Maggie Falenschek, St. Peter, MN

Warm-up Question

If you live in a cold weather climate, what are some things that you look forward to doing in the spring? If you live in a warmer climate, do you do anything to mark or prepare for the change in seasons? 

Planting for the Future

One way that many prepare for warmer weather is to plan out summer vegetable and flower gardens. The growing season in colder climates is much shorter than in other places of the world. The soil in many places is still too frozen, and the days too short, to sustain and grow seeds if they were planted in the ground. So, a common practice is to plant seeds indoors with grow lights and warm temperatures, with the hope and expectation that they can be transplanted into the ground and flourish when the weather is more hospitable.

To plan and plant a garden is an act of faithful preparation. We press seeds into tiny pots of soil and believe in the process of growth, even if we do not fully know the ins and outs of photosynthesis. To nurture and tend to tiny stems is to have hope for a time when those same stems may grow into something large enough to nourish another being. There is something innately spiritual to this spring-tide practice. It’s a practice that can bring us closer to the divine. 

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever helped plant a garden? What was that experience like for you? What did you learn?
  • Do you sense God in the natural world? Share about a place or practice that helps you feel close to God.
  • A lot of things in our life require preparation! Brainstorm some things you do in the present to help you prepare for the future (i.e., practicing together as a team for a big game, studying for a test, planning for a road trip).

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21

Philippians 3:4b-14

John 12:1-8

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In this story Mary exemplifies what it means to be a disciple, even though what she does may seem insignificant, even wasteful. Mary demonstrates her devotion to Jesus not through her words but through her simple actions, actions which actually have big implications. Anointing, the act of applying oil or other ointment, was a common ritual practice at this time. This ritual was used especially after death to prepare a body for burial. 

When Mary anoints Jesus she anticipates his coming death, something his disciples have not yet caught onto. Mary, with Judas as witness, is the one who prepares Jesus for his final days on earth.  The very next day, Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem while those who eventual betray him cheer. 

Mary anoints Jesus with abundant belief that what she does matters. She prepares Jesus for something for which she herself is not yet prepared. Mary anoints Jesus in the midst of a world that will kill him. She chooses abundance in a world of violence and scarcity. Mary chooses healing in a world that was and is broken. 

It is an act of faith to tend to small, seemingly insignificant things in fervent hope that God can turn them into something life giving. It is an act of love to gather up elements like anointing oil—perhaps soil, seed, and water—and repurpose them for new life. It’s a reminder that God can take our small acts and turn them into something redemptive and healing, even if we don’t always understand how or why. 

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think Mary knew understood the significance of what she was doing? Why or why not? 
  • Why do you think it was Mary, and not the other disciples, who engaged in the special act of anointing?
  • What is one small way that you can cultivate hope in a world that can often scary and violent? 

Activity Suggestions

  • Research native plants in your area and plant some seed starters you can transplant later this spring or summer. 
  • In this gospel story Mary’s perfumed oil invokes our sense of smell. Dream up your own anointing oil by thinking of all of your favorite smells. 
  • The newly baptized are often anointed with oil in the sign of the cross.  We can regularly continue this practice to remember our baptisms. Take turns making the sign of the cross on a friend’s forehead and remind each other that you are beloved children of God. 

Closing Prayer

Loving God, you anoint us as your beloved in the midst of a broken world. When our world feels scary, help us to plant seeds of hope. When we feel insignificant, remind us that nothing done in love is ever wasteful. Guide us so that our small acts might add up to something redemptive and healing, so that all might know your love. Amen.