Letter to parishioners, 31 March 2022

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

On Sunday we enter Passiontide. For many it seems odd that the final days of Jesus’ earthly life should be described in a term we associate with the exact opposite of the injustice and cruelty he endured on Good Friday. We associate the word ‘passion’ with the expression of strong emotional responses, both positive and negative. That is not what is meant when the Church speaks of Jesus’ Passion. The term: The Passion derives from the Latin verb patior, which means to suffer, bear or endure. From this verb we also get the words ‘patience’ and ‘patient’. These final two weeks of Jesus’ human ministry demanded that he should patiently hold firm in the face of the suffering he was about to endure in order that he might conquer death, and that we might know the forgiveness, love and salvation of God for the rest of time.

On Sunday we will hear of Jesus being anointed with precious perfume in the house of his friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary. We will hear of Mary kneeling before Jesus, anointing his feet and drying them with her hair. This act would have caused outrage in first century Judaism, and yet Jesus did not discourage Mary, instead he spoke of her actions as though they were the fulfilment of a prophecy from ancient times. As Judas bemoaned the waste of money, given the high value of the perfume being used, Jesus responded with these words: Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. Jesus knew what lay ahead. Jesus knew that he must go through this time of Passion if humanity was to see the fulfilment of God’s plan. Jesus knew that Mary’s anointing of his body was a moment of ‘no turning back’.

In this Jubilee year we will often hear of that sacred moment when our Queen was anointed in Westminster Abbey during her coronation. It is common knowledge that that moment of anointing was considered too holy to televise by both the Queen and the religious leaders of the day. The anointing of our monarch leaves us with a feeling that the act of anointing is too ‘special’ for the likes of you and me, but that is not so. All who are baptized have been anointed, many in both the Oil of Baptism and in the Oil of Chrism. In the sealing of our baptism in the Oil of Chrism we share in the same anointing that was experienced by the Queen, just as it was experienced by all who are ordained into the priesthood of the Church.

When someone is anointed they are marked with the sign of the cross. In the baptism service this action is accompanied with these words: Christ claims you for his own. Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life. We may not have been anointed into worldly kingship, but we have been anointed into a calling that is just as demanding. Whether we were baptized as children, or when we were older, the act of anointing laid a responsibility upon us, a responsibility to live the life of a true disciple and apostle of Christ for the rest of our lives.

As we are reminded of Jesus’ anointing in the house of his friends, I pray that we might all remember that we too are anointed, even if the accompanying responsibility leads us along a path of suffering and endurance. I pray that we might hold firm, as Jesus did, in order that we might, in our time, come to know the inexpressible joy of the resurrection that will follow the pain and the injustice that is yet to come.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen