The Week of Fragrance
The events of the Pascha Week are charged with the emotions of the ultimate love of God to us. It is also filled with the Lord’s broken heart and sad soul, sad to death. These infinite feelings of love of our Lord toward man are beyond the limits of expression. That is why the divine inspiration used the language of fragrance instead of the language of words. The aroma of fragrance spreads so fast and carries with it the joy of knowing the infinite love of God amid His intense agony. The pouring of fragrance represents the sacrifice of pouring the self that gave a pleasant aroma. This is exactly what the Lord did that week; the scent of His sacrifice filled all the corners of the earth.
At the Cross, the Father sacrificed His beloved Son. Likewise the martyrs did the same and their aroma spread out. It is essential that we act accordingly – pouring and sacrificing the self. The Lord poured Himself and broke His body and gave it to His disciples and to us. He poured Himself, put Himself under His disciples’ feet to wash them. He poured His love even to the one who betrayed Him. He offered Himself for those who speared Him, scourged Him and spat on His face. He died and He asked forgiveness for them.
On the Eve of Palm Sunday, i.e., on Saturday, as in Jn. 12:1-3, Mary poured fragrant oil on the feet of Jesus. This incident was repeated at Bethany. After two days it was Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread… And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper… (Mk. 14:1-5). It is clear that it was the divine plan that the pouring of fragrance took place once the beginning of the journey to Golgotha and the second time in the middle of the journey and wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world this act will be praised. This story will spread the aroma of this service to the whole universe and to teach us great lessons for our worship and spiritual life.
- The service of fragrance is a service of love: Fragrant oil has a pleasant and fast-spreading aroma and so does love. Jesus said that the sinful woman “loved much” (Lk. 7:47). Every deed for the sake of Jesus Christ, done and mixed with love, changes into fragrant oil. Let us, brethren, with pure hearts, love one another fervently (I Pet. 1:22).
- The service of fragrant oil is a service of quiet prayer: It is a service of compassion and not a service of His words. It is a silent service. Mary was sitting at His feet listening, a service only the Lord and the woman understood. Only this woman could understand. But its aroma had to spread so that everybody can enjoy its smell. It is the inner quiet prayer away from the noise of Jerusalem. It is the service of the poor … even a cold cup of water. The service of the fragrant oil took place at Bethany (which means the house of the poor). It did not happen at the noise of Jerusalem. At Bethany – the house of the poor – an expensive fragrance oil worth 300 denariis was poured and everybody smelled it. In the temple at Jerusalem where doves were being sold, money exchanging took place and the pride of the religious leader was quite obvious … everybody smelled the stench of wickedness and dishonesty.
- The service of fragrance is a service of humility and feeling of gratitude: The woman poured the fragrant oil over the Lord’s feet. She came from behind weeping. It is the service of soul feeling indebted to Jesus for her salvation. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred dinarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both.” The woman with her sins had the bigger debt – the Lord forgave her. This is a service worthy of not only the fragrant oil, but also of the shedding of tears and the washing of the Lord’s feet. The service of fragrance shows us that repentance takes place at the Lord’s feet with the spirit of contrition, gratitude and with many tears.
- The service of fragrant oil shows the value of the Lord in our lives: The value of our Lord in Judas’s eyes was 30 pieces of silver, which is equal to about 30 dollars. It was the value of a slave. For this woman, it was all what she had, even up the 300 dinariis (Mk. 14:5). It is ironic that the two incidents took place at the same time! This shows the honest soul sacrifices everything to fulfill the Lord’s commandments. Dishonest souls will sell the Lord’s commandments for temporary pleasure or insignificant gain. Our love for Jesus is valued by the size of our sacrifice and our loss for the sake of His commandments.
- The service of fragrant oil is a service of anointment for the Lord’s burial: The smell of this perfume will stick to the Lord’s body (since it happened two days prior to Passover). It is a beautiful service like that of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. This service of the souls that elected to share the passion of the Lord’s helped to offset the behavior of the disciples: some slept, some fled, and some denied! Acts of mercy and touches of love please the heart of the Lord and serve as oil for anointment in the middle of His suffering caused by our sins. That is why, as much as evil increases in the world – even among so called believers – we need to pour so much of that oil.
