jar of parfume

Lent Reflections Part 5 – Sense of Smell

Pastor Erik’s Lent Reflections 2018 – “Smell”

 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.      (1 John 1:1)

Just a while ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Christmas is always a special time of year not just because of all the fun activities, but because we learn and remember that Jesus Christ arrived to us as a person- as human flesh. Jesus is both -100% God and 100% human being.  During Jesus’ earthly ministry there were many people who encountered him physically. The saw him, heard him, touched him and were touched by him. Today, we can also encounter Jesus physically. For example, many of you have already felt and smelled the oily ash that was drawn on your forehead in the shape of the cross on Ash Wednesday. In a few weeks we will feel the warm refreshing water that washes our feet, we will taste the Seder meal, and we will feel the weight of the cross as we place it on our backs and carry it during Holy Week.

This year, during Lent, I want to encourage you to think more deeply about how you encounter Jesus in a physical way.  I am writing a Biblical reflection each week that focuses on the 5 senses. This week focuses on the sense of “smell.”

John 12:1-3

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

Psalm 141

I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you. Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.

A whole pound of perfume! A full can of Coke is about a pound. Whoa, that is A LOT. The other day, my daughter Nozomi got hold of some perfume and she put a generous splash on her hands and face. The amount she put on was more than enough. Typically, just a drop or two of perfume is enough for a person. An entire can of this expensive (quality) perfume was definitely overwhelming and overpowering. Not only did it fill the whole house, but it could probably be smelled down the street too. I think that the smell from the perfume, which was literally rubbed into Jesus’ skin, lingered long after that evening was over. People who entered the house days, weeks maybe even longer would instantly smell that sweet, and pleasant aroma. The perfume also lingered on Jesus’ body for quite some time afterwards. The sweet, pleasant aroma could be noticed on the cross and in the tomb.

Wherever Jesus went, that scent of that perfume traveled with him. The people that Jesus met, ate with, spoke to, and anyone who was near him, smelled him too. The location in the human brain that processes smells is very close to area that processes emotions as well as memories. There is a connection between our sense of smell and how we sort our experiences and how we react to our environment. Certain scents trigger memories. For example, today if you smell a specific cologne or perfume that a special person was wearing on your first date your memory will be triggered and your mind will be filled with memories of that special day years before. The basement of my grandmother’s house has a very unique smell. My grandmother used to store birthday and Christmas presents in her basement before she would mail them to me, and the presents would always smell like her basement. Even though her basement doesn’t have a “good” smell, whenever I smell that unique smell I instantly remember my Grandma’s loving and generous character. I think that the perfume that permeated Jesus’ skin was had a similar effect on people. For the rest of their lives, whenever they smelled that type of perfume they remember the day they interacted with Jesus. They remember the sermon he gave, the smile on his face, even  perhaps the agony of his crucifixion or the glory of his resurrection.

In the Apostle Paul’s time, bold and sweet-smelling incense was burned during parades and festivals to celebrate and honor military victories or pagan gods. The people watching or participating in the parade would undoubtedly take home the smell of the incense on their clothes. Friends and neighbors would all know where the person had been and what they were doing. Paul is drawing this connection with following Christ. Paul is metaphorically saying that people who following Christ also have the aroma of Christ, and they are being invited to go out and spread that aroma around the whole world.

The verses from psalm 141 are beautiful poetry. Describing prayers, after being spoken to God, drifting gently up into the air like the smoke from burning incense.  The incense smoke fills the room with the scent of hope, trust, praise and devotion. For those of you who have ever participated in Holden Evening Prayer, these words –used as lyrics- have a special place in your heart.

I hope this 5 senses Lent series has helped you reflect and grow in your faith. It certainly has for me. I also hope that this series has helped prepare your hearts for the rollercoaster of emotion that we will experience during Holy Week and Easter. It was my goal to show that we all encounter Jesus in a physical way. The Bible and the Bible stories are not just words printed on a piece of paper. These stories are alive. We hear them, see them, are touched by them, taste them, and even smell them. 

Happy Easter!

Pastor Erik