What does the scent of expensive perfume have to do with Easter? And in a world of terrible pain and suffering, why does it matter?
The answer is found in one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible, part of the Bible’s account of the first Easter.
It was six days before the Jewish festival of Passover and Jesus and his disciples were at the home of Martha and Mary.
Having raised their brother Lazarus from the dead, the sisters had thrown a dinner party in Jesus’ honour. Bread would be baking, a lamb would be roasting, and to that rich mixture of aromas is suddenly added the heady scent of Mary’s perfume.
Pure nard; it could well have come from India, it was top of the range, worth a year’s wages, and only ever used sparingly. Whatever you did, you did not splash it about and yet that is exactly what the Bible tells us Mary did; she poured the whole bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet and knelt to wipe his feet with her hair? It is little wonder one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, objected.
Judas appears to have been treasurer to the group and like all good treasurers he doubtless wanted to keep a tight control of the purse strings.
You can hear the frustration in his voice as he asks Mary what she was thinking about
By all means put a couple of drops of her perfume on Jesus feet but don’t pour the whole bottle all over him. What a waste.
Didn’t she know, and didn’t Jesus know, the perfume could have been sold for a great deal of money and the money given to the poor?
If your first reaction is to agree with Judas, let me encourage you to think again.
What kind of love is a calculating kind of love?
Judas could put a price on the perfume but what price could he put on love?
Mary acted out of love, love that knew no limits, love that would not be denied, love for who Jesus was, love for everything he had done for her and her family, love that literally poured itself out in a moment of overwhelming gratitude
Love is at the heart of Easter and from the darkness of Calvary with the death of Jesus on its gruesome cross to the surprising joy of Easter dawn when the disciples found his tomb was empty, the Christian claim is God’s love knows no limits and God’s love for the world and its people will not be denied.
From terrorist atrocities in different parts of the world to the trail of death and destruction left by a cyclone in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, to events and circumstances in our own lives, human beings need no lessons on the dreadful reality of evil, suffering and death.
What we need, and what the Bible gives, is the reassurance these awful things do not have the final word.
So, in Holy Week, the Bible tells us about a woman’s act of loving kindness and the obvious pleasure it gave Jesus.
If the story speaks to you of God’s care, God’s kindness and God’s extravagant love, you will know there is nothing too precious for you to give in return.
Rev Russell Barr is the minister of Cramond Kirk and a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland.