You can find the scripture here.
Suppose you knew, without a doubt, that someone you cared for, someone you loved, was at the end of their life. What would you do? What would you say? How would you say it?
Or, suppose you knew, without a doubt, that you were at the end of your own life, down to the last week, or even the last night. Where would you want to be? And who would you want to be with? And what would you want to do?
It is the last week of Jesus’ life, and it is filled with moments both public and private, things he wants to do and things he must do. And in that last week, Jesus finds himself sitting at table, on at least two different occasions.
In the first, he is in the home of someone called “Simon the Leper.” We only know about Simon from this one story. And we only know about him this one fact: that he is or was afflicted with a skin condition that meant, that just about the last thing you might imagine him doing would be giving a dinner party. Who would come? No respectable person, no person who had any hopes of being welcomed into any non-leprous homes, or into the temple to pray. Leprosy was something that set you apart, set you aside, cast you out into the no-man’s land of invisibility and aversion. Now, maybe he has been healed. Maybe it is Jesus who healed him. Whatever the case, here it is, the last week of Jesus’ life, and Jesus chooses to be here.
And then it happens, like a film suddenly in slow motion; in walks a woman. She is carrying an alabaster jar of very expensive perfumed ointment. She breaks open the jar and pours its precious contents over Jesus’ head. We know nothing, or next to nothing about this woman. We don’t know if she is the woman Jesus cured of a bleeding disorder, or if she is the mother of the little girl whom Jesus raised from the dead, or if she is the mother of that other little girl out of whom Jesus cast a demon that was tormenting her. Perhaps she is one of the women who used to follow along with Jesus and his company, providing for them, feeding them, sheltering them. We just don’t know. She is a nameless woman, a woman about whom we know just this one fact: she is in possession of a jar of extremely expensive perfume which she is willing to pour all over Jesus.
It is the last week of Jesus’ life. In fact, it is very likely that the word is already out, moving about the streets like a cat winding its way through the alleys: the angry authorities are looking for a way to arrest Jesus and have him killed. Brutality is on the books; death is in the air. But in the midst of the scheming and planning, in the midst of the calls for blood, a woman gives a gift, performs what Jesus calls “a good work” for him: she shows him that, in her eyes, he is precious, at least as precious as all that expensive perfume, now no longer confined to a jar, but filling the whole house with its fragrance. Suppose you knew, without a doubt, that someone you cared for, someone you loved was at the end of their life. What would you do? What would you say? How would you say it? The action of the woman with the alabaster jar speaks more loudly than any words. It is startling. It is unexpected, and unprecedented. It is an act of love.
In the middle of “The Hunger Games,” a story about young people who are supposed to kill or be killed, the heroine Kat choose to stay with and try to protect a young girl, Rue. When Rue is killed, Kat makes her a bower of Queen Anne’s lace and wildflowers, and kisses her tenderly before going off to try to save her other friend. It is an act of beauty and honor in the face of brutality and death. It is an act of love.
Finally, we arrive at the last night of Jesus’ life. Suppose you knew, without a doubt, that you were at the end of your life, down to the last night. Where would you want to be? And who would you want to be with? And what would you want to do? Jesus chooses to be with his closest friends. He gathers with the disciples to celebrate the Passover, the great meal of freedom, of liberation, even as he is about to be bound away in shackles.
And as the meal comes to an end, he takes ordinary bread: he gives thanks for it, he breaks it, and he gives it to his friends. Again, we are in slow motion, as Jesus says something most curious about the bread: take, eat, this is my body. And about the cup of wine: take, drink, this is my blood. It is the new promise of God. It is poured out for many.
Body and blood blessed, given thanks for—perhaps still bearing some of the scent of that perfumed ointment.
Body and blood broken, and shared—poured out, given out, given away.
Call it the real presence of Jesus in the bread and the cup. Call it the circle of life. A life given and shared, life giving more life.
Perhaps this is Jesus saying, I’ve done all I can. I’ve taught and healed and cast out demons, this is what I have left: my own body, my own blood. I’ve given everything else; now I give this.
And it is therefore a meal of freedom and liberation. Like the unnamed woman with the jar of ointment, Jesus chooses on this last night to give. In the context of cruelty and betrayal, Jesus’ impulse is to give extravagantly, his one wild and precious life, without reserve. It is startling. It is unexpected, and unprecedented. It is an act of love. Thanks be to God. Amen.