+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Before I begin, I just want to apologize for all of the plant metaphors that are about to come. It is like spring is in the air or something…
It was the Friday before Palm Sunday 2015, when Bishop Greg Rickel introduced me via email to Canon Britt Olson. Almost exactly 7 years ago! Wow, Britt, who knew then that we would both still be here today. I had recently graduated from seminary in New York City, and had come back to the Pacific Northwest to plant some roots so to speak near the water’s of my baptism at St. John’s in Snohomish. They had put me through my paces in discernment for the priesthood, but the Bishop wanted me to experience an episcopal church different from the more “high” Anglo-catholic churches I had attended and to be mentored by a trusted priest. Honestly, after my first visit to St. Luke’s to meet with Britt, I was both terrified and excited to see what a year here might be like, having both encountered English charismatic pilgrims and the force of nature that is Susan Young in the kitchen. But with prayer, Britt you and I both said Yes! Yes to the Holy Spirit and to the faithful of St. Luke’s. And now as I am about to take my leave, I take comfort in the words of our first reading.
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Not that I mean to forget my time or the wonderful friends here at St. Luke’s but that if God could so bless me here at St. Luke’s, what blessings can I look forward to as I take another opportunity to be dug up, and replanted in what will hopefully be rich soil where my roots can once again be fed and grow deeper and wider.
Isaiah wasn’t saying that the past was not important, he was saying if you thought that what God did then was great, just wait and see what God has in store for us in the future. And like wise I say to you, can you not sense the energy of this new thing in the air? I sense it here at St. Luke’s, not only about my own future, but also for the future of St. Luke’s and Edible Hope. Change is in the air, and I am excited, looking forward to what God is going to do here. It’s one of the reasons it is hard for me to go, it feels as if one of my roots will be cut and part of it will remain here when I am transplanted to Wenatchee, not being able to fully participate in this new thing happening at St. Luke’s.
You and I could look at the changes happening and be fearful, we could worry about the large financial costs, and the hard work that will need to be done and we could say it is too much. We could let all the things that are a bit different than we are used to scare us. But if we let the fact that the future is unseen, a dark unknown keep us from planting the seeds of change, we will never know the splendor that can emerge. For the seeds of change require such a place in order to break open, germinate and emerge strongly rooted.
The dark, richness that comes from the past goodness breaking down returning to its most basic elements, feeds and transforms the seeds of change we plant today for the future. Now we may not always be able to see what is happening below the surface. But if we were to go outside, we might just perceive a slight change in the air. Something I noticed yesterday during the reception following Rose Dorbin’s memorial service. It was the smell of the wet, decaying earth starting to warm up in the sun. It’s not something that is readily visible, but if you take a deep enough breath you might recognize it. It’s a very particular scent, that of both death and new life.
Perhaps it is similar to the smell that was produced when Mary of Bethany poured out a pound of perfume upon the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. If you search the internet like I did for what pure nard smells like, it will say “woody, musty, spicy, like roots.” That sounds to me like the spring earth warming in the sunshine to me.
It’s likely that Mary had the perfume on hand to use to prepare her brother Lazarus’ body for burial, but because Jesus came and raised him from the dead, it was no longer needed for that purpose. Instead out of gratitude and devotion, Mary pours the entire contents out upon Jesus, flooding the room with its fragrance that is both beautiful and emotion provoking.
That’s the power of scents, they hit us in the emotional cortex of our brain. They remind us of the people, places and events of our past, so that we can connect them to our present.
The nard that Mary pours out upon Jesus, reminds the whole room, that death was had just been here, that it still hung in the air. And perhaps like in other stories of the New Testament, Mary, a woman, perceives that something else has changed. That the Jesus that she has known for years is changed, as he is preparing both himself and his disciples for his imminent death. Could he have smelled differently, perhaps more like her brother, Lazarus, whom she cared for as he lay sick and dying? The cost of the perfume does not concern her in the moment, for it has a worthy purpose, not its original one, but a more important one. To anoint the body of her friend, her teacher, he who is the Messiah in preparation for his death.
Mary perceives the change in her friend, recognizes the Jesus in her midst and responds in gratitude, preparation and love with her whole body. She responds with beauty to the pain felt in the world. Let us too recognize that Jesus is in our midst, in the changes of our own lives and that of this church. May we respond also with gratitude, preparation and love. And know that because the poor will always be with us, we will always have the opportunity to respond with beauty and extravagant love to the brokenness in this world.
Let us break open our finest bottle of perfume, and bathe the feet of Jesus with it. Let us give thanks that death does not have dominion over life. Let us give thanks for his teachings, his miracles, his presence and healing in the face of suffering in this world.
What does love smell like? It smells like the earth awaking from its wintery death ready to be softened by the sun and welcoming new life to bloom.