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Precious perfume: For Lent and Mothering Sunday

To think about the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume and to reflect upon generous actions and attitudes.

by The Revd Alan M. Barker

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To think about the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume and to reflect upon generous actions and attitudes.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a number of soaps with contrasting scents, a small bottle of perfume and (optional) a scented candle.
  • Read through the story beforehand. It could be narrated and mimed by a group of children. It is taken from Mark 14.3–9.


  1. Light the scented candle and/or unstop the perfume bottle to sniff the contents. Show appreciation! Allow some children to share the aroma.

    Reflect that scents can affect how we feel. Some can help us to feel calm and peaceful. Others can delight and excite us.
  2. Explain that perfumes have been used for thousands of years. Vases containing scented ointments were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen of Egypt, who died about 1350 BC – over 3,000 years ago.

    In the Bible there are directions for making perfume from spices, olive oil and gum (Exodus 30.22–24, 34). Such perfumes were used in worship. In some Christian traditions today, sweet-smelling incense is burned while prayers are said.
  3. Explain that today, perfume is more commonly used to scent bath and shower lotions and also soap. Invite some children to handle the different soaps. What are their scents? (If the assembly is not too large the soaps could be passed between those present. You could also ask which local shops stock a range of soaps and perfumes.)

    Many perfumed gifts are used to mark Mothering Sunday. These are given to show that someone is loved and special.

    Have any children bought or given ‘smellies’? Show the assembly the small bottle of perfume and explain that some perfumes are very expensive. Even the smallest quantity can cost a great deal of money. A present of perfume can show someone that you care about them very much indeed.
  4. Introduce a story from the Bible which tells how someone used perfume to show Jesus how much she cared. It can be found in Mark 14.3–9.

    Precious Perfume
    by the Revd Alan Barker
    (A retelling of the story of how Jesus was anointed at Bethany)

    One day Jesus was in Bethany, a village about two miles from the city of Jerusalem. He was staying at the home of a friend called Simon. But there was little time to rest. There were jealous people who hated Jesus. They wanted to arrest and kill him. ‘We must do it secretly,’ they whispered. ‘Let’s wait until the city is quiet.’

    At Simon’s house it was suppertime. While Jesus and his disciples were eating they were startled by someone entering the room. For a moment everyone thought that it was one of Jesus’ enemies but then they saw it was a woman. She carried no weapon, only a small white perfume jar, the kind that was used for the most expensive perfume.

    Drawing close to Jesus, the woman knelt at his feet. Then, opening the jar, she rose and allowed the drops of perfume to fall over his head and hair. Instantly, the room was filled with the loveliest fragrance.

    But not everyone was impressed. ‘What a waste!’ some said angrily. ‘The money spent on that perfume could have been given to people who are poor.’ They criticized the woman so harshly that she began to cry.

    ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Don’t bother her. Can’t you see that this woman has done a beautiful thing for me? You will always have to care for poor people. But I shall not be with you for very much longer. She has taken the chance to show she cares and I appreciate her generosity. Believe me, people will always remember what she has done.’

    For days afterwards the scent of the perfume lingered in Simon’s house. And, when Jesus was secretly arrested by his enemies, it reminded Simon how openly the woman had shown her love for Jesus.
  5. What Jesus said came true. We do still remember and tell the story of the woman and her perfume.

    Invite the children to think how they can show love and regard for others. The story shows us that it is not just costly gifts that count, but rather caring and thoughtful attitudes. In caring for others, and on Mothering Sunday, small things (like a drop of perfume) can make a big difference.

Time for reflection

Reflect on some words of Mother Teresa: ‘We can do no great things – only small things with great love.’

Lord Jesus,
help us to become more loving
and to appreciate the generosity and kindness of those who care for us.


‘Said Judas to Mary’ (Come and Praise, 28)

Publication date: March 2012   (Vol.14 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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