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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you Oh Lord, our Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.
Every morning, I spend about 30 minutes of unstructured time in a little corner of my house, sitting by the window, creating enough space within myself to feel God’s presence.
Lately, I’ve been using a series of wonderful 40-day meditation guides. For about a week, the guide I was reading offered lots of opportunity for reflection on how we integrate emotions, like anger, that are often seen as uncomfortable, with our faith.
The guide included reflection questions helping me explore how comfortable I was sharing those kinds of emotions with God. One of the suggested journaling exercises was: “Think of a time when you wanted to protest to God, “That’s not fair!” Write a psalm to God about that situation and reflect on how it makes you feel.”
It took me by surprise how quickly I was able to come up with events in my life when I felt a lot of anger towards God and I was even more surprised at how easily the psalm came pouring out onto paper (I highly recommend this exercise!).
A few days later I shared my experience of writing the psalm with my spiritual director. Then I shared what I had written with her, and as I read it, the anger, confusion and pain contained within it surfaced and it felt like I was speaking those words directly to God. And as I was reading it, I had a powerful feeling that God was listening to me. I felt God gently receiving my anger, fear and confusion into a vast ocean of patience and love.
I didn’t receive direct answers to my questions or definitive closure on the relationship I was grieving, but I had been given something that I didn’t even know I wanted or needed. I had an almost sensory experience of God being right there with me – listening and loving me – receiving it all, in a way that was beyond my comprehension.
As Christians, we inhabit the space between the call to give and call to receive. We are without a doubt called to give of ourselves, living into the footsteps of Jesus. But we are also called to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.
In the story that we heard tonight, we are given a window to glimpse God’s capacity to receive.
In traditional Middle Eastern society, a woman was obliged to cover her hair in public. Covering her hair was considered a sign of piety. The Mishnah was written in about 3 CE and records Jewish religious and legal scholarship and judgment from the Second Temple period, which includes Jesus’ lifetime. It lists a variety of circumstances under which it was permissible for a man to divorce his wife without a financial settlement. These included: spinning cloth in the street, speaking with a man or going out with her hair unbound. Rabbi Meir, who taught in 2 CE, lists bathing with men in the same list as going out with hair unfastened under the rubric “situations where it would be within a man’s religious duty to divorce his wife”.
Not only is Mary’s hair unfastened, but she also uses a quantity and quality of perfume that is worth about one year’s worth of a labourer’s wages to wash Jesus’ feet.
Jesus would have been expected to be embarrassed by Mary’s physical touch and shocked that she had exposed her hair. She was acting scandalously and he was supposed to reject her.
Instead he reasons away the cost in typical Jesus fashion – transcending legalism and materialism – seeing straight to the heart of her intention – receiving her gesture of love and respect. He receives it so deeply, that he himself will repeat similar actions on Thursday night, at his last supper with his friends.
Kenosis – a Greek word meaning self-emptying – is a key Christian idea. Jesus practiced kenosis when he gave up his will and became entirely receptive to God’s will. Kenosis describes God’s process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ requiring us to empty ourselves of things that obstruct our ability to receive and channel God’s love. Notions like that we are self-sufficient, self-made or self-reliant. And that emptying guides us in the way of peace, joy and freedom.
Last week, the clergy in the Diocese of Michigan gathered at a retreat center, for time to worship, socialize and reflect on our ministries together. Our reflection time focused on the writings of Howard Thurman. He was an influential African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and activist. In his book ‘Jesus and the Disinherited’, he reflects on how deeply transformative it can be to really and truly believe that we are children of God.
He wrote about a childhood memory of being woken up by his mother late at night, to come out and see Halley’s Comet streaking across the sky. He writes: “With bated breath, I said: “what will happen to us if that comet falls out of the sky?” My mother’s silence was so long that I looked from the comet to her face and there I beheld something in her countenance that I had seen only once before, when I came into her room and found her in prayer. When she spoke, she said, “Nothing will happen to us, Howard; God will take care of us.”
Mary’s gesture of anointing Jesus with perfume, recalls royal anointing and foreshadows the anointing of burial. With this gift, she opens herself up to judgment, embarrassment, and rejection. Jesus’ receives the gift and treats her gesture with tenderness, circling her with kindness and shielding her from criticism.
As we embark on this Holy Week journey toward the cross and beyond, may we know that what we carry with us: our wounds, vulnerabilities and intentions, will all be received by God lovingly and tenderly.
May we be assured that as we offer to God all that we are, that the Spirit is working in us, expanding the capacity of our hearts to receive the abundance of God’s grace. Amen.
 Kenneth E Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 248.
 Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, p. 56.
 Ibid. p. 57.