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In remembrance of her 

 


Mark 14:1-11: reflecting on the #metoo movement as we journey to the cross. By Beth Allison 



Dieric Bouts


When I started preparing for this week of Easter services, I was looking at what we might do for Maundy Thursday. And as I read through the scripture readings in Mark about the run up to Jesus’ death, I was really struck by this passage.

Wherever people tell the good news about me, says Jesus, you will tell this story in memory of her.

Many weeks in the year, we take bread and wine which we break and bless, with the words that we do this in memory of Jesus, but we do not often tell this story in memory of her. And if we do, we focus on the conversation the men have about her: should this money be given to the poor? Did she do the right thing? What did Jesus mean when he said the poor will always be with you?

We neglect Jesus’ command, or perhaps Jesus’ promise, that wherever there is good news, there is this memory of this woman’s extraordinary actions.

It is a story we are told to tell. But we don’t.

And this seemed especially pertinent this year. It has been a year for telling stories that have not been told. A year of bringing to light experiences and actions that have, for different reasons, been ignored.

The #metoo movement is one such re-claiming of stories that have not been told. Or which have been told but which have been silenced. Or which have been told but the woman’s actions have been the ones that have been scrutinised and judged, not the men.

It doesn’t stop there of course, there have been the uncovering of abuses in the government and political parties, in the charity sector and of course, within church institutions. Places where, even when concerns were raised, somehow the stories were not heard, or money or reputation was held to be more important.

There are lots of ‘hers’ to remember. The ‘me too’ hashtag made the point that not only could this be any woman, it was the experience of almost every woman.

Of course the big difference between the news of this year and the story we have read today is that our bible story centres around the amazing positive actions of a woman which are then critiqued by those men around her for not being to their taste.  We know this too: even our history classes in schools reflect a history recorded by people in power, history classes that say remarkably little about people from BME backgrounds, or anything negative the British empire did. We don’t tell those memories. Those people are anonymous in our collective remembering.

So it’s poignant that even by the time this story was written down, in this earliest gospel, this woman has already become anonymous. Her name has not been credited with her story. Nor is she given any speech. Later, in other gospels, the authors will make this sound like a more explicit or sexual act, and then somehow, they will be quite happy to attach the names of different women it might have been. But here she is simply taking an extravagant bottle of perfume and pouring it out on Jesus: a generous, beautiful act of worship.

And Jesus is delighted by it. Thrilled. So much so that he is the first to tell her story: “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. she has done this to me,” he says, before he declares that this will be retold wherever people hear the good news.

This utterly positive story about a woman’s discipleship is placed in the centre of this story by Jesus. And perhaps retelling this story isn’t so much a command of Jesus, as a promise that it is a symptom of the gospel. If you are telling the good news about me, then this story will be told too. To speak of me is to speak of her. To speak of me is to tell the stories of the marginalised. This is part and parcel of the good news: if we tell the story of Jesus’ life death and resurrection and we miss this moment, then we misunderstand what it is that Jesus is about.

Because, as we are missing the positive story of this woman, our scripture reading also starts to tell us the negative abuse that is happening to Christ. Our reading today is topped and tailed by the plotting of the chief priests with Judas, but no one notices that because they are too busy judging the actions of this unnamed woman. And we know that Jesus is taken and he is forcibly stripped naked, a definition of sexual abuse, and then he is physically and emotionally abused before being killed on a cross.

To tell the story of Jesus is to tell the positive story of her action, and it is to reclaim all the painful stories of the many other anonymous ‘hers’ and ‘hims’ whose narratives are disbelieved.

Jesus asks us to tell his story, and to tell her story. And as we practice, we find the courage to raise our voice and to know our dignity. As we start to tell the story of Jesus, which is disbelieved by so many in our society, we find the bravery to say it anyway, regardless of how it is received by others. And so we find the courage to start telling our own stories, to start owning our own lives, to know that we are worthy of being listened too – and as we do so, we find that the God of the whole universe speaks our story too. He is defending us, standing with us, receiving our gestures of discipleship with joy, reiterating our actions even when others would tear them apart.

Me too, says God. I understand. I am with you.

So, as we are invited by this God to be the broken and abused body of Christ in the world, we too are called to listen to, and then to add our voice to, the stories of our brothers and sisters across the world whose deeds of discipleship are beautiful and generous and extravagant. And their stories of pain and heartbreak and suffering. The stories that have not been told/the stories that have been told, but which have been critiqued with disbelief.

And whenever we tell the good news, we will join with Jesus’ voice and tell these stories,

in memory of her.


Image | Christ in the House of Simon by Dieric Bouts | Wikimedia Commons


The Revd Beth Allison is minister of John Bunyan Baptist Church, Oxford. She preached this sermon during Holy Week, before publishing it on herdreamingspires.com. It is republished here with permission. 

Baptist Times, 30/03/2018
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