Holy Week, Wednesday The Anointing at Bethany


John 12 1-8,  tells us of how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus. I love this intense and beautiful moment in the Gospels, The God of the Cosmos enters as a vulnerable man into all the particular fragility of our human friendships and intimacy. I love the way Jesus responds to Mary’s beautiful, useless gesture and recognises it as something that is always worth while, something that will live forever, for all the carping and criticism of Judas, then and now.

I feel a special poignancy in this gospel moment amidst the isolation of our present crisis, because it celebrates the touch and intimacy which so many of us are having to go without. My poem opens with the injunction ‘come close’ and yet the mantra of our time is ‘keep apart’. All the more then, as we are social distancing, must we seek intimacy with God, the intimacy he offers us in Christ.

This sonnet, and the others I will be posting for Holy Week are all drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.

I’m grateful to Lancia Smith for the image above. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

The Anointing at Bethany

Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
So close the candles stir with their soft breath
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
In quietness and intimate encounter
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.


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Filed under imagination

6 responses to “Holy Week, Wednesday The Anointing at Bethany

  1. Robert Stone

    Beautiful words. Thank you.

  2. Philippe Garmy

    These are indeed strange times for a recently retired franco-american academic couple, temporarily living in the south of France. Our charming old-town apartment in Nice is surrounded by several magnificent churches, chapels and a grand, baroque cathedral. Save for the bells sweetly tolling the hours day and night, these aging temples of worship are now all shuttered indefinitely, while this pandemic dictates it be so. As Roman Catholics, my wife and I were so much looking forward to experiencing a rich, traditional Holy Week with all the mediterranean flavors and pageantry we experienced during this past Advent and Christmas. That was not to be…
    Instead, happenstance and grace lead me to this blessed blog for Holy Week. A different devotional approach was now to be my daily intention. This small box for commentary has been my “meeting place of love and loss” with a communion of saints, sinners and poets. I say this with joy in my heart, as the poems have been engaging passageways to prayer, reflection and discipleship. I’ve trolled deep waters before, but not like this and in this manner. What a beautiful and sustaining gift this has been.Thank you, Malcolm. It has made me wonder too…
    Like Mary of Bethany, when have we been the giver or, like our Lord, the recipient of an extravagant gesture of love? At the climax of his life, Jesus will give himself away totally, lavishly, unreasonably…and this is why Mary’s beautiful gesture is a sort of overture to the Passion play that will follow. This extravagant gesture shows forth the meaning of what Jesus is about to do…the absolutely radical giving away of self.
    Flowing from the deepest place in my heart, Lord Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice. For me and for us all.

  3. Beautifully haunting image of what took place on that visit and encounter and gesture between Jesus and his friends. She poured oil, he poured blood. We remember.

  4. The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
    With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
    ~ Malcolm Guite

    Oh so beautiful.conjures up so many welcome fragrances, pine, a broken orange, baking bread…things I imagine that are of heaven. Thank you Malcolm.

  5. George C. Roberts

    “The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
    Here at the very centre of all things,
    Here at the meeting place of love and loss
    We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.”

    Malcolm this was, for me, your most moving and profound sonnet yet. As we deal with this age of virus, isolation and death, understanding that God’s love is still at the center of all things, a love that allows us to have our “spirits dance” even when “the heart is mourning” and that, because of what God in Christ has done, “we all foresee, and see beyond the cross.” Thank you.

  6. Reblogged this on Pastor Michael Moore's Blog and commented:
    A beautiful offering, Malcolm!

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