- The service of fragrant oil is an everlasting one that defies death: The disciples fled at the cross and only John continued till Golgotha, but the woman who poured the oil followed Him to the Cross and she even went to the tomb. At dawn, on Sunday while it was still dark, she went to the tomb carrying spices and scents along with her emotions to place them on top of the tomb. She was hoping for someone who might roll the stone of the tomb for her. For those who paid farewell to Jesus at the Cross, it was all over because He died. Even the disciples were frightened. Those who followed Jesus to Golgotha left their hopes and aspirations there, since they were left with death. But those who gave the service of worship, love and contrition had their hopes beyond death … to the eternal life … the hearts of the true worshipping souls open to get a glimpse of eternity and enjoy being with Jesus, who gave them the hope to challenged death and the world. With this hope, the real worshipper can go through the temptations and tribulations of this world believing in the life of Jesus that is immortal. It is life of love, joy and peace.
- The service of fragrant oil is not a waste: Prayer is not less than establishing great organizations. Serving the poor is not less than building cathedrals. The service of St. Anthony, St. Paul (the Hermit), or St. Macarius has more lasting effect than the great cathedrals of emperors. Monastic life is not a waste and prayers in Sunday school are not less valuable than preaching from the pulpit, they are probably more important. The service of prayer in not a squander. Having so many liturgies is not a waste. Some of those in social service today claim that the church is focusing too much on prayer rather than practical deeds. The truth is that work devoid of prayers is full of selfishness and self-loving, and it becomes not only a waste but also a disaster for the church.
The Divine Plan of the Journey
Assuredly God’s plan in incarnation, His life on earth, His entry to Jerusalem and His crucifixion was to set us free from Satan, our enemy. Once He possesses our heart, we will enter His kingdom and enjoy being with Him. We shall become His children, the sons and daughters of the King of Kings. He is the objective of our trip, His entry to Jerusalem as a humble King riding on the back of a colt. The trip will take us to the Cross to witness His reign on a piece of wood, and to see everyone attracted to Him (Ps. 95:10).
When our Lord entered Jerusalem, they received Him as a King with palms and spread their garments in His way. They chanted “Hossana to the King of Israel.” The Lord entered the city of His reign, but this was not easy because:
- The enemy is vicious.
- The enemy has many materialistic influences while the kingdom of Jesus is spiritual.
- The battlefield is on the enemy’s territory.
- The kingdom of the enemy is visible while that of Jesus is invisible though real. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
If we examine the life of Jesus Christ on earth, we can see Him as King in all stages of His life while He appeared in flesh on our earth.
I. His Birth
When the princes of the east (the magi) came to worship Him and offer their treasures (gold), they asked Herod, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews?” Our King was humble and escaped from Herod to Egypt. Our Lord in a unique King since there was no room for Him in the inn (Lk. 2:7). This is a very significant issue for the Church all the time. Although our Lord is King, He is not of this world since He has no place to stay. Woe to the church that trusts its material powers in this world and does not live as a stranger. She will blend with the world and stray away from our King.
This humble King was rejected by the Jews because He did not come as they anticipated. My brethren, we need to accept Jesus, not as how we want Him to be, but as He wishes. We need to accept Him as a different kind of King. Jesus is a King for the meek. Let us be humble in the Church and let Jesus reign over us. “Thy kingdom come.” Our Christ descended from Heaven, He left its glory. He came down to dwell in my humble heart. My heart that does not fear nor desire the world, but declines its offers. My heart that awaits Christ to reign forever. Amen.
The manger, which represented the command post of the King’s government, was a special place. It did not have hypocrisy, complexity, anger, dispute, nor impurity.
The manger is a place that is pure like our Virgin Mary. The manger is simple like a lamb and the simple animals. The style of clothes in this manger were simple like those of the Virgin Mary and the shepherds, and not offensive as the twentieth century fashions.
