There’s that smell again, can you smell it? It takes me back to my childhood in church. It smells like a mixture of dust, oil, balsam, and wood. It’s a smell for me of church, no matter where I go, I smell it. It's been the scent of incredible joy and immense pain, of new life and death. Its both sweet and earthy, heavy and light. It's frustrating, this smell, because it's something I can't shake- all the memories of church and life are tied up in this smell. That's the power of smell, it can make real for us moments of incredible human experience. Smell is a powerful witness to life, something our gospel identifies for us as we turn towards the holiest week of our life.
John’s Gospel is focused on relationship, between, in and through God, grounded in the person of Christ. John's gospel is unique in that it follows a different structure during this period of Christ’s life, where Matthew, Mark, and Luke focused on atonement theology- Jesus died to take our sins- John resserts the importance God's desire to be intimately connected to us so much, that God ultimately died so we can be re-joined to him forever. Now why is this important, or have anything to do with smell- it's about the human power of relationship to hold both the joy and pain of our life which is connected to memory, memory which is awoken by our senses, to live a life which is created for and destined for love- a love that is expressed through the witness of the cross.
We are a week away from the biggest, holiest, week of our lives, a week which is a total mess of emotions, colours, sights, smells, and images. It is both sweet and earthy, in the same way the oil Mary used so lavishly on Jesus today is. This incredible use of oil seems counterintuitive for a person like Jesus who lived his whole life for someone else, yet it makes perfect sense. You see, Jesus’ whole life has been pointing towards the realness of the cross- a cross we not only see today, but can smell. Its wet wood muskyness pokes at our senses like an unwelcome skunk spray, because we know how the story ends- in resurrection- which often means the grief, blood, smell and mess of the cross can be sanitized away in order to really focus on the new life of easter. Yet, scent is never capable of masking smells permanently. They eventually wear off and the true smell of life, sweat, joy, fear, and pain; the true smell of our body comes through. Which is exactly why Mary anoints Jesus today at our meal- to remind us of the human depth of what is about to happen. What is before us friends is not a theory or idea. What is before us is the sweet and earthy stench of a dead body- of our dead body. A body which transforms us and our world, but remains first and foremost a human experience.
This holiest of weeks is about our inability to hide from the discomfort of life in the midst of faith, and of faith in the midst of life. Mary reminds us this morning that what is before us is about us, not just for us. Christ’s whole life among us has been about calling us into our continual death to self and growth in God. At the centre of this movement is God’s incredible love for us, his deep and abiding need to be closer to us than the hair on our head to share our life with us, and the only way that was possible was for God to pour himself out on the cross in the most extravagantly sweet and earthy way possible- to die like us in order for us to never be apart from God again. We are invited again, to live like Mary, opening our senses to the sweet and earthy death, which prepares us for the extravagance of Gods love pour over us like oil at the other end. Come and experience the most important week of your life with all of your senses. The smell of easter starts in the earth, from which new life comes.
Can you smell it?