Anointed for Burial

Jesus accepts our service, even when we don’t get it quite right.

In ancient times, a body would be prepared for burial first by washing, and then anointing with aromatic spices. The purpose was to cover the odor of decaying flesh. For those who could afford it, the spices might be very expensive.

When Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointed Jesus we’re told that the perfume she used was very expensive. A poignant outpouring of love and service, which Jesus associates with his burial. And he commended her highly – wherever the gospel is preached, this story will be told.

When Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body from the cross, the task of preparing him for burial would have been gruesome. His back was essentially torn off, his limbs dislocated, his side lacerated. What love, even awe, they must have brought to their task. The spices they used were aloe and myrrh, two of the costliest anointing perfumes. And the quantity was more than three times what was needed. What lavishness!

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and others with them came to the tomb early on the first day of the week. They knew of the anointing by Joseph and Nicodemus, but apparently wanted to contribute their own act of love with the spices they brought.

We don’t read of Jesus thanking Joseph, Nicodemus, or any of the women, but his gratitude to them could hardly have been less than it was to Lazarus’ sister Mary. Yet none of them had it quite right. They were confused, distraught, grief-stricken, not knowing that the anointing they offered would become superfluous by Sunday. They gave all they could offer, and it was gladly accepted.