II. In His Entry to Jerusalem
Events in this day are too fast to follow. In the Gospel of Palm Sunday morning, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.” The meaning is that those who will not seize the opportunity will miss it. It was the last time for Jesus to pass by Jericho, where Zacchaeus lived. If he did not haste in pursing Jesus, he would miss Him forever. Events leading to the Cross are too condensed to contain in all the books in the world! The hour of crucifixion was drawing near and the preparations were also fast-paced. They were looking for a colt, the foal of a donkey. “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!” (Zec. 9:9).
A Humble King:
Humility is the first and essential condition for the reign of the Christ riding on the colt. He came to be enthroned on the meek and the children.
A King over children’s hearts:
Children were following Jesus, happily chanting while the chief priests were furious. Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “ I praise you, Father, for you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Lk. 10:21). My Lord Jesus, I cry to you from the bottom of my heart and ask you to grant me the heart of a child, the innocence of a child, the frankness of a child, the forgiveness of a child, and the love of a child. You told me that unless I change and become like little children, I will never enter the kingdom of heaven. This verse concerns me much. What keeps me from the innocence of children is my job, the difficult people that I deal with and my concern for earthly gains. You, Lord, from the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger (Ps. 8:2). Please, Lord, give me this kind of faith to walk with a child’s heart and accept You as the one who possesses my life.
A Weeping King:
When Jesus saw the city, He cried. The city did not know the time for salvation. He weeps for my own sake. My brethren, Jesus is weeping by the door of our heart. He is shedding His tears because of the viciousness of the enemy and imminent danger. We do not know what is good for our salvation. When we reject Jesus, He stands before us, crying! How miserable is my heart when it does not yield to Your tears, and how said is my mind when it fails to spot Your salvation. Lord, rise now and own my heart with Your tears, and let my tears spring from my heart.
A King with a Whip:
Jesus let no one pass by the temple carrying goods. I still see You, Lord, standing by the church door stopping anyone from entering if he has something in his heart. Something like love of the world and its worries. You, Lord, ask the priest to leave his concerns outside the church. You ask the deacon to leave his self-pride or boasting. You, Lord, ask all youth to let go of the lust of the world, the obsession with physical beauty, the latest fashion fads. You, Lord, ask students to leave their diplomas and studies outside the church and to pray for the kingdom of heaven and for righteousness.
A Powerful King:
When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Christianity is courage in self-control, strength in faith, and depth of love. People took off their garments and put them under His feet. This is a courageous act in leaving possessions, similar to what St. Anthony did. Today, we have to surrender our heart for Jesus to reign over them. The fact is that our souls and bodies have been consecrated with holy oil of Myroun and are now owned by Jesus. We need to accept this King. Unfortunately, some of those dedicated souls blended with the world putting on its uniform. We need, brethren, to take off, forcibly, these outfits and put them at the Lord’s feet. Let us declare Him a King over our hearts. Let us accept this meek and humble King, even though earthly chiefs rejected Him. He was foreign to this world but Jesus was a strong and weeping King. Let us accept Him as do children and let Him dwell in our hearts (1 Cr. 6:19). We will hear Him saying, “My house will be called a house of prayers, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Let us deny the devil and all his robbery from our hearts, so that our hearts might become dedicated to Christ. My Lord Jesus, let this be my covenant with You from now on.
III. The King on His Throne – On the Cross
It is sad that on Palm Sunday, many had received our Christ as King, but the faithful who lasted with Him were only a few. It is not enough to accept Jesus as a humble King for our hearts. It is also crucial that we walk with Him till the end, keeping His commandments. We should carry the Cross following Him, so that we also may reign on a piece of wood. This is the reign of those who love.
Going up to Jerusalem
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests” (Mk. 10:32-34). The journey began with the entry of the Lord to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This was the same day that lambs were to be kept (in custody) from 10th – 14th of Nisan. Our Lord Jesus Christ was counted with lambs to carry the sins of the world. He stayed (in custody) to be our Passover on the 14th of Nisan.
