the one about smell...
March 14, 2016, 9:00 AM

Sermon from March 13, 2016

Text: John 12: 1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

As we approach the end of Lent as this is the fifth and final Sunday of Lent before we begin the long remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection; we come to this interesting story. Now, usually I focus on the fact that for many of us we can totally see where Judas is coming from. He speaks the truth (obviously unintentionally) when he says that the amount of money spent on this perfume of nard that Mary is using to anoint Jesus’ feet could’ve been better spent to help feed and care for the poor. As much as it pains me to say it – Judas is probably right. The only thing that we can know for sure is that Mary has abundant love for Jesus – grace upon grace for the one who first gave it to us.

That’s where I usually go with this sermon, but that is not what sparked my attention this year.

Instead, I wanted to focus a bit on something else. Something that our senses would’ve been keen to pick up on if we were physically present in that room. Throughout Lent our Wednesday services have been on the theme of “Open my Life, Lord.” In each service thus far, we have called upon God to help open our eyes, hands, ears, and heart. One thing that we didn’t call to God to open was our noses. But, if we did this would be a perfect text to use.

For anyone who has teenagers or has entered into a room full of pre-teens and teens knows – even a little bit of ‘perfume’ can fill  and overwhelm your sense of smell. With the advent of aerosol body sprays – let’s just say that I have been bowled over by the smell of those younger than me more times than one.

Smell is easily one of those things that can quickly bring to mind memories of our past. The smell of a pie baking in a house can remind us of our grandparents. The smell of a particular cologne will make me whip my head around and wonder how my grandfather was here. The smell of cut grass and spring flowers reminds us – me – that baseball is about to start. Vladimir Nabokov was right when he said, “Smells are surer than sights or sounds to make your heart strings crack.”

This morning our senses would’ve been overwhelmed with smells. The smell of the perfume of nard that Mary uses to anoint Jesus’ feet. The smell of the coming death that was and is quickly approaching Jesus. Even the lingering smell of death from the story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead that are only a few verses before this one.

In fact, if you think about it – these past few weeks have been filled with stories that would’ve overwhelmed our olfactory senses; fertilizer on a fig tree, the pig pen and troughs, and the perfume of this morning.

I think this morning of the smells of those things that our scriptures tell us as we read of the life of our lord and Savior Jesus. The smell of good wine, the smell of broken bread. The smell of the river. The smell of the mud spread upon the eyes of a man born blind. The smell of a decomposing body.

What is it about smell that conjures in us so many different emotions and reactions? How we can link smell to so many wonderful and not so wonderful moments in our lives? It is no wonder how in some traditions of the church that the sense of smell is used to connect and bring to even greater life and affect that which we do in our life of faith. The smell of oil, incense, bread, wine, and more. All of it helps connect and deepen our faith to know that God is present in each of those moments.

This morning we are thrust into this story and are consumed with that smell of perfume that would’ve stuck in every nook and cranny of the room they were in. The smell that would’ve lingered still there as Mary and the others returned from the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion and would’ve been present just a few days later upon his resurrection.

There is one thing about smell that we try desperately to overcome, yet we still cannot – no matter how much it may be advertised on TV and radio. It’s really hard to get rid of a smell. New smells don’t replace others. Even though we’d like the smell of perfume of nard to drive out the revolting smell of a decomposing body – it won’t.

Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume and oil doesn’t change what is going to happen. It doesn’t change what has already happened (both bad and good). Death still happened for Lazarus. Death is still coming for Jesus. But, it does offer the counterpoint of grace and new life that Jesus points to.

Nothing changes with Jesus’ resurrection. Death will still smell as it does. Death will still seep through every crevice that we might try to substitute. Death will still find the smallest crack to invade our assurances that resurrection is true.

And yet everything changes with Jesus’ resurrection. Just don’t let the smell of abundant love and life allow you to think that the smell of death won’t be there as well.

There is a tendency in our life to think that because of the resurrection of Jesus and the new life in which we are promised and in which we have faith to think that death doesn’t exist anymore. People just go to ‘sleep’ only to wake up later. That the pain, struggle, and the smell of death are foolish to notice and be aware of.

If we believe that death no longer matters, that it isn’t a part of our life, that it no longer pertains to us we end up speaking out against the truth and grace of incarnation.

God doesn’t become flesh and blood in Jesus so that we might be saved from death. The pain, the hurt, the smell of death still comes. Yet, in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life that is extended to each of us is that death is not the final word. That not one thing separates us from God – not even death. That is the grace-filled truth of the incarnation. We will still die, but we will also live. The smell of death and new life are a part of us in this life that we have been given by God.

It is while we smell death that we can smell life. It is while we smell a rotting body in a tomb that we can smell the earth underneath the stone as it is being rolled away. It is while we can barely stand the smell of Lazarus that Mary pours perfume on Jesus’ feet.

Mary’s anointing of Jesus with perfume will not ‘febreeze’ his coming death away. Not even the resurrection changes the pain we feel when Jesus dies. We can’t choose to smell one thing over another. The smell is there – in all its power – and we cannot help, but smell it. As we smell; the emotions and memories that it brings to us we cannot control. It pervades our life with the good and the bad, the powerful and the aching, the elated and the challenging. That is smell’s power.

And as we read this story we see that at work as well. As we look ahead to the last two weeks of Lent before we charge into the celebrations of Easter. We remember that in order for the resurrection to occur there needs to first be death. No matter what we do or think – that isn’t going to change. Resurrection cannot exist without death. Smell so tightly holds Lent and Easter together; you cannot choose to smell the celebrations of Easter without smelling the death that precedes it. You just can’t.

Yet, the celebration that is coming in the Resurrection gives us hope and promise that the smell of death is not final. It is real. It is unavoidable. But, it is not the last. It isn’t that we choose to smell one or the other, but the grace that God has given us in the resurrection is that the smell of death is not the only smell, but we get to smell new life as well. Amen.


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