What do you smell when you walk into your Church building?? I ask the question because of something that is in the Gospel this weekend (John 12.1-8) – that the act of blessing and preparing Jesus for what is about to happen in his life, is fragrant and it fills the entire house. That is very different from what it was not that long ago when Lazarus died and Jesus wasn’t there to prevent. The house smelt and felt of sadness and fear. It smelt of anger and disappointment. After all, Jesus good have made things better and stopped all that nonsense.
But then what is going on in the house is both weird and a reversal of the first time that Jesus was in that house. Martha is in the Kitchen cooking and given directions to others. Lazarus is at the table with Jesus and the apostles, learning for the Teacher. Stop. Think that one through. A man that was dead and laid in the grave is learning and sitting at the table with Jesus and the others. How wild is that!
And then Mary does something to turn the situation on its head yet again. She takes something that is of great worth in her life, a pottery container of pure nard. Her family would have saved up for it to present it as part of her dowry when she got married. She breaks off the top and pours generous amounts of it on the only part of Jesus’s body that she can easily reach: his feet and shins. Mary lets down her hair and begins to rub the oil into his legs and feet using her hair as a towel. The fragrance fills the entire house with the scent of the nard. Mary understood what was happening and she responded to it by using what she had in the situation. She recognized the moment as a moment of blessing and of grace and she seized the opportunity to show kindness and caring for her Teacher. It was a sacred moment. For the two of them and for those who watched the encounter happen.
Then enters in Judas Iscariot who is noted as a thief and he attempts to steal the moment and the joy by being spiritual. He points out that the nard is now useless to sell and has been wasted on an act of devotion. The Gospel points out that Judas would help himself to what was in the purse. Why would Jesus allow the treasurer to steal from the group… doesn’t he know that Judas is a thief? Is it not possible then Jesus is trying to give Judas every opportunity to turn things around and really believe in him rather than leave him in his own agenda? Let’s face it: sin, left unchecked and undealt with through confession and absolution, festers and grows into death.
That is why we celebrate Jesus and what he has done for us on the cross. He has paid the price and offers life to those who will live in him. He did in his life what was necessary for us to have life. He made an oblation of himself, once offered. A full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. God visits and redeems his people.
And I ask about what you smell because in my last parish when it was raining after a short period of sun, you could smell the incense in the woodwork. It would come wafting out as a reminder of the presence of God among his people as they pray. A reminder of why we worship and why we pray. Thanks be to God.