Dear Friends, we offer this service outline as a resource for individual, family, or small group use. It is modeled on our regular order of worship, and centered on Mark 14:1-9. Please adapt it freely to suit your needs and circumstances. We hope this will be a blessing to you.
Gathering in Worship
Announcements, Introductions, and Birthdays
Welcome, all, to this virtual gathering for worship. As you know, our regularly scheduled corporate meeting for worship has been cancelled, in light of the need to slow the spread of COVID-19 by refraining from gathering together in person. However, no virus is powerful enough to stop us from being gathered by the bond of love! Whoever you are, and wherever you’re from, we’re glad that you’re joining us.
A few announcements for you to be aware of:
Friends on the Peace and Social Concerns Committee are grateful to all who donated food and clothing for the children at the YMCA Learning Center in Wilmington. Your generosity is greatly appreciated! When you are in the meetinghouse next, check out the beautiful handmade thank-you cards from the children.
The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative is hosting their regular monthly online Conversation Circles, to be held over Zoom. This month’s topic is Religious Education for Sustainable Living, and the conversation circles are scheduled for March 17th at 1:00 p.m. and March 19th at 8:00 p.m. Click here for details.
Stop The New Nuclear Arms Race, an international conference on working globally to abolish nuclear weapons, is being held in Maryville, Tennessee, May 22nd – 25th. Check the website of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance for more information.
“A Christian community is a healing community not because wounds are healed and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pain become openings or occasions for a new vision. Mutual confession becomes a mutual deepening of hope, and sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen
Please take a moment to quietly collect your thoughts and prepare your heart(s) for worship.
Caring in Community
Minute for Mission
The Ramallah Friends School is temporarily closed, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Here’s a video from their recent 150th anniversary celebration:
Praises and Concerns
Please hold the Belize Mission Team in the light as they are traveling back from their work at the Belize Friends School.
Pray for strength and wisdom for healthcare workers around the world.
Pray that Friends will find creative and effectual ways of gathering by card, phone, email, and through online options.
Congregational Prayer Focus
Londonderry Friends Meeting
Wider Quaker Prayer Focus
Friends Committee on National Legislation
If you would like to submit a praise or a concern, email it to julie dot rudd at wilmingtonfriendsohio dot org. All submissions will, by default, be made anonymous if shared online.
Loving Creator, in the midst of uncertainty, we praise you. We praise you for crocuses opening, and for hearts opening… for the evidence of love that surrounds us. You are the giver of good gifts, and we are grateful.
Redeeming God, make us better stewards of your gifts. Bring our failures into your holy and healing light, and renew us. And as we are renewed, may we be agents of renewal, fountains that spring forth forgiveness.
You are our Comforter, and we come to you in times of trouble. In this holy moment, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and joined with the community of Friends, we offer our needs and desires to you…
And as we pray for ourselves, we pray for our families and our communities and for our world. Let your kingdom come, and let your will be done, in our hearts and in our lives.
Your simple presence with us is the greatest gift we could receive. We offer, in turn, our time and our talent and our treasure. Bless our gifts, and used them to widen the circle of light and love. May we, with our lives, begin the world we are praying for. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who teaches us to love, AMEN.
Offering and Offertory
If you wish to financially support the work of Wilmington Friends Meeting, please mail your donation to us at 66 N Mulberry St, Wilmington, OH 45177. Or, as a way of embodying generosity, please make a donation to the religious organization or charity of your choice. Thank you for supporting holy work in the world through your hands and prayers and financial generosity.
Hearing the Scriptures
Scripture Reading: Mark 14:1-9
Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Sermon: The Leper And The Woman
Who is she, anyway?
This story of the anointing of Jesus is recorded in all four Gospels, but it’s different in each one. We’re following the Gospel of Mark, this year, and he gives us this great irony: he says that wherever the gospel is preached, what this woman has done will be told in memory of her, but he doesn’t record her name.
The Gospel of Matthew, which uses Mark as a source, tells the story in much the same way. Jesus was in the house of Simon the Leper, and a woman poured an alabaster flask of expensive oil on his head, and there was complaint over the cost but Jesus identified the gift as a burial anointing. Still, though, the woman is unnamed.
Luke moves this story earlier in the narrative, well before the Holy Week events that we’re following in this series. He also says that Simon is a Pharisee, and that the woman is a “sinner.” Luke’s focus is on forgiveness: how much we have been forgiven, and how we come to understand how much we have been forgiven. At the end of the story, people begin to question just who Jesus thinks he is, that he should be going around forgiving sins.
In the Gospel of John, written last, the woman is Mary… not Mary the mother of Jesus, but Mary of the Bethany household of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Here, Mary’s gift reflects gratitude for the raising of Lazarus and anticipation of the coming crucifixion, and Martha’s service at the table and Mary’s gift of oil for Jesus’ feet parallel Martha worrying about many things while Mary sat learning at Jesus’ feet. It’s after this anointing that Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.
