Jeff bought them in Egypt. Three alabaster jars. His journey to bring the Cessna 206 to Uganda carried him across oceans, seas and continents and was nearing it’s end as he finally landed on African soil. He spent several days in Egypt.
He was thrilled to bring me the alabaster treasures.
He had them wrapped very carefully and he carried them with him so that they would not get broken among all the other baggage.
Two of the three jars made it perfectly intact.
One was shattered.
I think it is my favorite.
“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” Mark 14:3
I unwrapped every broken piece of alabaster, then, and I have kept them all these years. I couldn’t part with them. They were my gift from my husband and even those pieces held value for me.
The two solid jars stand beautifully in my kitchen. We marvel at the transparency of the clay pots when a candle burns in them. You can see the light straight through. Such beauty.
But I don’t see them every day. They are up. And whole. Among other treasures that all blend together creating a complete, warm picture.
The shattered pieces, though, are a daily sight, always with me. They sit in my closet, in a dusty heap. No one else sees them or even knows they are there.
But those broken pieces cannot be tossed because they are far too precious in meaning and cost.
He carried them all the way from Egypt.
Because he was thinking of me.
“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, 'Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.' And they rebuked her harshly.” Mark 14:4-5
To some these may look like trash. Pieces of rubble that should be cleared out to create space for something new and whole.
But to me they are sacred rubble.
They are a memorial.
That season, a decade ago, was exhausting for both of us. We had three tiny ones and one more arriving fast. We were often sleep deprived and over-worked. We were in over our heads with dreams and calling and commitments—all for good purpose---but our gasping overexerted breaths created haggard space around us.
Jeff had been gone for nearly five weeks on his ferry flight which seemed like an eternity to this (then) pregnant wife. Our connection during those weeks had been limited to short, informative phone calls assuring me of safe landings and the next day’s scheduled take-off. I was grateful to know of his safety, but I ached for more meaningful contact with my best friend.
I missed him.
God brought him back to me in one whole piece by miracles and prayers and gracious provision that left us speechless.
But we were both keenly aware of the brokenness we had to face. Of the continued setbacks we must rebound from.
He was carrying his back pack when he walked through the airport doors. His journal was inside. His documents.
And my alabaster.
He hoped they weren’t broken. He had gingerly guarded that back pack over so many tumultuous miles.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6
Jeff arrived with gifts for each child and stories aplenty. We would talk for days (years) about all he had seen and experienced.
But the pottery in his back pack was special. The most expensive. The most fragile. The most carefully guarded.
He grimaced when the broken pieces fell from the layers of cushioned wrappings.
“I was afraid that would happen…”
I gathered each piece with care and assured him that I loved all the shards too.
“Like the story, Jeff. The jar of alabaster with perfume. This will help us to remember…”
And it does.
“I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14:9
In this Biblical passage (Mark 14) Jesus was only a few days away from agony and fulfillment. His calling was about to be completely realized. And it was going to hurt. He knew it. And he was going anyway.
He was surrounded by people responding to him in diverse ways—some were celebrating healing, believing in him, and serving. Others were hating him and thinking only of themselves.
In the midst of this crowd, one woman offered lavish, unrestrained worship. But she had to break something first.
From the fragmented pieces of gorgeous alabaster, the scent of deepest loving devotion poured out affecting the atmosphere of the entire house.
Indignant ridicule followed, but the sweet scent pervaded anyway.
“…And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…” John 12:3b
Jesus spoke, “…She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” Mark 14:6-8
“She did what she could.”
And then he told them that her action, this story, would be remembered always.
Because it would be retold.
Because we would all live it.
Life shatters sometimes.
No matter how careful we try to be, our cushioned wrappings unfold to splinters and shards and heaps of unusable substance.
But in Christ, the most beautiful worship can be born from our most shattered place.
“She did what she could.”
She chose to break the jar. She chose to spend it all.
All for Christ.
I pulled my alabaster pieces from the closet today. After 10 years, I’ve found their place.
In the center of our table, I arranged them carefully. The place where we meet as a family to eat and to pray and to talk. This is where we bring the moments that mark us as belonging and all our broken pieces belong here too.
To remind us as we gather, that every jagged fragment can exude costly, exorbitant worship.
Our heap of beauty altered. Beauty Altared.
In worship of our Christ.
Our ruptured, rattled, fractured, crushed, smashed up pile of experience emanates the extravagant love that embraces and saves us all.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53: 5
“Greater love has no one than this…”
*the story of the woman anointing Jesus can be found in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John12: 1-8
Retell it friends, and remember.