Unconventional Praise 

Unconventional Praise 

“Holy” is a word conventionally used to describe something set apart or sacred. Something untainted and reserved for acts of worship. Sometimes what is considered holy must be mediated to that which is considered not. Priests administer bread and wine. They crack open ancient texts and parse out the words of the divine. Holiness denotes a division of sorts between the sacred and the mundane. Traditionally, the whole week leading up to Easter is called “holy” in Christian circles, but nothing about this particular week feels holy in the conventional sense. 

These are the days of nothing being mediated or parsed out, of no divisions between sacred and mundane. Lines blurred between places of education, work, leisure, rest, nurture, pleasure, and worship. They’re all the same now. All of this takes place in my living room.

Perhaps in the crush of the depth and breadth of life being crammed into the closed-quarters of our lives though is a way of understanding holiness in and of itself. After all, we claim the one who is Lord to be Emmanuel–God with us. This means any divisions we understand between mundane and sacred, between holy places and home are imagined. Holy Week begins by calling us to reflect on Jesus being anointed, a most holy act, but in an unconventional space and in unconventional ways. 

John’s gospel records that Jesus is back in the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. This was a home already acquainted with the unconventional manner in which Jesus walked the earth. Jesus had been called upon to attend to their sick brother by Mary and Martha, but by the time Jesus arrived Lazarus had died. The man who healed many wept by the grave of his friend, and then called out to him from the grave, and Lazarus lived again. 

I would like to believe that had I witnessed such wonders firsthand I would approach Jesus with a wide-open imagination for what could be, for how he could be working and moving and being with us. But I doubt that would have been the case.

At the beginning of what we call Holy Week Jesus has returned to Mary, Martha and Lazarus’s home. They’re eating together when Mary breaks every norm possible and decides to anoint Jesus’s feet with fine perfume and dries them with her hair. 

The transgressions of her actions are layered. While Jesus is found on other occasions in norm-smashing interactions with women, her presence during dinner at his feet still likely raised eyebrows. The perfume she bathed his feet in was likely her most prized possession, a fact Judas centers in the stunning scene:

“Why not sell this perfume and give it to the poor?”

Mary blurs the lines of sacred and mundane. An anointing fit for a king at the dinner table. An offering fit for the temple sacrificed amid the hum of daily life, 

and Jesus calls it beautiful. 

Depending on your stream of Christianity, Holy Week is often cluttered with extra services, events, and occasions to intentionally center our attention on the life of Christ and the cross to which he is proceeding. Today’s reading calls our attention to a practice decidedly the opposite though. Mary is present to the events unfolding in her home–as wild and unprecedented as resurrection and as normal as eating dinner–and she offers the best she has, 

and Jesus calls it beautiful. 

So in your own life, with bedrooms converted to home offices, sinks full of dirty dishes, people you love simultaneously too distant and way too close; amid circumstances as wild and unprecedented as global pandemics and as mundane as washing hands; let us resolve to show up, bringing the best we have to offer, which may be better or worse than yesterday (or twenty minutes ago). 

I pour out pots of oatmeal and glasses of water.

I pour out time spent in silence, trying to attend to the emotions rising and falling in my body. 

I pour out patience and understanding at my best, and apologies when my best falls short of what’s needed. 

And Jesus calls it beautiful. 

Because yes, these hours could be used to learn a new language, or start a new business, or learn a new skill.

These hours could be twisted and conformed into uses more expected and conventional.

But Holy Week draws our attention to unconventional praises offered from simply the best of what we have at that moment; that insists on blurring the lines and breaking the boundaries.

And Jesus calls it beautiful.

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