Holy Monday - what brings you to Jesus?

A sermon preached by the Revd Neil Evans at St George's Campden Hill

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. John 12:3

Have you had that experience of catching (or almost catching) a smell and stirring a memory? I shouldn’t admit it in this day and age, but catching the smell of pipe tobacco has an incredible effect on me. You see my father died when I was nine years old, and he smoked a pipe; the whiff of pipe smoke immediately transports me back to happy memories of him from over half a century ago.

I wonder what spurred Mary to do such an extravagant thing as this; it was an incredible act and the perfume’s fragrance, St John tells us, filled the whole house – a beautiful, sensuous, seemingly out-of-place smell. According to the other Gospels it wasn’t just Judas who was offended by the act; so were the Pharisees and the other disciples. It was totally outrageous.

Certainly, there was something about Jesus’ relationship with Mary that stirred a response, and Mary responded in the way that she could. My guess is that it wasn’t a carefully thought-out action, but a spontaneous act.

I often feel that we have our lives so organised that we don’t leave space for the spontaneous, for the extravagant gesture. The almost caught smell can soon be forgotten, but can also lead us away from our planned thoughts, our planned actions or response for the day.

It is interesting to reflect on what brings people to Jesus today. It is so different to my experience of being brought up in the church and those of my generation for whom church and faith was common place, if not accepted by all. Today, so often, people come to Jesus through a spontaneous reaction. Something, perhaps, which is called out of themselves.

The ministry of Cathedrals today is a fascinating case in point. Attendance is growing, probably because they offer ‘Sacred Space’ where people can experience something of faith without being too drawn in, too committed.

A question for church communities is, how do we respond to those who come to Jesus in this spontaneous way? Do we try to shoe-horn them into our picture of what faith is, or do we create space for them to find Jesus in their own way.

In a situation where the vast majority of people still profess to be Christian, but most do not know the Christian story or go to church regularly, it is a real challenge to us to find ways of helping them to come to Jesus, where church is an alien environment. Think of those who come to hear their Banns of Marriage read, or the families and friends of those brought for Baptism. My impression is that usually they are a little bemused, sometimes delighted, and often bored! But what a wonderful challenge to us as a Christian community to find ways in helping them to ‘catch a whiff’ of the love of God in our sacred space.

Neither the disciples nor the Pharisees were at all comfortable with Mary’s extravagant response to Jesus; it didn’t fit! It was extravagant, irresponsible and embarrassing. But is there space for the creative, spontaneous, extravagant, irresponsible response to God’s amazing love in our lives? When we get the whiff of something special do we follow it up or is it too much trouble, too threatening, too potentially embarrassing?

Is there, perhaps, a way that we can come anew to Jesus, a way that goes against our ‘better judgement’; against the social norms? The story of Mary’s response lives on through the stories of the gospels today and she is famous for it.

Jesus comes to us through the extravagant spontaneity of God’s love and against all the odds. Can we accommodate what others might bring to our faith, and can we find new ways of expressing our faith ourselves?

What brings you to Jesus?
Holland Park Benefice