The Anointing At Bethany by Malcom Guite

Angels Worshipping (detail) by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1459 – 1461

Come close with Mary, Martha, Lazarus,
So close the candles flare 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.

Hear Malcom Guite read today’s poem

John 12: 1-8

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

What does it mean to love God with all of our heart?  Worship is certainly fear and trembling, but it is also adoration and abandon.  In today’s sonnet, Malcom Guite take us to Bethany where Jesus’ friend Mary anointed His feet with costly oil, and wiped them with her hair.  In this precious scene we find the essence of worship.

Writing in The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite says:

My hope in this poem is to bring us, through the rich feast of the senses, through the mysterious intimacy of encounter, to a centre, a stillness, a sense of poise and balance, in which we can see fully and unflinchingly the suffering that Jesus embraces with us, but also see beyond it, and glimpse a little the joy of restored relationship and renewed love which his outpouring of himself on the cross will bring.

What might loving God with abandon bring into our lives?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.





Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page. You can read more about him on this Interviews Page

He is the author of numerous books including

Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the Sayings of Jesus and Other Poems Canterbury Press 2016

Waiting on the Word; a poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Canterbury Press 2015

The Singing Bowl Canterbury Press 2013

Sounding the Seasons Canterbury Press 2012

Faith Hope and Poetry  Ashgate  2010 and 2012.

What Do Christians Believe?  Granta 2006

Photo courtesy of Lancia Smith.

Published by

Rick Wilcox

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