Martha & Mary (2) – Devotion

Martha & MaryJesus, Mary and Martha are together once again in Bethany. And this time there’s an altogether different atmosphere:

Please read John 12:1-7

Jesus may well have found stability and security in the friendship and hospitality of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. These were people he was able to be himself with. Amidst all the crowds, the demands and the ever-increasing threats, what a precious gift that must have been. And how valuable such people and places are to us too. Those special friends with whom we can simply be. Those places to which we can go in order to be ourself. Life is the poorer without them.

Who are your special people? Where are your special places?

Not long before this occasion, Jesus had raised Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s beloved brother, from the dead (John 11). So, this is a meal of celebration and how different it is from the last occasion we considered. This time, Martha’s serving springs out of a heart full of love and gratitude. The atmosphere is so full of joy and thanksgiving that it seemed right and natural for Mary to fetch her most precious possession, a box of spikenard (sometimes called nard) ointment, which she poured over the feet of Jesus as the greatest gift she can give.

But how did Jesus feel about this extravagant act? Wasn’t it just a tiny bit embarrassing? ‘Oh, Mary, you shouldn’t have.’ Couldn’t he have asked her to stop – or even agreed with Judas that it was a waste of good perfume? But, of course, he knew the significance of it – even if Mary didn’t.

The fragrance of the perfume permeates the whole house: its scent reaching through the light and airy parts and on in to the darker, hidden corners. This is in itself symbolic and representative of the spreading of the story of Christ. The scent of this most precious possession being the Gospel message of hope and salvation for all. The house representing the world. The guests representing the people of all the nations. The fragrance symbolising the story of Christ, saviour, priest and king, affecting everyone it touches.

At a deeper, personal level, it is symbolically representative of God’s love, reaching and filling our lives. His love permeating not only the light and airy bits – the good and pleasant parts of who we are – but also the darker, hidden corners, the bits others never see, the parts even we ourselves avoid looking at.

Whether pleasant or unpleasant, a smell often lingers in the air long after the source of it has disappeared. A smell can so attach itself to us that we can go to a different place and other people will smell it. Drawing a parallel between the Gospel message and our own Christian witness, other people will experience that which the fragrance symbolises and represents.

Or as Bishop Tom Wright once put it, it can be, ‘worth taking a minute…to reflect on what smell we’re giving off.’

In what ways is your life spreading the fragrance of the love of God to other people?

What can you learn from your past which opens up the future?

Mary & Joseph (1) – Presenting

Mary & Joseph meet Simeon & AnnaMary and Joseph went to Jerusalem when Jesus was just 40 days old. It was the custom under Old Testament laws that parents would take their first-born son to the Temple to dedicate him to God: to ‘Present’ him. Hence why that event is sometimes called the ‘Presentation of Christ’. There, they meet, first, Simeon and, later, Anna. (Two other people with a story to tell at some other time.)

Please read Luke 2:22-35

When Simeon speaks to Mary, it’s easy to forget that Joseph was also there. Joseph can get overlooked in the story of Jesus’ life but he heard those same words. The prospect of death intrudes into their time of joy. Something these parents will be reminded about a couple of years later when wise travellers from the East present their gift myrrh: an oil for embalming.

Although it’s not known how old Joseph and Mary were when they married, Jewish tradition at the time stated that boys could marry from the age of 18 and girls from aged 12. So Joseph is almost certainly older than Mary and here he is in the Temple with a baby who is not his own flesh and blood (which must still be carrying a degree of confusion in itself). He is like a stepfather, a foster parent, caring for this child as if he was his own. And here too is Mary: one who will, ultimately, outlive both her husband and her first born.

Mary. A teenage mum married to an older man. An ordinary girl called to be the mother of the Son of God. That God should choose such a person. ‘Why me?’ she might have asked. ‘Why her?’ we might say. Destined to be present at the first of Jesus’ miracles: the wedding in Cana; and at the last: his death and resurrection. By the time she’s in her 40s, she will be watching the death of the babe she now holds in her arms before Simeon. The sword will pierce her soul. What greater loss than that. It is to be a hard life. This is no easy calling. But there again, what calling ever is?

Joseph. Carpenter. Bread winner. Provider. ‘What on earth is going on here?’ he might have asked. ‘Why him?’ we might say. A descendant of David. A righteous man (Matt 1:19 KJV). One can imagine that both the confusion and the God-given resolution of the arrival of this child is probably impacting on his work. As a carpenter, his occupation had a long and honourable history in Israel stretching back to the building of the Tabernacle. He uses tools, probably some not that dissimilar to today’s. He makes furniture, works with builders, farmers and fisherman. A respected man in a respectable job. He knows this son will watch him at work and will follow in his footsteps (See also Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55). It’s a tough job. It’ll be hard working when you’ve got things going on at home.

