O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness stands like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep;
you, Lord, shall save both man and beast.
How precious is your loving mercy, O God!
All mortal flesh shall take refuge
under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be satisfied with the abundance of your house;
they shall drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life
and in your light shall we see light.
O continue your loving-kindness to those who know you
and your righteousness to those who are true of heart.
Let not the foot of pride come against me,
nor the hand of the ungodly thrust me away.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Our sense of smell is very important to us. We use it as an in-built tool to help us predict and appreciate much of what we experience in our daily lives. Our sense of smell also plays a significant role in reminding us of experiences, people and places. Perhaps you can remember the smell of a shop you used to pass every day on your way to school. Perhaps you have a vivid memory of a smell you have always associated with a relative or friend with whom you are no longer in contact. Perhaps there is a particular smell that stirs memories you would rather not recall. Our sense of smell, a sense we so often take for granted, is very important to us.
The notion of Christ permeating the world like a strong smell that influences the way we live our daily lives is one that has been in existence for centuries. There is a traditional French Christmas carol which speaks of just this phenomenon: Quelle est cette odeur agréable? (usually translated as: ‘Whence is that goodly fragrance?’). Whilst it is not possible to date the beautiful folk tune that is linked with these words, we do know that the text was written in the 17th century. The notion of the all-pervading smell of Christ has been in existence for a very long time.
In today’s reading we hear of Judas’ anger at the ‘waste’ of a precious perfume: Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor? This ironic interjection by the one who was to betray Jesus can easily divert our attention away from the reality of the situation. Mary used the costly perfume to anoint Jesus, an anointing that would soon take on a tragic significance. The perfume which filled the house is also a symbol of the all-pervading presence of Christ in this world. No matter how hard some try to deny it Christ is everywhere.
In the coming days we will see Jesus brought to the point of human death, but still the odour of his sanctity will linger on. Then, after three days we will witness the finding of the empty tomb. We know from the gospel account of Jesus’ raising of his friend Lazarus, that there should have been a terrible stench as the tomb was opened. But that will not be the case. Rather than there being the terrible smell of death and defeat there will be the glorious odour of resurrection joy and victory over death.
As the horror of the next few days unfolds let us pray that all our senses may be engaged with the Jesus who gave himself over to human cruelty in order that we might all be forgiven and brought into the glorious light of his resurrection.
Prayers of intercession
Jesus, facing plots of murder and treachery, Mary anointed you with fragrant oil. May its sweet perfume fill your Church with your grace in the face of all adversity. As your love reaches to the heavens so may we rise to sing your praises.
Jesus, servant Lord, bring in your justice to the nations of the earth. Lighten our path for the good of all. Bring peace to all troubled places and wisdom to all in positions of authority and leadership.
Jesus, as Judas sneered at Mary’s gift, restore the dignity and self-worth of all who are eaten by bitterness and hatred. Do not let wickedness push any aside.
Jesus, you are tender and gentle with the bruised and the frail. Be with any nearing exhaustion and enduring severe strain. Take them by your hand and keep them.
Jesus, you raised Lazarus to life and promised new life to all who trust in you. Remember for good your servants departed this life. Pour out your live-giving Spirit on all.
Prayer for Monday to Wednesday of Holy Week
Father in heaven,
as your people prepare once more
to follow the events of Good Friday and Easter,
may we be led by your Spirit to deeper insights
into your love and saving grace;
that we may love you more and serve you better,
for the sake of him who died for us and rose again,
our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.