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Thursday, 2 April 2020

A beautiful thing for me

This morning, the birds are singing in the darkness before dawn. It is the most beautiful sound. Shrill, sweet, slightly unnerving. I didn’t notice it at first, too sleepy and preoccupied with thoughts of what today will hold, but once my ears settled on it, I have found it hard to ignore.

This moment feels special, secretive. No one else in my house is awake yet.

Jesus knew the beauty of early morning. So often in scripture, there are these moments where he sneaks off to be with God, his Father. Where he climbs a mountainside to pray, where he heads off away from the crowds, where he leaves everything else behind simply to be with his Dad.

I wonder how that made God feel? I wonder how God, the Father, was cheered and delighted by time spent with his Son? By his Jesus’ determination to seek him out even when life was overwhelming and there were many other things that could distract him.

It is easy to think that prayer is simply about asking, that spending time with God is only for our own benefit, that it is something that we need. But what if it is something that God longs for too? When Sarah is finding it difficult to pray and she asks me to pray for her instead, I always say to her, gently, but God loves the sound of your voice. God is waiting to hear from you. Not to force her to pray, but to remind her that God is “especially fond” (to use an expression from “The Shack”) of her. It is a delight to him to be with her (Zephaniah 3:17) and her small, faltering prayers mean the world to him.

The last story before Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, in John’s gospel is about Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It is six days before Passover. One week before the cross. Jesus’ heart must have been overwhelmed with sorrow, full of all that was to come. And Mary, whilst her family and the disciples are dining with Jesus, takes an expensive jar of perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet. She wipes his feet with her hair. And it says, “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3)

The others are indignant. Judas Iscariot – the one who will shortly betray Jesus – is particularly outraged, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” What a waste. What a pointless act. Doesn’t Mary have better things to do with her money, better things to do with her time? Mary is rebuked here in the same way that she was rebuked by her sister weeks earlier (Luke 10:38-42): for sitting at Jesus’ feet and doing very little when there is much that needs to be done.

But Jesus’ response is so beautiful: “Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” (12:7) In Matthew’s gospel, he goes further still and says, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for me.” (Matthew 26:7) I cannot imagine the awe and hush of this moment. Jesus, thinking of what is to come in a few short days, saying quietly that he is thankful. That he appreciates this gesture. That it is beautiful and meaningful to him because Mary has thought about what he needs. Mary has stopped for a moment in the midst of the whirlwind of events (her brother being raised from the dead just a few days before). She has paused and looked to Jesus and showed him such extravagant love and care that it has made her look foolish. And Jesus is grateful. He is blessed by her act.

What a mind-blowing thought: that we can bless God. That the decision to worship, to take time, to stop for a moment and pray, to meet Jesus in the early morning with a coffee and listen to the birdsong together is a blessing to his heart. It may, in fact, be more important than anything else we can do that day. It may mean more to him than anything else we manage to achieve.

I pray that we are able to stop long enough today to remember the altogether loveliness of Jesus. To remember that he wanted us to be with us so much that he went to the cross. God could have given up on humanity; He could have walked away from the pain and the mess and the brokenness that sin has ravaged upon us and upon our world, but instead he went to Calvary to win us back, to show us the unfathomable depths of his great love for us. He gave up everything just to be with us again.

Mary knew something of this. She knew the indescribable worth of time spent with Jesus. Not only to her, but to Him.

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