The Attraction of the Cross
In the first hour of Tuesday, the Bible reminds us of our Lord: “You are from below; I am from above.” The reason for ascension is that the Lord came to the world to deliver us from the evil one and take us up to where He belongs. The crucified Lord wants to bring His children far more than the attraction of the world with all its temptation, lusts and hopes. “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn. 12:32). The attraction of the cross will offset the hardships of the ascension journey. This attraction will not only liberate us from the world’s ties, but also it will draw us so we may run (Song of Songs, Chapter 1). The journey is climbing up with the Lord to the highest level of sacrifice. To the utmost degree of love… the greatest level of patience… the peak of meekness… The climax of this journey was when He gave Himself up to the priests, knowing that they would slaughter Him without their realizing that they were offering a Sacrifice for the whole world.
A Journey of Suffering
“The Son of Man must suffer” (Mk. 8:31) … the key word here is “must,” which reveals the mystery of the suffering of our Lord. Going through pain was not only the result of the Lord’s actions and the opposition of the world against Him. Suffering was not foreign to Jesus because He came to serve. Whoever chooses to serve, those who love and whoever lives for others, must suffer. Pain does not come from outside, but results from His love, passion and service to humanity. Mothers also must experience pain for their children from the time when they are in the womb till they grow up and get married. Farmers also, before planting, need to prepare the land. Our Lord Jesus who loved us – while we were still sinners – had to pay for our sins through suffering. The servants, following Jesus in His journey, must also suffer. Let us all remember that suffering is not a punishment, but rather a gift to the one who loves, serves and climbs the road of glory with Jesus.
A Journey to a Wedding
“Come out, you daughter of Zion, and look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced” (Song of Songs 3:11). On Tuesday, the Church reads the parable of the Wise Virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom. Also, we read the parable of the son of the king. This mystery reassures the souls that follow Jesus and climb with Him to the wedding and to the banquet of the sacrifice made on the course of our journey of suffering. It is the wedding of the bridegroom who is waiting for her at the Cross.
Faith is a necessity in this journey
The ascension journey entails a lot of suffering. It is imperative that we have enough faith to help pass through the hour when darkness reigns (Lk. 22:53). In the days of Moses and Joshua, people were not able to enter Canaan because of their unbelief. The Lord stressed the necessity of faith when He spoke to His disciples that if they had faith as small as a mustard seed, they could move mountains. On Monday, we remember when the Lord cursed the fig tree.
1. Faith along with deeds
The Lord cursed the fig tree because it had leaves, but no fruits. It is a superficial life, ritualistic, worship, fasting, confession and take communion, etc., but bearing no fruits. As much as God has given us of the meaning of grace, we need to bear fruits in the Church: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal.5:22). The Lord cursed the fig tree that represented the Jewish nation that had so many leaves but no fruits. My God, please give the Church plenty of fruits, lest it should fall under condemnation. Lord, grant us a living faith demonstrated by actions.
2. Belief in the Cross and freedom
- We need to believe that the disgraced Cross is the way of the new life and the road to glory and victory, leading to resurrection.
- We must believe that suffering on the road is a gift and not a punishment.
- Followers of Jesus on the ascending road must have been in the attraction zone of the Cross and have tasted its freedom and loved it. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
- As a fundamental condition to follow Jesus, we must free ourselves of lust and pride. Also, it entails freedom from the world’s influence, money and even food. Freedom makes our steps strong and stable. Freedom was granted through the second birth. We should enjoy it and not allow any power or existence to take away our freedom in Jesus Christ.
Spiritual vigilance is a paramount importance during our trip. We have to be alert and watchful because:
- The blessing received from and in Christ are too precious to lose.
- Our enemy does not sleep, wandering looking for whomever he can devour.
- It helps us in following the crucified Christ and to endure happily.
- It helps us in keeping our daily commitments such as prayer, love, and faith.
In this week, our Lord mentioned many parables ending in His advice for us to be ready, because we do not know the day or the hour.
The Love for Christ Should be the Goal of Every Service
On Wednesday – two days before Passover, the woman poured the perfume over the head of the Savior and Judas considered that a waste (Mk. 14:4 & Jn. 12:4). The Lord ordered this act to be mentioned whenever the gospel is preached. The Lord Christ asks that our love to Him be the basis of every deed and every service. Even the service of giving is to be for the sake of Jesus. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”
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