She’s called an unknown woman, because she’s you. She’s every man and every woman who has ever known life, life that comes with more unknowns than we’re comfortable with. The unknown future, the unknown outcome of illness, the unknown of what tomorrow brings, we just don’t know.
They say there’s great wisdom in not knowing. Who is they? The great teachers, the great rabbis, the great mystics, the greatest stories of our scripture….The stories of men and women wandering the dessert, the stories of suffering and not understanding like Job, the stories of answers revealed in dreams, or wrestling with God, of wisdom told in confusing parable, and questions left unanswered, like the one Moses asks God, when he asks for God’s name, and God whose face we’re never to see and who we’re not ever meant to fully grasp, says, I will be who I will be….
This time we’re in, will be what it will be and the God who we think we know, reveals more unknowns to us then we’re comfortable with, as we’re left asking why, and how, and now what.
Not knowing our future is not new. Remember the exchange I sent earlier this week in an email….Where the rabbi is asked the question…
Question-Rabbi this virus has caused me to lose all sense of certainty. No one knows what will happen next. How do we stay sane when we don't know what's lurking around the corner?
And Rabbi Moss answers-
It is not that we have lost our sense of certainty. We have lost our illusion of certainty. We never had it to begin with. This could be majorly unsettling, or amazingly liberating. We’ve never known what the future holds. We only think we do, and keep getting surprised when things don't pan out the way we expected. We have to admit our vulnerability.
In this morning’s scripture, this woman has made peace with the unknown by hearing what Jesus has been saying all along. By the time we get to this story in Mark’s gospel Jesus has already predicted his own death, and the disciples in Mark never seem to really get it.
But now at Simon’s house, sitting at the table, eating with friends, enters this woman who brings with her an alabaster jar of the most expensive ointment, breaks it open and pours it on his head. Even here, the disciples don’t want to see what’s in front of them, the unknown of what happens when he’s gone, what their lives will look like without him, the suffering that they’ll witness, the denial they’ll walk into.
Those are our choices these days. Like those disciples, we can deny that this is happening, we can lash out and blame leaders for not doing enough and for doing too much.
The disciples accuse this woman of waste, and Jesus praises her for seeing what they can’t: that he won’t be there forever. And whenever any of us are reminded that life is finite, any life, here on this earth is finite, we are. by the grace of God, also opened up to embracing each moment we have as though it’s all we have.
In her anointing him, she not only anoints him with oil as women did to prepare a body for burial, she lavishly embraces the body that’s in front of her, with her still, embracing what’s fine and good as a way of embracing her time with him, now. We have that same ability now, because through his resurrection, he lives here now with all of us.
One of you asked how we can come closer to Jesus this week. This is how. Open up your finest…. Open up what is finest within you and around you. Open up what is grand and life affirming. Open up the ability to take in every moment of this life as holy as you would the finest perfume, the finest champagne, the finest of yourself that lives within you now, thanks to a God who never abandons.
The finest of you is the Christ in you, waiting to be poured out in ritual.
It’s in our not knowing, that we come closer, like the woman in this story. This past week (has it only been a week?) has heightened our awareness of what we have no control over and what we do. Plans have been canceled. Events and parties, celebrations, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, all the milestone and ritual of life that mark time, have been canceled or postponed to an unknown date.
But in the words of Terry Hershey-
hope will not be canceled.
Conversations will not be canceled.
Watching the moonlight filter through the trees will not be canceled.
Love will not be canceled.
Music will not be canceled.
Reading, Self-care Prayer will not be canceled.
The other piece of scripture you heard is the 23rd Psalm. We hear it a lot at memorials and burials. I suppose because of the valley of death and dying verse. But the psalm is a life-affirming psalm. It’s a song of praise for the God who never quits. And the valleys of death and dying happen, throughout our life, and especially now. This is the God who anoints our head with oil, who restores us, who affirms goodness and mercy will chase us all the days of our lives and beyond.
There is nothing in this life more precious than life. And all moments are holy as the song you’ll hear affirms.
When this woman comes to anoint Jesus, she could be doing so as hosts did for guests as a way to refresh and welcome, she could be doing so foretelling his burial, as women often prepared bodies for burial with oil, or she could be doing so as one would anoint a king, a messiah, whom she worshipped. We may never know her reason. But we know that all three are rituals. And we know that she did so out of love for Him. And he knew it too. And that was all that mattered. The disciples missed it, but Jesus didn’t. And either should we.
As these days grow longer or shorter, as time begins to play tricks on all of us, waking in the middle of the night, staying in pajamas all day, as we move through these days and nights, what are your rituals now? Can you understand in your everyday routines as holy ritual, gifted to us by God, offering back to God gratitude for the water that washes over your hands as you wash them, the food scraps that are emptied from the plate that’s nourished you, the frying pan that holds the oil that was pressed and bottled, the birds outside your window, the air you breathe on your walk, the legs that move, every moment is an opportunity to grow closer to God who sits at your table with you, lies next to you at 3 am when doubt comes creeping in.
In those all too often quoted words of Buechner,
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
Rev. Paul Gaffney wrote a beautiful lenten reflection this week saying as much …..
God is there, working through every exchange, every activity, every relationship. And I may have no idea what God is doing or how or why or what the outcome might be. So, during this season of Lent, I want to invite everyone to join me in this activity of seeing God in every encounter. God at the grocery store in the space between you and the person working the register. God at the dinner table between you and the friends or family members who disagree with your politics. God at the post office between you and the people standing in line. God on the sidewalk between you and the person asking for spare change or a cup of coffee or a smile. God urging us to move beyond favoritism and into mutual relationship with one another.
We’ll never know more about the unknown woman who showed up at Simon’s house than what we already know. But if she’s unknown we know she was you, she was me. We know that in the face of the unknown, she embraced his presence and his life with the finest of what she had….She expressed it through ritual and in doing so was embraced by Jesus who recognized her. We know that in light of the cross comes the embrace of this life now.