Our noses pick up aromas that recreate memories: the smell of wood smoke recalls a Girl Scout campout,
the people around the circle, the Some-mores with toasted and over-toasted marshmallows; a whiff of a man’s after shave lotion or a woman’s cologne serves as a flashback to good times with that person.
In high school all of us on the hockey team idolized our coach who was a descendant of the Armenian massacre that began on April 24, 1915 in what is now Turkey, and, with her husband, was very active in their Presbyterian church in Philadelphia. How we looked up to her! We were all her girls who she not only encouraged on the
hockey field but in the years that followed; she kept in touch and saved every note and photo we sent. The flashback to all our memories is the cologne she used, Faberge’s “Tweed,” which I then used, so that she would always be with me in the memories that fragrance recalled.
Today’s Gospel has us picking up the aroma of nard, a costly resin from a flowering plant grown in the Himalayas of Nepal, India, and China used in Bible times as incense, an herbal medicine for insomnia, and an elegant perfume.
At the dinner party to celebrate Jesus’ bringing Lazarus back from the dead, Mary poured out a whole bottle, prompting Judas to quip in a tone of anger: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii
and the money given to the poor?” Three hundred denarii – a year’s wages for a laborer. A few days later Judas would sell Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver, about four month’s wages. Obviously he had no intention of opening the money bag he carried for Jesus and the other disciples to feed the poor. He intended to pocket the money for himself.
But Mary chose to empty the bottle, and Jesus showed His approval as He chided Judas, "Leave her alone.” – let the aroma fill the room with the fragrance, that today would cost $10,000.
Jesus knew what Mary was doing as she didn’t anoint His head – a sign of a king ascending to his throne,
but Jesus’ feet, a sign of being perfumed for burial.
In that room, at that diner party, she alone had a premonition of what was coming for Jesus; she alone saw beyond the dinner table to the street where the Temple authorities, the politician power-brokers, were plotting
to put Lazarus and Jesus to death. Both had become too much of a novelty; they were pulling too many people away from them, to Jesus.
As both Mary and Jesus were saturated with the aroma of the costly perfume used at the time of burial, Jesus said, “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.”
Mary couldn’t wait for Jesus’ death; she had to begin that funeral ritual there in that room, around that dinner table; there she saturated her hands and her hair and well as Jesus’ feet with the aroma of loving devotion.
She couldn’t wait; she had to let the grief that would come be mingled with gratitude. So she let the poured out perfume be her poured out sign of devotion to the One Who had loved her out of her days of deep depression,
called her back to loving herself as a person of worth in God’s sight, just brought her brother back from the tomb of death to preside over the household, and was about to set His face to go to Jerusalem, to His death,
to give Mary and everyone else His gift of life.
The finest perfume, worth $10,000. today, was a price too small for such amazing love. What others might call extravagant devotion, was for Mary, simply her response to love so amazing, so divine, that she had to give her soul, her life, her all, leaving only the sign of an empty bottle. ..and the aroma of three clinging questions.
One is: Have we spent enough time with the Gospels that introduce us and pull us into Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to be as devoted to Him as Mary was? Are we now saturated with His undying love for us?
By pouring the nard over His feet, rubbing it in with her hands and then using her hair as a towel, both she and Jesus carried that fragrance of devotion into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on to Good Friday. As Jesus was being tried, beaten, judged by Pilate, condemned to death with the cries of the crowd, “Crucify Him!” and raised on the cross– the air still carried a whiff of the fragrance of love Jesus was pouring out for all, and Mary had already received, so that she was as the Apostle Paul would say, "the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2: 15)
Does the aroma of that devotion cling to us as it did to Mary?
And so a second question: Do we realize how much of the aroma of our extravagant devotion to Christ permeates the air and clings to the people around us - like the smoke from a campfire, and like Dorothy Chalikian’s Faberge “Tweed” that carried the fragrance of her love for Christ which permeated the lives of her students?
That second question promotes a third: Do we have someone to thank, someone who is like Mary
in the Gospel, someone who is permeating our life with Christ-like love?
A Harvard University study tells of a wife, who for her husband’s 70th birthday had family, colleagues, and friends write him letters of appreciation. She received more than 100 and bound them into a book. When he was asked what was in the book, his eyes filled with tears as he said, “I’ve never been able to bring myself to read them.” It was too much love; he couldn’t bear it. (Quoted from the Christian Century, March 2, 2016, P. 18)
It is the priceless influence of all, who like Mary in the Gospel, are saturated with the aroma of Christ’s love poured out on the cross, where we, too, pick up the scent of extravagant devotion and carry to home, neighborhood, school, work. And so, we sing ourselves back to that cross-crowned hill. (Hymn following sermon: "On a hill faraway") AMEN.