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1/07/2009

THE ALABASTER VASE: A Liturgy


Preparation: The altar area should be decorated with various sized ornamental urns, vases, and flasks. Worship leaders may wear appropriate first century woman’s dress, robes or plain clothing. If possible perfume or some fragrant oil can also be used to add to the experience.

Call to Worship: Christ awaits! How will we respond? Do we hesitate counting the cost to our reputations or how it might impede our stature? Do we hesitate because we fear how others will see our decision? Do we pause swamped by personal shame, guilt and a sense of our unworthiness? Christ awaits! How will we respond? How…how….will we respond?

Response (Four readers, storytellers or dancers):
Read or share from The Word:
Reader 1: Matthew 26:7-13
“A woman came to him having an alabaster flash of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on his head sat He sat at the table.”…. “But when Jesus was aware of it, he said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me…for in pouring this fragrant oil on my body, she did it for my burial…I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
Reader 2: Mark 14: 3-9
“And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper…a woman came having an alabaster flask if very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on his head…..Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for me….She has done what she could…Assuredly, I say to you , wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
Reader 3: Luke 7: 36-50
“..a certain woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table….brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at his feet…weeping, and she began to wash his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed his feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil….Simon I have something to say to you…” and then “Do you see this woman?...Your sins are forgiven….your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Reader 4: John 12: 2-8
“Then six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany….there they made him a supper and Martha served…then Mary took at pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair…”

The Witness:
I wonder, did Mary pause for moment as she pulled the alabaster flask from its place of honor in her life. Did she examine once more the lovely palette of colors – the fawn and the ivory and the browns as they waved through the stone? Did she open the flask and breathe deeply, one last time, of the fine scented oil that rested within? Did the scent of the oil that had cost so much….for which she had paid in so many different ways over the years… make her grasp it tighter for just a moment? Did she, for just a second or two, hesitate in her actions?
Or, so consumed with love and adoration for the changes made in her life by this one person, did she act with impulsive speed? Was she eager to rush to Jesus, the one who had restored her brother to life, who had given her reason for living, and who had caused a dream to spark into flickering life in her heart? A spark of hope that better days lay ahead replacing all the empty, fruitless, yesterdays? Did she, instead, grab the flask without a thought, without a hesitation, without a fear, as she dashed in childlike haste to the room where Jesus sat at meal?

[Lifting up one of the large jars or flasks, hold it high so all can see it and then replace it on the altar or table. If possible pour the fragrant oil or perfume out into another vessel so its aroma begins to spread or pass around an open vessel with aromatic oil or perfume]

What are the jars in our lives we have hoarded as too valuable to use? What treasures are we tempted to never share? What have we stockpiled for a rainy day that never comes?
Are we the complaining and corrupt followers who can only talk of wasted resources instead of seeing the restoration of relationships? Can we see no further than the interruption of someone deemed so unworthy or beneath our notice? What is released through the gift of the fragrant oil to rise up as an offering of love to God? What barriers or walls crumble under the onslaught of tears? Rising from the feet of Jesus –renewed and restored - what is His direction for us?
What is our precious alabaster flask? What have we hidden away for some future use? What is our oil? Is it the control of our life? Is it a relationship that has gotten in the way of our spiritual growth? Is it pride? Is it an addiction? Is it a dependence on friends and family instead of God? Is it a gift or talent that might enrich the world if released?
This scene shown in each of the Gospels is about love expressed without concern of dignity or rejection; it is about the sacrifice of things we hold to have value; it is about forgiveness so complete that to not act in thanksgiving becomes impossible; it is about recognizing the most valuable things in life are not our possessions, not our status, and not our looks, but it is our relationship with God.

[Lift the flask once more]

“Why trouble this woman?” the Lord said. Why trouble the repentant who wish to only express their devotion? Why trouble the person whose thanksgiving is passionate and dramatic? Why trouble the person who values the true things over the worthless?
Have you….dear friends…brothers and sisters….have you brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at his feet…weeping, washing the feet of the Lord with your tears and anointing them with the things you once valued…with the fragrant oil we once horded and treasured…
”Jesus says: “I have something to say to you…Do you see this woman,” he asked. She is every man and every woman in this moment. “Your sins are forgiven”, he tells all who will hear “….your faith has saved you. Go in peace -
Response:
“Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage”. Galatians 5.1
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Ephesians 6:10
“..For I will be merciful toward their unrighteous deeds and I won’t remember their sins ever again.” Hebrews 8:12.

Celebration:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord.” 1 Thess. 5:23
“…the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from sin‘s law and death.” Romans 8:2.

Benediction:
May the God of grace, love and peace now affirm that you are the child of God, a daughter of faith, and a full member of the Body of Christ. This is the message of Jesus to all women and all men. As we remember her act of selfless love and adoration and feel faith stirred within us to kneel at the feet of Jesus and know we are forgiven.
Your life is the priceless flask opened to bless and anoint.
You are the treasure hidden and now released to show others the way.
The sweet aroma of grace and love surround you and all those you encounter.
Stand firm in the belief of Jesus Christ, the Elder Brother of the Redeemed, who is able to keep you and guide you and bless you all the days of your life.

Response: Amen!

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Noel Brooks: A Life Shining and Burning, 1914-2006

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