The Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 21, 2010
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 3:4-14; John 12:1-8
Sermon: The Fragrance Of Christ
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
1 – Fragrances
There’s something I always look forward to at this time of year as Palm Sunday approaches. It is the fragrance of the fresh strips of palm that we weave into palm crosses. For me, it is the first of the fragrances of spring, soon followed by the dampness of earth finally revealed beneath the snow, followed later on by the fragrance of freshly tilled soil. There’s another fragrance that I look forward too as well. It’s the smell of wood-smoke when we light the first Easter fire at the Easter Vigil. It fills my mind with memories of camping and refreshing times in the summer. All of these fragrances speak to me of a new season of life. When next you see bunches of freshly harvested daffodils in the stores, pick some up and place them in the center of your kitchen table. New life is about to burst forth!
2 – New Life
Both our reading from Isaiah and the one from Psalm 126 speak of streams and rivers of water in the desert, water which God supplies and which is a sign of His life amongst us. It is a phenomenon of the desert that when the rains come, plants which have appeared dormant for so long suddenly burst into bloom. There is something very special about a cactus flower. Somehow the blooms seem out of place amongst the normally dry, sand and rocky ground. But there they are in all their glory!
2 – The Fragrance Of Christ
I’m reminded of these things in advance today because of our reading from John’s gospel. We heard of a dinner prepared for Jesus by his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and of how at that dinner Mary takes a quantity of expensive ointment, pure nard, anoints Jesus’ feet with it, and the fragrance of the ointment fills the whole house.
If you search for similar words for smell or fragrance in the New Testament, this is what you find Paul saying in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians:
14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
What a wonderful way to describe what Mary did in anointing Jesus feet with perfumed ointment. Her devotion to Jesus had an effect on the whole house around her. Perhaps even people on the street outside noticed that something good was happening. Interesting though that the fragrance didn’t have the same effect on everyone. Judas, for one, took exception to Mary’s act of devotion. His betraying heart and greed could not be content with this act of love. For Judas, it was “a fragrance from death to death.” It convicted him of what was wrong in his heart.
Can such conviction lead to repentance? Yes, it can, but unfortunately in Judas’ case it did not. But it can. The knowledge of Christ can bring conviction of sin followed by repentance. And then something wonderful happens. The fragrance of Christ becomes a fragrance from life to life. We are blessed with the overflowing goodness of the Lord.
3 – A Sweet-smelling Offering
Paul uses a couple of related words in the passage I quoted. One of them is translated in this phrase: “we are the aroma of Christ to God.” It has the sense of a sweet-smelling fragrance. If we follow that word elsewhere, this is what we find in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)
This was God’s call to Mary, to which she responded with a “Yes”. This is God’s call to us: to live our lives in humble submission to Him, presenting ourselves to God as a living sacrifice of love after the example of Christ, for the honour and glory of God. What a fragrance! What a sweet-smelling offering indeed!
As we submit ourselves to Christ, and love as He loved, the fragrance of our lives can have a convicting, converting and joyful effect on those around us, and God will be glorified. Such was God the Father’s plan in Christ Jesus. Such is God’s plan in us. May we desire His presence and His will in our lives, just as Mary did.
Let us pray: Lord God, you know the purposes for which you made us. May we give ourselves entirely to that purpose, living and loving according to your will, after the pattern of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may you be glorified in us, through Him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.