Readings appointed for today can be found here
4 Jars, 2 Sinners, 1 Command
Three alabaster jars. Actually, there are four alabaster jars and four women in four Gospels. In three of the Gospels, Matthew and Mark, the woman is a prophet and her act of loving service will be told in remembrance of her. The focal point in these narratives is the prophetic action and the love of the women. In neither Mark or Matthew, Mark being the earliest written, is the woman described as being sinful.
There is also a woman with an alabaster jar in the Gospel of John, and likewise an emphasis on the woman’s anointing being a for-shadowing of Jesus’ death. In John, the woman with the Alabaster jar of nard is named Mary and is the sister of Lazarus.
Held up against these other narratives, Luke is unique in this description of the woman with the alabaster jar as a sinner. There is a sinful woman who is forgiven in the Gospel of John, but she appears at a separate point in the story and she has no alabaster jar.
So, two Gospels, John and Luke, with sinful women who are forgiven. But, are you following me? There is a major difference. In John the command to the woman is “go and sin no more” in Luke, it is “go in peace”. So the part of this narrative that is unique to Luke, with no other appearance in the Gospels is this command to “Go in peace”
Go in peace… as I read and spoke these words I found myself considering a moment of peace in my own life…
I remember the day that I decided that I was going to say “yes” to the call of priesthood. I was 23 and living in a studio apartment on Lake Ave. in Cleveland. I had been out late the night before, Lona’s 25th birthday party actually, and arrived home in the wee small hours. So exhausted and in no mood to drag myself to church, where I was scheduled to chalice, I was sitting in an ugly brown chair in my living room and trying to get up the energy to head out. And, as I sat, I was suddenly filled with a peculiar sense of peace. And, in that moment I knew that I was going to do this.
A confidence in the path I was on, a path that was by no means certain and which had seemed challenging to follow on the best of days.
I’ve always wondered about that moment. About that peace. And, this past week while I was reading a book about Christian discernment, I came across a passage that described this feeling as one of “confidence at a very deep level [that] indicates that we are moving in the right direction”. (Grounded in God, 28) And, with that language affirming that my experience of confidence was not without precedent…I turned to the Book of Common Prayer and the prayer of quiet confidence,
“O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP 829)
Peace as a defining quality of the God whom we serve. Peace in that still moment of communion where all is right and good and we are ourselves, just as we are, and God is God and we are made whole.
Go in peace.
in the passage we hear today, this is the bidding, the dismissal, that the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet receives following her absolution for sin. Having chosen for herself to adopt this position of servitude and adoration, she is forgiven and sent out with peace.
And, I imagine that peace was imbued with that gift of quiet confidence. The sense that “all will be well and all will be well and all matter of things shall be well”, as Julian of Norwich uttered in her famous prayer of calm. In entering into this place of calm and certainty it strikes me that the passage does not indicate the nature of the woman’s sin, but it is emphatic about about the nature of her love.
So, despite the efforts of scriptural revisionists to tell us otherwise, nowhere in scripture does it say that this woman was a prostitute—and just to be clear, since I want you to be clear on this, no where in scripture are we offered ANY indication that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. What she has done ceases to matter in the face of the transformation she has undergone. This is ultimately, not about sin, it is about transformation—her transformation and that of the community that refused to see her and her full humanity.
And, with that, the continuation of the narrative “he went through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” takes on a sense that this good news is one of peace and newness of life to those who have been broken by the structures and strictures of the social and political landscape.
It is no wonder then that this movement was provided for by the women of the community—Mary, Joanne, Chuza, Susanna—I feel certain that they could see, in Jesus, a future in which their full humanity would be recognized. We’ve been hearing portions of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a letter written specifically to endorse the call to follow Christ as one being meant for all of God’s children.
In Frederick Buechner’s commentary on the passage we heard today in Galatians "And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all 'come to maturity,' as he put it; and then, since there had been only one really human being since the world began, until we all make it to where we're like him, he said - 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that."
This idea that in Christ, in Jesus, we are called to see each as fully human must have seemed and been experienced as a radical and welcome departure from the norm for these women—and in particular for the woman found weeping over Jesus’ feet. The ignored, disparaged, fearful and exploited people of the world have long grasped upon this liberating idea that what Christ offers is recognition of the belovedness of every man, woman and child in creation—regardless of what the world might say of those self same individuals.
What would our world be like? What would our newsfeed, our newspapers, our twitter accounts look like, if we could hold to this core understanding of shared and full humanity? If the way of the world was one grounded in the peace of God. What if the bidding to go in peace was one embodied, embraced and offered to our children and all those they, and we, will encounter? I can begin to imagine, and it is this imagining to which I will strive.
Next week in the passage from the Galatians (part of this series we are hearing on the letter) we will hear the famous passage, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
This is not an if, it is a truth. We belong to Christ and in this there is perfect freedom. But, our freedom is compromised, if we, like Simon cannot bid our brothers and sisters that same peace.
Go in peace, Jesus says to the wounded. Go in peace. This phrase becomes a liturgical action—and one of immense power. Think on this, what does this mean for us in the here and now. Because, we will say these words, we will declare peace to those who here have sought forgiveness of sin. We will greet each other with these words and declare it so. Peace, at the shaking of a hand, peace at the quick embrace. Peace. This is not our peace, but the peace of God we share…and this is holy. This is not coffee hour or hospitality time—this is a moment of radical welcome and reconciliation.
In this moment, we are invited to truly see each other and declare God’s love to all those we encounter. In this moment, we set aside all hurts or offenses and that all too human tendency to objectify our kindreds here on earth. In this moment, we are invited to say yes to God’s invitation to a different way going forward.
Go in peace, and, in that moment of peace, be filled with the quiet confidence that the way we are taking is the right way and the way to which we are called by the God who calls us to peace. Amen.