I love the week leading up to Easter. In Christian circles it’s called “Holy Week.” It’s become one of my favorite times of the year. We have a unique tradition in our small town; I think it’s pretty isolated to this place as I’ve never heard of it anywhere else. Each day at lunch hour a different church in town organizes a small service followed by a quick lunch. It’s a pretty special week as the Baptists mingle with the Catholics, and the Presbyterians worship with the Episcopalians, you get the idea.
It’s the spirit of community at its finest.
Today we met at the Catholic Church for a short service and then feasted on a variety of sandwiches served with sweet tea and petit fours for dessert. But, as much as I enjoyed the lunch with all of its flavors and fixings, I was especially encouraged by the message given by the Baptist preacher. Yes, the Baptist preacher, I know I said the service was at the Catholic Church. That’s part of the beauty of Holy Week Services, the preachers and priests are each asked to speak in a church that is not their own.
It’s amazing really.
Last week I was talking to my daughter about different songs she could sing in our little church on Easter Sunday. We were rattling off the different tunes that hold a special “He is Risen” emphasis when a song came to mind I haven’t heard in years. The beauty of it rings in my heart this time of year. The words talk about Mary when she took an alabaster box of perfume and poured it over Jesus’ feet as a humble offering of thankfulness. I’ve read in the days of Christ it wasn’t uncommon for expensive perfumes to be offered as gifts to the church to be sold and the money given to the poor. When the disciples saw her “waste” this perfume by pouring it on Jesus, they were indignant. But, Jesus understood the depth of her offering like they could not, and he rebuked the disciples telling them what she’d done would be told to countless generations.
This scented gift likely cost her all she had.
You can find the story in scripture in John 12:1-8.
It’s one of my favorites.
Sitting in the crowded small sanctuary of the Catholic Church, I listened as the Baptist preacher started the message by reading the passage in John. He went on to talk about worship and praise in its many different forms. To me, this story is such a perfect picture of what worship looks like. A thankful woman kneeling at the feet of Jesus, tears flowing offering all she has in praise.
I can see her in my imagination, too caught up in the moment to be one bit embarrassed of her outlandish behavior.
How many times have you or I knelt at the side of our bed or by the couch or at the alter in church and cried tears of loss and thankfulness; tears that cost us something. Mary’s perfume was tangible and the cost was measurable. The song I talked to my daughter about says, there is a praise that is not measured by money that costs a person everything, it’s an offering not visible to human eyes.
Jesus knew Mary’s tears were just as expensive as her perfume.
You know we all have an alabaster box of some sort, whether we realize it or not. Our “box” is the place we hold our most costly praise. In our deepest times of worship we dip into this box and offer our sacrificial gifts to our Heavenly Father as an offering.
For me, loss fills my alabaster box.
Loss of my mom, loss of youth, of children running around the house and a life I thought I had figured out. I’ve laid down hopes and dreams I thought should come true and ideas about what I wish tomorrow would hold. It’s a painful experience to open this box, everything inside had a price. But, in those most precious moments of private worship, I open it carefully and pour some of the contents on my Savior’s feet.
It’s a beautiful painful experience.
Losing something to gain something greater.
Strangely, I always feel a sense of deep gratitude in the midst of the pain. Yes, I have lost much, but I have been given so much more. Honestly, I don’t always remember that, but when I open my alabaster box, I am compelled to thank the Lord for every single lesson or truth I’ve learned by walking through the darkest of times. Times I thought I wouldn’t make it, times when I questioned “why?” Times when I wondered where God had gone and why had the darkness taken over. But, time and again, he’s brought me through. And time and again, I offer up my deepest praise for the journey.
Isn’t that what Easter is all about? New beginnings born from deep loss.
It’s hope for the future, hope for each other and hope for life eternal. It’s a time to worship Christ the King for his incomparable sacrifice of one life for another; his life for mine. I’m not sure I will ever really be able to thank him fully for all he has done.
So, in the midst of Easter lilies and choir cantatas, new dresses and matching shoes, big hats and pastels, little girls in hair bows and little boys with bow ties—there is a greater joy, the celebration of a suffering Savior and an alabaster box.
No basket of goodies and chocolate bunnies can compare to this gift.
Well, after the benediction of the Holy Week service, I found way behind the little Catholic Church to Parish Hall and feasted on Muffuletta sandwiches and grape salad. There was plenty of laughter and conversation to go around and I left there spiritually and physically full. You know, I wish we would do this sort of thing more often during the year, I’m pretty sure there will be Catholics, Baptists and Presbyterians the like in heaven.
There will be a spirit of community like none other.