extravagant way that God loves me, but I fall short of that ideal. I try to love my neighbor in the same sort of wastefully extravagant way that God loves me, but I find that to be impossible, people are just so hard to love sometimes. Still, I know the ideal, shown sacramentally in the power of nard poured out on Jesus over dinner with friends.