Weekly Reflection – The Alabaster Jar

10 May 2023

The Alabaster Jar

As the dust settles on the Coronation, the media are inevitably keen to look for further newsworthy aspects of all that happened last weekend. One of the more controversial themes has been the lavish cost of the occasion. That is for others to debate, but it reminded me of something else.

Some years ago, one of my closest friends got married in Southwark Cathedral. It was a very grand occasion. The Dean and I took the service, and we wore some very lavish robes, inlaid with golden thread. They looked so impressive that when we went out to meet the bride a group of passing Japanese tourists took many photos of us and ignored her!

At the reception afterwards, I met Tom Smail who was a leading light in the Anglican Renewal movement of the 1960s and 70s, and a senior lecturer in a theological college, but his roots were as a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Northern Ireland. He asked me what I thought of the sheer opulence of the occasion. He could tell that I was uncertain how to respond, so he said, “I was reminded of the alabaster jar.”

He was referring to the occasion when a woman brought an alabaster jar of perfume and used it to pour on Jesus’ head. The disciples complained that this was a waste of money – it was equivalent to a year’s wages, they said – and the money could have been used to help the poor.

Jesus’ response is surprising. He tells them that there will always be poor people but he affirms the woman, because what she did was to prepare him symbolically for his death and burial. As Archbishop Justin preached, “His throne was a Cross. His crown was made of thorns. His regalia were the wounds that pierced his body.”

At my friend’s wedding, he asked another friend to be an usher in the cathedral. He was a follower of the Jain religion. After the service, he said, “Your God is awesome!”

We can argue about the cost of the Coronation and whether King Charles is worthy of the lavish occasion. Jesus Christ certainly is.

Blessings in Christ,
Canon Derek

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