Sorry, folks and faithful followers (and occasional browsers)....today got away from me. As the Christmas celebration approaches, preparations needed to be made....bread to be baked, cheese to be curdled, errands to be run. I am back at the computer now...and so to the reflection on today's readings. Tomorrow, we return to our regular, early morning posts....
Oil in the Beard...An Anointing
As I was making bread this morning, one of the steps in the process is to place the kneaded dough into a bowl after drizzling some oil into it. The dough is then rolled and tossed in the oil in order to protect its exterior surface from drying out and cracking during the rise. We prefer to use a good olive oil. The fruity scent and more organic texture of the oil is pleasing...and when relatives and guests arrive that don't take dairy, it is preferable to butter.
Breadmaking is a hands on business...literally, and so as the dough is turned, the olive oil coats your hands. Up to the wrists.
That scent, even after I turn to the sink and wash the oil off my hands, lingers on the skin. It's there. It reminds me of all the loaves of bread I have baked in the past, going back to my first attempts when the loaves looked more like chapatis than a traditional loaf with its rounded top pushing out over a boxy base. It reminds me of that sacred moment of anointing with blessed oils, as well; of those many times when my hands have been put to sacramental use in the anointing of the sick, of people preparing for surgeries, of the dying and even of the newly born. When that blessed oil is mixed with balsam, frankincense, myrrh and lavender and then blessed by the bishop, it is chrism...anointing for the newly baptized.
I can smell it, remember its texture, go to that place when I have been honored to anoint, and to receive anointing. It's a holy thing. You don't forget it....
One woman from a parish I served had to have heart surgery. Before her appointment in the surgery, she asked for an anointing. "As I was wheeled into the operating room at that very early hour, I realized I forgot to wash my face that morning, " she said, "and I was glad. The last thing I remember smelling was that holy oil...more than any other smell, it reminded me that I am blessed, and that I was being prayed for, still."
Another moment comes to mind...in a former parish, we often had anointings at the altar rail during communion. The scent of the oil lingers on the hands, as I noted above, and by the time we got to the second service there was an inevitable transfer of that fragrance to the communion wafers as I handled them...a member of the congregation noted to me that these were the Sundays she looked forward to with some joy, as the Eucharist, fragrant with healing prayers added to "the mix" (as she put it), made the sense of communion more profound for her.
Small wonder, then, that the psalmist should recall, with near ecstasy, that feeling of anointing, that moment of blessing when the oil ran freely over their head and into the beard...and down the collar. What a glorious and holy mess! What a blessing! What a moment!
It is that moment when it is all right with the world, when we are at one with each other and with God. It is true communion. It isn't soon, it is not a savored memory...it is NOW.
It's the same NOW as the moment when the prophet told the people around a restored Jerusalem that NOW is the time to rebuild the temple. It's the same NOW as that moment when Jesus entered the city, cleansed the temple, took the Pharisees on in their own quarter and called for the time for harvest not only from us who follow him but from all creation.
All that from the simple, sweet scent of olive oil...just the remnant of it, clinging to the hand as the bread is set to proof, to rise and to become in time a holy meal.