I didn’t set out to write anything this Holy Week but yet again, the Gospel reading for communion yesterday really hit me, so here are a few thoughts.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ – John 12:1-8
Smells are really evocative aren’t they? What are some of your favourite smells and why? I love the smell of bacon – it’s just a delicious smell but it also reminds me of staying at my grandparents house as a child as they had it for breakfast every day. I love the smell of my CK One perfume – it reminds me of my teenage years. I love the smell of Church incense – I grew up in a church that used it every week. As a result, when I smell it, it makes me think ‘God is here’ – which is a very special gift for me – to have a smell I associate with the presence of God.
As I heard the familiar reading (about which I’ve written before) I was struck by the image of the house being filled with the fragrance of the perfume. This put me in mind of Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom of God – the yeast that affects the whole batch, the tiny seed that grows into a large bush, the light under a bushel. The perfume was contained, shut up in Mary’s jar – on the shelf, saved for a special occasion. The jar was opened, broken? We’re not sure, but at that moment, a beautiful smell poured out, eventually reaching every corner of the house. This is what the presence of God does – through us, through our fragile selves, the fragrance of Jesus can reach people:
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. – 1 Corinthians 4:7
I wasn’t at the Cathedral last night but I spotted a tweet from the dean which continued this train of thought:
Often, when we leave a church that has been using incense, we can still smell it on us when we get home. What a reminder that we carry the presence of Christ with us, to quote from the Ordinal (the service for ordination of Deacons which is very much on my mind at the moment) we take Christ into the ‘forgotten corners of the world’.
“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” – says the deacon at the end of the service. Remember that you take the fragrance of Jesus with you.