Sunday, February 19, 2006

What She Has Done Will Be Told In Remembrance Of Her

I have pre-holiday anxiety and depression, but it's not personal, it's liturgical.

First of all there's the Ash Wednesday service (my first) to prepare. I feel a huge responsibility to have a living relationship with the Methodist liturgy -- I don't want to be a hired hack like, Hey! Howya doin' everybody! Happy Ash Wednesday! I'm here all week!
When I even think of doing the imposition of ashes I get all shaky inside. I've only even been to less than a dozen Ash Wednesday services in my life!

I remember the first time I buried someone. It was at the moment that I said, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" and gently threw the first handful of dirt onto the casket that I felt like a Real Live Minister for the first time. I got a shot of bad, unmanaged energy up my spine -- this still happens at church on occasion, it's like Monster Kundalini Attack -- and it almost knocked me over. I had never done a graveside service before and it never occurred to me not to wear heels (yo, they sink into the ground, ya'll), so I wasn't all too steady on my hooves anyway. I thought, get a grip RIGHT NOW or you're going to fall into that grave and that will be so. not. cool.

The anointing at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13, whose mystery I much prefer to the account in John) has always been one of the most important gospel passages for me, and I cannot read it without feeling a sense of awe and tragedy and some other quiet disturbing ingredient that I'll just call HaShem. They're at Simon the Leper's house and the disciples are running around planning the revolution and this nameless woman is the only one who totally gets what's going on, and knows what's coming.
Have you ever smelled 'nard? It's not sweet. It's kind of earthy and musky, but sharp. I just imagine Jesus' hair getting all greasy with the 'nard and he's just the saddest man in the whole world, and the woman stands behind him just softly rubbing his head. And only the two of them understand. I cry every time I think about it.
I don't really understand it myself.
Maybe because Jesus, who might have been expected to agree with the disciples that the 'nard would have been better used in the service of the poor, allows himself to accept it as a blessing. He lets the woman (and us) love him and bless him before he dies; to do this honor to him. Not just to listen at his feet and soak up his parables and wisdom sayings, but to quietly anoint his head with oil in preparation for his burial. The image of him sitting at the table being ministered to in this quiet and fragrant way is such a moment of pure grace right on the brink of the chaos to come.

Anyway, when I think of the imposition of ashes, I just think of that woman.
I know the liturgical and theological difference between the imposition of ashes and an anointing before death, but in my heart, on the pastoral level, they're the same. And it's so deep I can hardly stand it. I remember what my friend said to me, smilingly as she imposed the ashes on my head last year: "Repent and believe in the gospel." Any time, lady. Any time.

On the imposition of ashes, interesting stuff:

And then there's Easter, and there's no way I can top the lamb. And I shouldn't have to, because it's Easter, but you know how it gets once you have one of those Once In a Lifetime worship services. You want them Twice In A Lifetime, if not more often. And that is just satanic, when you think about it: hey hey hey, I'm here for Easter service, where's the shhhhowbiz!!?


Blogger ogre said...

Yeah, but you gotta admit that it would have made one of those great stories that just... you know. "So then, the minister fell into the grave...".

Cool's great. But it's overrated. Style, panache... flair. Those are better. Even if there's a Marx Brothers element to it.


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