"The Lavishness of God"
Written by the Reverend Canon Caleb J. Lee,
President of the Standing Committee for the Diocese of South Carolina
It is Monday in Holy Week. Today our Gospel reading is John 12:1-11. We hear about the anointing of Jesus’s feet at Bethany by Mary with costly perfume. Biblical scholars and commentators remark that the purpose of the story is to show that Mary, in her quite humble and sacrificial act, is not only anointing Jesus for his burial that will follow soon, but also anointing Jesus as King and High Priest. It is Jewish tradition that kings and high priests are anointed with oil. In this radical act, we see Mary confessing and acclaiming Jesus as High priest, as king.
The fact that Mary anoints his feet, and not, let’s say, his head, like other kings and high priests, reminds us that there is something very unique about Jesus; something about his servanthood and humility that differentiates him from other kings and priests. Jesus is the Son of God, and chose not to position himself into a place of earthly power, but instead walked among us, dining and conversing with outcasts and sinners, publicans and prostitutes. This is our God: an itinerant rabbi with filthy feet. And Mary anoints those filthy feet with her hair. In this act we find that Mary is “letting her hair down,” mirroring our Lord’s self-emptying love as she lavishly pours out all that she has at the feet of her beloved.
I am reminded of time spent with the Reverend Martin Smith during Holy Week a few years back where he reminded us all that the mere amount of the nard being used, mirrors that at Jesus tomb, where we find Nicodemus supplying it. These amounts of nard, being used at the home of Lazarus by Mary, and the amount used at Jesus tomb, are both nothing short of complete overkill. A deeper spiritual meaning must be at work. This amount of nard is used to express the lavishness of God.
The lavishness of his love.
The lavishness of his mercy.
The lavishness of his grace in the fragrant offering he gives once and for all in his son, Jesus.
May we rest in the lavishness of God’s love, grace, and mercy in the days ahead.
"The Last Thing is the Best"
Written by the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.,
Visiting Bishop for the Diocese of South Carolina
Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…
These words of the prophet Isaiah echo through Holy Week as we walk with Jesus on the way of his cross and passion. Isaiah is speaking of a nameless servant of God whose vicarious, suffering love will be redemptive. Christians understand these words to foresee the ministry of Jesus who became this suffering servant and offered himself on the cross for the world’s healing and redemption. “By his wounds we are healed,” Isaiah continued, and the Prayer Book proclaims.
In this time of suffering across the world from the coronavirus, these ancient words seem to ring with special meaning. Holy Week traces the worst of times, as we remember painfully how humanity rejected the Lord of Love and put him to death. It is a distant mirror of ourselves at our worst. The darkness at noon on Good Friday is our darkest hour.
The week also reminds us that in the suffering of Jesus, we see all human suffering—that painful, inescapable aspect of the human journey. In some sense the Lord continues to share our present suffering, carrying it with us on the unending way of the cross.
“With” is one of our faith’s most significant words. It always conjoins two realities. “I am with you,” we say; “with your help,” we ask. Such words affirm that we are not alone, that we need close affection and comfort. In 1979, J.D. Souther sang “when you are feeling lonely and small, you need somebody there to hold you.” So true.
In faith we affirm that Christ is “with” us, that his love is always there to hold us and to carry our sorrows and griefs and fears. This is the profound assurance of Holy Week. Our faith is not just about times of gladness and celebration, even though that is the part of it that we prefer to accentuate of course. It is equally about the hard times, when we do feel lonely and small. Then we find that “the way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace.”
In one of his novels, Frederick Buechner tells the story of a young pastor whose wife dies of cancer. He is away from his church for a time, grieving. When he returns to the pulpit, he says to his people, “Beloved, I do not preach the best without knowing the worst. I know it, beloved…But the worst thing is never the last thing. It is the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It is the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock bottom of the world like a hidden spring. You are terribly loved and forgiven. You are healed. All is well.”
Holy Week traces the worst of times. The pandemic we are living with is tracing another worst. But the worst thing is never the last thing. The Easter light rises out of the ashes. The last thing is the best.
Merciful God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Palm Sunday Collect, page 272)
~The Rt. Rev. Henry Nutt Parsley, Jr.
"Turning Illness Into Wellness"
Written by the Venerable Calhoun Walpole,
Archdeacon of the Diocese of South Carolina
Every day at Noon, at least so far, the clergy of Grace Church Cathedral have been walking and praying the Stations of the Cross—on behalf of the Cathedral congregation, as well as the entire diocese. We are using the form published by Forward Movement, which is based on St Augustine’s Prayer Book. The first reading—part of the Opening Prayers Before the Altar—reads as follows:
He who bore the Holy Cross did break the power of sin, death, and the grave. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
Right now, the whole world, perhaps as never before, is stricken, struck down, and certainly afflicted. We know that God does not willingly bring affliction upon his beloved creation—but we do know that God can use any and all events and experiences of life—even suffering, even death. It is the message of the Cross. Even now, our Lord Jesus is bearing our infirmities and carrying our diseases—even the disease that is our current pandemic. The very word "pandemic" means affecting "all people." As the whole world—all people—are suffering at the moment, the invitation to us all is to uncover meaning in the suffering. Malcolm X is famously reputed to have said: “When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘we’ even illness becomes wellness.” By our Lord’s wounds we are healed. Perhaps this suffering of us all will lead to the healing of all—and unity of all. Lord, have mercy.
During the uncertain times created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, leadership of the diocese will send out regular meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for the next while as we all adjust to a new chapter of living and being the Church.