In the Bible, there is a story of a woman who loved Jesus well.
And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that [Jesus] was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner…”
Turning toward the woman, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”Luke 7:37-39, 44-47 (NASB)
I’ve been thinking about this story a lot recently. This is partly because we’re in the midst of Passion Week, when the global Church remembers the days leading up to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. It’s a season that brings the end of the somber sacrifice of Lent and ushers in the triumphant victory of Easter.
In New York City, Easter is perfectly timed with the shift to spring. After an interminable winter, a crispness creeps into the air. Forgotten trees begin to bloom. People emerge from their cocoons. Something new is coming.
But Easter looks very different this year. Our city is devastated by a sickness that is threatening every corner of the earth. And instead of breathing deep the renewal that the Son brings, we close our doors to protect our lungs and our lives.
I know I am privileged, even now. I am, like so many others, working from the comfort of my little home. The counter where we break bread is my office. It is strange, but it is a blessing.
And because this is our new business as usual, there is a stirring to do just as much, just as well. The tension curves my spine as I brace myself for meeting after meeting. And even though this is supposed to be a safe refuge, I am feeling the heaviness of productivity chase me down.
The truth is, yes, I am home. But too many people I love are not. My mother, still recovering from a body that betrayed her, is caring for COVID-19 positive patients. She doesn’t sleep well. None of us do.
But the worst part of these restless nights is when morning comes. Because it feels like my whole heart has crawled its way out of my chest and through the door as my husband kisses me goodbye.
It was so clear to me, even when we had just first started dating, that I was funnier than him. He is so good at so many things, so much better than me in so many ways, but he has a hard time crafting a good joke. One day, as we were sitting in comfortable silence on the phone, his voice came across the line, hushed and solemn.
“Babe? Can I ask you something?”
I hum for him to go ahead.
“How much wood… would a woodchuck chuck… if a woodchuck… could chuck… wood?”
I tilt my head back and let out a full-throated laugh because he is so silly but also because I do not know that this is just the first time of many that he will ask me this riddle. For the next days, weeks, he asks me about woodchucks. How much? Just tell me, I want to know. It was funny the first time. It is testing my patience by week six.
So the next time he asks me, I am exasperated and blurt, “97! Ok?! 97, the woodchuck chucks 97 woods. Don’t ask me again.”
And now it’s his turn to yelp a surprised laugh because I have given him an answer to his unanswerable question.
And somehow, 97 becomes our answer for everything.
How many peanut butter cups do you want? 97.
How many stars do you think there are in the sky? 97.
How much do you love me? 97.
Because for us, 97 isn’t a number anymore. It’s a placeholder for infinity.
We got married on September 7, 2019. 9/7/19. 97. I will love this man for the rest of my days.
In the first spring since our wedding, my husband goes to work, as he has done every other day of our married life. But with the onset of COVID-19, going to work is suddenly life-threatening because he works in a New York City hospital, an emerging epicenter of this pandemic.
We spend the first couple weeks reassuring ourselves that we are young and we are healthy. We are at low-risk for complications. And really, how long can this last? It is only temporary.
But the patients begin to look different. Younger. Healthier. So much like us. And then the shortages start springing up everywhere. Coworkers stop being familiar faces. The trucks park themselves around the back of the hospital. He watches the bodies line up and his gentle heart, the heart that knew me in my darkness, breaks.
He calls me on his way home after a 16-hour shift. I don’t know, babe. I don’t know how we’ll make it through this.
I begin to cry when I hear his voice crack. We have only been married 7 months. I didn’t think “til death do us part” would come knocking at our door so soon.
He goes straight to the bathroom when he comes home, stuffing his clothes into a plastic bag and tying it up tight. They will go straight in the wash: hot water, extra detergent, longest cycle. We’re not playing around.
While the water sprays down on his body, I start plating up dinner. We are eating at irregular intervals. I graze for most of the day, saving my big meal for when he is home and I can ask him too many times if he really does like it. I wonder briefly if I am being a bad feminist but I remind myself that feminism is equity and equity is love and love is food.
He makes quick work of the love on his plate and we shift to the couch. We don’t watch anything too serious nowadays. Nothing scary. Life is giving us enough to chew on. So we go back to familiar stories and easy laughs and before we finish an episode, he is asleep. I pause so he doesn’t accuse me of watching without him.
My eyes drink him in. His eyelashes are so long and grow straight out, never curling upwards. Without barbershops open, his hair has taken a mind of its own, drying funny and flopping over. He is breathing deep, the softest snore, and I have never been more grateful because at least I know he is breathing.
I see his hands last. I noticed the patches last night, his skin cracking and raw from washing his hands so much. I told him then to put some lotion on. I reminded him this morning. He still hasn’t done it.
So as he sleeps on our couch, our first big purchase for this home, I go to the bathroom to get our lotion. I sit on the edge of the cushion and gather his palm, dead weight that it is, into my lap. Slowly, I soothe on the lotion and he stirs, muttering to me with his eyes closed.
Thank you, babe. I love you.
And the tension I am carrying is undone, as I cradle these hands that held mine at an altar and promised me forever. My lips settle on them and for the second time that evening, the tears spill.
This is what it means to love someone well.
The story of the woman who was a sinner comes back to me, the Scripture coming alive like never before. Because the beauty of that story is this: a woman found someone who was endlessly worthy of her devotion and even in the mourning, even with the tears, she loved Him.
COVID-19 is overtaking the city I love. It keeps me from hugging my parents and my brothers. It empties my church building. It holds me in my home, anxious and worried and so uncertain. But even in my tears, Jesus, the Risen King, is worthy of my love. And even though I am a sinner, He accepts my offering.
And isn’t that the true miracle of Easter? That Jesus, in all His perfection, would choose to die for a world that did not deserve Him.
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:7-8
Jesus first loved me.
And as it was designed to be, marriage teaches me about the nature of God. Because as much as I love my husband, the greatest blessing I have ever known is that he first chose me.
So yes, Easter will be very different this year. The glory of the Resurrection seems a little quieter. We’re still waiting on healing.
But I’m finding a safe place at Jesus’ feet, as I pray for my love and my family and my world. He honors my tears and accepts my offerings and reminds me that if He can defeat the grave, He will defeat every sickness. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end.
He is Risen.