By the Bathroom Theologian. Do certain smells bring you to different places in time? One of my favorite smells is oranges. When I smell freshly peeled or grated oranges, I am transported back to my grandmother’s Christmas-time kitchen where she used lots of oranges and lemons in her holiday baking. For others, it is the smell of burning leaves in the fall. And for some it might be the smell of the ocean or the smell of a freshly powdered baby. Our sense of smell is a key to our emotions.
This week’s gospel according to John finds Jesus visiting the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha six days before that fateful Passover. After dinner is over, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with an exquisite and very expensive perfume which cost as much as a year’s wages for an average worker. Then she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. The smell of perfume permeates the entire dwelling.
Judas, who is portrayed as a thief, is with Jesus. He asks Jesus why He would permit Mary to waste so much money on perfume when it could have gone to help the poor (or into Judas’ pocket). Jesus patiently responds that Mary had purchased the perfume to anoint his body prior to his burial. That the poor will always be here, but He will not.
There is lots to unpack. But I choose to concentrate on the seemingly extraneous fact about the odor of perfume permeating the room. Does grace have a smell? Does death have a smell? Does the resurrection have a smell? Think about it. Most of us think the smell of flowers is a good thing…think gardenias, lilies, mock orange, lilacs…all wonderful smells like perfume.
But when you enter a funeral home…you are hit with the smell of flowers surrounding the body as people line up to pay their final respects. Often times it is almost sickening. On Easter Sunday morning when you walk into church and smell the pungent beautiful odor of the flowers surrounding the altar…is that smell bittersweet? The smell of the promise of the Resurrection mingles with that nagging thought in the back of your head: it smells like a funeral parlor in here.
That is exactly the point. The grace of God emanating from acts of kindness directed towards God and all members of His human family and creation permeate all the joys of life…and its tragedies and hardships too. The smell of grace is bittersweet. It engulfs us through the good and bad. But in the end, you are back in your grandmother’s kitchen as she does her Christmas baking with oranges and lemons.
And Mary anoints the feet of Jesus for His life, His death, His resurrection, and our salvation.