Sermon Preached by Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR at St Mary, Bourne Street, London on Holy Monday (2 April) 2012
“And Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment…and anointed the feet of Jesus”.
I think we can all sympathise with Judas here. “Why this waste? Why not sell it and give the money to the poor?”. Since I am in the business of encouraging people to give money to Tariro, to the poor children of Zimbabwe, you may expect me to support Judas here but no.
Mary is doing something else that we need to do, constantly. She is showing her love for Jesus. She is adoring him. She is pouring out the most precious things she has on him. She is saying “This is God, the Lord of heaven and earth. This is the person I most love in all the world”. In other words she is praying but praying in a way that we are not very good at. We all understand what it means to pray for things – to pray for peace in Iraq, to pray for healing from sickness, to pray for the conversion of sinners. Yet the prayer of adoration is more difficult. What do we say? Why should we say it? Does God really need us to say this? What kind of a God is he if he wants people to spend their time adoring him, or praising him? Doesn’t that make him rather a self-centred God, even a rather pathetic God. Hasn’t he got better things to do?
The fact is that it is not God who needs our praise. We need to praise him. When we adore God we acknowledge that he is who he is – our creator, redeemer and the one who keeps us constantly in life. This is something we easily forget. We are usually centred on ourselves; we think we create ourselves. The truth is that God is the centre of our lives and unless we put that truth at the centre of our life we will never get things right. Adoring God is good for us.
In a way you don’t need to be told that here in St Mary’s – your beautiful church, vestments, incense, music and windows constantly remind you of this. Yet we can still forget and get more interested in the vestments, or the music or the ritual itself, than in the God they are pointing towards.
What do the poor think? Well in Zimbabwe the poor want me to bring them vestments from England because they want to celebrate the sacraments with all the colour they can manage. The poor have had to rely directly on God all their lives for the things that keep them alive. So they are generally much better than we are at praising him and adoring him for doing just that.
As we come to the end of Lent we may ask ourselves whether Lent has taught us to adore Christ, to praise God for the blessings of our lives. If not, we need to repent and turn our gaze outwards to Jesus and get ready to contemplate him on the Cross. As Isaiah told us also today “Here is my servant whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights”. Jesus is the chosen one of God – the Father delights in him. Jesus the baby in Bethlehem; Jesus the teacher by the lakeside; Jesus the healer who raises Lazarus from the dead; Jesus the despised criminal enduring the mocking taunts of the crowd; Jesus who dies on the Cross. This is the one in whom God delights. Can we delight in him too?
Nicolas Stebbing CR