The Scent of Lent

Scripture: The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume then wipes his feet dry with her hair. (John 12:3)

Reflection: Maye wears the same fragrance she began using in 1991 when it first came into the market. The aroma opens with chamomile, apple, lychee, mandarin, rose, plum and peach, balanced by coriander and sandalwood and has a hint of a marine scent. I’ve bought her other perfumes over the years, but she prefers that particular one because it works best with her body chemistry. I have lost count of the number of times strangers stop her to ask what perfume she is wearing.

Fragrances are composed of three key factors: a top note, a middle note, and a base note. The top note is the one first smelled due to its lighter molecular structure. It is also the first of the aromas to evaporate and fade away. These notes usually are citrusy or aromatic.

The middle notes are known as the “heart notes,” they are pleasant, well rounded and combine floral and heavier fruit characteristics. Heart notes use spices like coriander, cinnamon, and cardamom.

The base notes of a fragrance are the ones that intermingle with the middle notes to create the fullest body of the scent. They are pleasant and last long after the top note fades away. Familiar base notes are sandalwood, cedar, vanilla, and amber.

Lent is coming to an end. In today’s gospel reading from John 12:1-8, Jesus is in Bethany, six days before the Passover, for dinner in the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. Martha served, Lazarus was at the table with Jesus, and Mary acts unbelievably. Mary anoints the beautiful feet of Jesus that carried the good news to the humiliated, the searching, the outcast, the stuck, the hungry, the thirsty, those in darkness, the blind, the scattered, and the mourning with costly perfume worth a year’s wages. She then wipes his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the expensive nard fills the home. Jesus interprets the gesture and associates it with his death. Jesus knows that his feet that carried the good news of God’s love to outskirt towns and people of Israel will soon bear the weight of the cross on the way of humiliation, suffering, and death.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is an everlasting top, middle, and base note fragrance that continues to open and fill our lives and our world with faith, hope, and love. The first note of Jesus’ fragrance is his incarnation. He emptied himself and took on our humanity to show us how to love God, do the will of God, and how to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). The second note, or “heart note,” of Jesus’ fragrance is that he “carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed. He did this so that we might live in righteousness, having nothing to do with sin. He healed us by his wounds” (1 Peter 2:24). The third and abiding note of Jesus’ fragrance that fills our lives and the world is his promise to be with us in our present and until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  

A typical bottle of perfume, even when unopened and stored correctly has an average shelf life of three to five years. Perfumes are meant for use, or they become rancid. The fragrance of Christ is not only for Christians, or for the church. The aroma of Christ is to be opened and poured out into the world through prophetic and grace-filled words and deeds of compassion, mercy, and justice, lest the witness and power of a disciple or the church become rancid. It is meant to be opened and poured out, not contained. As we in humility and service to the world God loves pour out Christ’s fragrant love on the troubled, poor, the burdened, the sick, the sorrowing, the trapped, and alone whom God loves, we do so to Christ and for Christ.

People stop Maye all the time to ask what perfume she wears so that they can purchase the fragrance for themselves or a loved one. May people who experience the aroma of Christ through our words and deeds as his disciples and as a Church also stop and ask how they can attain the fullness of the fragrant life of Christ for themselves.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within reach of your fragrant saving embrace. So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in your love, may bring those who do not know you to the fragrant knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen

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