LENTEN DEVOTION: The Anointing by Johann Ernst von Holst

Morning and Evening Devotions for the Holy Season of Lent

The Anointing by Johann Ernst von Holst

From The Crucified Is My Love

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for him in the house of Simon the leper.  Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.  Mary therefore took a flask of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and poured it on Jesus’s head as he reclined at table, and anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:2-3)

The Lord was on his last journey from Jericho, the city of roses, to the peaceful little village of Bethany, whose name means, “house of palms,” situated on the Mount of Olives just an hour’s walk from Jerusalem.  There, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, Simon the leper had a feast prepared in his honor.  This act of hospitality and joyous acknowledgement of Jesus required courage, for the council had already issued a warrant for the Lord’s arrest, (John 11:57).  But at this supper he was safe and surrounded by grateful love.

The circle included the host, whom he had healed of leprosy; Lazarus, whom he had raised form the dead; the disciples, whom he had chosen; and Mary and Martha, who so gladly served him.  Here the Lord was granted a short time of peace and quiet with his own before the outbreak of the last storm.  But the joy of the company was dampened by vague forebodings aroused by what the Lord had said about his suffering and the obvious plots of the enemy.

Mary in particular was seized with melancholy, and her love rose to its highest peak.  She had with her a costly treasure, an alabaster flask filled with oil of nard.  At the urge of her love she broke the glass and poured the ethereal contents over the head and feet of her Savior.  In doing this she also broke the outward forms of womanly reserve in order to envelop him completely in the fragrance of her love.  He had anointed her soul with the words of his spirit; she anointed his head with the nard of her love.  He had dried her tears at her brother’s grave; she dried his feet with her hair.

Wherever believing souls gather in unanimity today, thanking him in loving gratitude that they have been cleansed from the leprosy of sin and saved from the jaws of death, they experience Bethany.  The Lord is in their midst and blesses their fellowship with his peace-bringing presence.  But where are the souls like Mary, who break the heart of their old nature and joyfully give everything they have in the service of his love?  The Lord knows them and sees them blossoming in the valley of humility, where they are mostly quiet and hidden, offering the strength and beauty of their lives in gratitude to their Redeemer and in service to others.  Indeed the church, the bride of the Lord, is herself such a Mary when she remembers his passion in little family circles or in large church gatherings and accompanies him on his way to the cross with faith and reverence, adoration, and prayer.

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