West Point Grey United Church
Apr 03, 2022

The Fragrance of Love

John 12:1-8

For Annual General Meeting Sunday

This last year marks our third year in ministry together. Time goes fast, doesn’t it! When I arrived here at West Point Grey United in September of 2018, I realized that the Church had been searching for new directions in its ministry. The Church checked a few possibilities for future ministry such as amalgamation with other churches and redevelopment of its land for a multi-purposed faith community. You decided to continue to seek to become an intercultural church. You invited me to accompany you on this journey, and demonstrated your passion and enthusiasm for West Point Grey United, and here we are. 

Over three years with you in ministry together, we have been living through COVID-19 for over two years now. More than half of my ministry with you has been under restrictions; we couldn’t gather in person; nevertheless, you have shown how much you love and care for our faith community beyond time and place. A year ago, during our Annual General Meeting, we decided to try to become an affirming congregation by striving to be fully inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We also embraced and supported an innovative ministry by equipping a state-of-the-art Audio and Video processing system so as to include members beyond our geographical boundary. To further your expectations, I have been trying to offer a contextually relevant message and liturgy based on contemporary biblical scholarship. 

Like Mary in our scripture reading today, you have shown how much you love and care for our faith community and beyond. Like Mary you broke the jar of perfume. The fragrance filled the church, our neighbourhood and the places where you live. It was not easy for Mary to take this action of anointing Jesus. To understand Mary’s anointing act, we need to first understand the Jewish traditions related to perfume. Here are a few questions to understand her action. 

What was the meaning of pouring perfume on the human body? In Jewish tradition there are two occasions for the use of anointing oil: anointing the head of the King on his coronation and anointing a dead person for the funeral. On what part of his body did Mary anoint Jesus? According to John, Mary did not anoint his head, but his feet. Mary used the perfume as for a funeral, Jesus’ funeral. Jesus was still alive, but she was preparing him for his death. Jesus would have taken this prophetic action of Mary as a message from God, whose love would never let him go alone, not only in life but also in death and life beyond death. 

Her behaviour must have seemed strange to the disciples. As Judas’ question pointed out, the perfume was so expensive, it might have fed a family for a year. But Mary’s intent was different. There will be nothing prudent or economical about the death of Jesus, just as there has been nothing prudent or economical about Jesus’ life. Mary saw in Jesus the extravagance of God’s love made flesh. In Jesus, the excessiveness of God’s compassion is made manifest. Mary saw the grace and acted on her faith.   

When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, I am convinced that she saw the hope of life beyond death. She strongly protested the power of death held by the Roman colonial power and religious authorities. You may ask how we can know this. I invite you to read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus to life, found in John, chapter 11. When Jesus took away the stone of Lazarus’ tomb, Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days” (11:39). The tomb was filled with the stench of death. The stench meant death. 

In this context, the meaning of perfume is the opposite to that of death. It is the symbol of life: the stench of death cannot overwhelm the power of life. In the joyful time of rising from death for Lazarus and the sad time of facing death for Jesus, Mary poured out the perfume for both. She believed in life beyond death. She believed that even though Jesus would be killed, he would be with us in a different way. She believed that the authorities could not get rid of Jesus permanently. So anointing Jesus’ feet was an act of faith. 

Mary mourns for Jesus after his death, but believes he would be always with her in her own life and that of others. Mary is anointing and wiping Jesus’ feet with the mixed feelings of sadness and joyfulness. The stench of death is coming ever closer to Jesus, but Mary’s fragrance of love is stronger than that stench. The fragrance of love overwhelms violence and death with love and faithful action. The love that filled the house then is spreading throughout the world today to overcome the stench of death from poverty, hunger, violence, war and abuse. That love will overcome the pain of the residential school experience and the cruelty of war. Like Mary our practice of faith and love will overcome the stench of death. The world will be filled with the fragrance of love. The gospel writer records Jesus’ words this way: “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mark 14:9). So be it.