Mary and Joseph. Maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t know all that was going to happen in the course of their lives – just as it is for us, really. But what stories they will be able to tell.

Spend a few minutes reflecting on how it would have been for Joseph and Mary as they left the Temple that day. Pause to reflect on what can be learnt from their lives. Their trust in God. The way God uses ordinary people. If God can use them, God can use anyone. Including you.

Think back to times when your future has been uncertain: how has God guided and supported you in such times?

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.

 

Mary Magdalene (2) – Fact

Mary Magdalene at the Garden TombWhile not named, Mary was probably among other women who gathered for the Last Supper and then moved on to the Garden at Gethsemane – and she was certainly involved in what followed.

Please read Matt 27:55-57,61 and John 20:1, 11-18

Like many of us after a death, Mary Magdalene visited the place where her loved one was laid. It was night. She knew she could go there in peace to pay her respects, to mourn, to talk to the one she had lost, to be in that person’s presence even though they are dead: there is something reassuring about being able to do so, isn’t there – it keeps that deep emotional connection.

But on that first Easter morning, as the sun was rising upon the darkened land, Mary didn’t find what she expecting. The stone carefully placed over the entrance to the tomb by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, whom she had watched, had been moved. The body had gone. What loss – and then this.

No doubt, as she sat weeping, Mary recalled Jesus’ teaching about his death and resurrection. And yet the body had gone. Even the appearance of angels did not bring consolation. A gardener came and she poured out her distress to him. What on earth was going on?

And then one word changed everything. A word charged with emotion. A word which encapsulated all she was, covered all her confusion and distress, and brought together all her faith and hope.

‘Mary.’

In this one word, the simple utterance of her name, Mary has found the Lord. And her Lord has found her. In the deep heartfelt calling of her name, Mary had found the true fulfilment of who God had made her to be. She hears her name and says his in reply.

The 16th Century Italian artist, Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (1480-1548) captures the moment beautifully in his painting, Mary Magdalene. Mary is turning and understanding.

When someone calls our name, it attracts our attention. We turn to face them. We respond to the voice. We recognise the person who says it. Hearing our name spoken makes us turn in the right direction. And if we are looking for someone we’ve lost, we might call out their name. And such is the joy when we find them – and such is the joy of the person who has been found.

Through the resurrection, Jesus calls each one of us by name.

Through the resurrection, each one of us has found what we are looking for.

Take a few minutes to listen to the voice of Jesus calling your name.

Write down what you feel when you turn and understand.

Thomas (2) – Believing

From doubting to believingAfter the resurrection, Thomas wanted to be sure. He wanted to see the evidence.

Please read John 20:26-29

Poor Thomas. It must have been a difficult week. The other ten disciples and followers, including the Marys, would have been full of the fact that Jesus, their beloved Lord was not dead but was alive (and no doubt also a bit confused by it for themselves, one expects, although they may not have admitted that to Thomas).

In the high emotion of the situation, Thomas could have easily left the rest of the group. But he didn’t. He stayed with them. Listening to them, eating with them and praying with them.

Even so, Thomas must have spent that week wandering around, questioning the words of his closest friends, waiting for Jesus to appear around a corner. What a very long week it must have been. A week of uncertainty. A week of hope, fearing disappointment. A week of shame because he could not bring himself to believe like the others did. A week of waiting.

There are times when we want to be absolutely sure of something aren’t there? When we want evidence to clear up the confusion and the doubt. Some people have even likened Thomas to that of a scientist.

Thomas was fortunate: he had Jesus right there in front of him. How we would all long for such an experience! Yet note Jesus’ words in John 20:29. Thomas now believed because he had seen Jesus once again – and Jesus tells him how much greater is the blessing for those who believe without seeing him.

We, with all our doubts, come to Christ in the knowledge that we have not seen him. We come to Christ in faith, trusting that, in the balance of probability, he is alive and he is with us. He takes those doubts, that faith and that trust and he blesses us.

How else can we respond but by saying ‘My Lord and my God!’

Look back at your list of doubts. What evidence might there be to challenge them?

Now write a list of those things – anything you like: faith, life, work, whatever – which cause you to respond:

‘My Lord and my God!’