Ths reflection was written after our Lenten study group meeting tonight as my part of the group's "homework".
I used to love helping my mother bake when I was a child. I especially liked making what we called “loaf”: a sultana loaf made with melted golden syrup, cinnamon, and mixed spices. I liked this recipe because I didn’t have to cream butter and sugar (my little arms got very tired doing that by hand), but the biggest reason I liked this recipe was that I loved the spices. The sweet, dry, tingly smell of cinnamon. The spicier, exciting smell of the mixed spices, and the earthy, strong fragrance of cloves. I often opened the packets of powdered spices and left them open on the bench while we mixed the rest of the loaf so I could enjoy the smells for longer.
The recipe for the anointing oil in the Hebrew Bible is quite like our old loaf recipe: 2 parts each of myrrh and cassia to one part each of cinnamon and cane (sometimes identified as calamus or sweet flag, a kind of sweet root known in biblical times), mixed in olive oil. This holy oil was used to set apart, or sanctify, everything used for worship, and all those who offered sacrifices in the Temple. All of the priests were consecrated with this holy oil, and so it still is today.
Holy oil eases open the doors of our journey with God. At baptism we set a person apart for God, praying that they will have “A delight in prayer, a love for the word of God, a desire to follow the way of Christ, and food for the journey” and acknowledging that they are forever part of our pilgrimage together as a community. We are anointed again with holy oil as we confirm our baptism and take a decisive step through the door into new life with God and our church. Our Bishop uses holy oil when new priests are consecrated, travelling through the door of their ordination into a new life as the servant of our community life. We use holy oil when a person needs help going through the door to wholeness with God, whether that is healing of the body or mind – or, most awesomely, when we help to open to our new life with God through the Door of Death.
The holy oil, the anointing of God and for God’s service, is the seal of the community on our calling, the official stamp on the passport of our journey into God’s presence. It’s a symbol, the “outward and visible sign of an inward invisible grace” that links our innerness with God with the outerness of service in God’s name. Jesus tells us that “he has sent [us] to be good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind.”
We are asked, in his name, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour – because he has anointed us.