We’re focusing on Mark, this spring, but I wanted to give you that sense of the diversity of the biblical witness. All the early stories agree that Jesus was anointed with expensive perfume by a woman, and that this anointing had something to do with forgiveness and gratitude and Jesus’ death.
Mark places this story within Holy Week, in the days after Jesus rode his borrowed donkey into Jerusalem as a peaceful king. He’s coming into Jerusalem during the day, but seems to be spending his nights in the nearby town of Bethany.
Mark shows us Jesus at rest, at a dinner party at the home of Simon the Leper.
Imagine if your dinner table were no further off the ground than your coffee table, and instead of chairs, you just had cushions. That’s what this dinner party looked like. Jesus was reclining at the table, because that’s what going to a dinner party looked like: you propped yourself up so that you could reach the food on the low table while laying down.
And Jesus is doing this, you see, in the home of a leper.
Leprosy is a disease that’s still with us today, under the modern name of Hansen’s Disease. It was a dreaded disease, in ancient times. People knew that the disease could be passed from person to person, but didn’t know how to stop the transmission, so the best response to maintain the health of the community was to cast the leper out.
Hansen’s Disease can now be treated with antibiotics, but that wasn’t the case in Jesus’ time. No treatment was available, then. The purity laws that would have cast Simon out were there for the well-being of the community.
But when Mark shows us Jesus reclining at the table, in the home of Simon the Leper, he’s showing us a kind of holy courage. Jesus is violating the purity laws. Most people wouldn’t have even gone into Simon’s home, and might have wanted him thrown out of the town of Bethany altogether, but Jesus reclines at his table.
As disciples of Jesus, we’re called to go where Jesus goes. So how do we, in 2020, find our way into Simon’s house?
Here’s a guess, rather than an absolute… Jesus seems to have been friends with Simon. Why else would he have been in Simon’s house? He’s there as a guest.
So, go make friends with lepers. That’s hard to say, in a time where social distancing is a necessary good, to stop the spread of a viral disease. Jesus must have been creative, though, in order to befriend Simon. Practice some holy creativity, and see what happens.
But don’t be surprised, Friends, if your holy and creative work demands more from you than you expected. That’s how worship goes, isn’t it?
In worship, we acknowledge what really matters. We practice offering our hearts to love alone. Here’s what that looks like: in her room, a woman held an alabaster jar of perfume. She felt the heft of it, smelt the scent leaking out through the stopper. She counted the cost
And then, she went to Jesus and poured it over his head.
Why did she offer this gift? And what does it mean for us?
We don’t really do Lent, as Friends, but I ran across this quote from Walter Brueggemann that feels relevant:
“I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.”
A great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy… that sounds like the salvation we all need.
Times of heightened anxiety put both the worst and the best of humanity on display. We have people hoarding cleaning supplies, and people organizing food drives for school children without their regular lunches. We have people prioritizing personal desires over public health concerns, and doctors and nurses working long shifts to provide high-quality care to those who need it.
This woman’s gift calls us away from greed and into Gospel living, in which we count the cost and offer the gift anyway.
It may, also, call us to reflect on the story she saw unfolding before her, as Jesus’ very presence in Jerusalem challenged both the religious and political leaders of his time. Jesus identifies her gift as an a burial anointing. Did she forsee the consequences of his radical leadership, and rather than ask him to be more careful, choose to bless his decision?
As disciples of Jesus, we’re tasked with resisting shallow understandings of safety, ones that prioritize only our own well-being and personal happiness. And with this unnamed woman in our cloud of witnesses, may we be reminded that Gospel-shaped generosity is always worth the cost.
May the example of Jesus, as he reclined at the home of Simon the Leper, make us more aware of the separations between us and more willing to make ourselves at home with one another. May the example of the unnamed woman, as she offered her precious gift without regard to the detractors, make us more aware of what we have to offer and more willing to break our alabaster jars open.
How are you drawn away from greed and anxiety, and toward neighborliness? How are you led to resist exclusion and self-indulgence, and choose instead surprising generosity?
Sharing in Silence
During waiting worship, we listen together for God’s voice. As a virtual participant in this service, this may mean a time of waiting worship with those gathered in your family or small group. It could also be an individual experience. These breath prayers may be helpful to you, as you wait for God’s presence. If you want an online experience, you can join the Ben Lomond Quaker Center Online Meeting.
Blessing and Sending
Close of Waiting Worship
Thank you, Friends, for blessing us with your mindful and loving presence here. As we move toward the end of our time of worship, join us again in song.
May you rest and love and grow in the power of the Creator, the grace of Christ Jesus, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Go forth and live the Gospel.