John 12:7-8

Monday, April 3

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

I often forget how our senses are like keys that unlock memory. When I hear mourning doves or encounter a specific scent in the air, I am taken back to my paternal grandmother’s backyard in East Detroit on early summer mornings. The smell of Mr. Bubble finds me in the bath in my maternal grandma’s home in Cleveland. The smell of sawdust or engine grease puts me in the garage with my dad on a Saturday morning. We all have those smells that take us out of ourselves and place us directly back into memory.

This passage finds us sitting down for a meal with Jesus, his disciples, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, just after Lazarus has been raised. Mary pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. There is an intimacy in this moment that I cannot ignore. Feelings of safety, family, and the joy of having Lazarus with them permeate the house. The smell of food, the sight of beloved faces, the sound of laughter, etc., all create an intimate picture. To that moment is added the lavish scent of expensive perfume, the touch of Mary’s hair on Jesus’ feet, and the observing eyes of all those closest to Jesus.

While there are those who view this intimacy as erotic, it is exactly the opposite. It is an act of holy worship. Mary “gets it.” She knows what’s coming. She also knows who sits at table with her. Her devotion to her Lord is extravagant as she offers affection, devotion, and the costly gift of her whole self. This smell will act in direct contrast to the scents of death and dying that are to come. And both will linger in the hearts of those who sit at this table, for the rest of their lives.

So, what does love smell like, taste like, sound like, for you? Is it your spouses’ favorite perfume? Your grandmother’s talcum powder? Fresh baked bread? Freshly mown hay? Your children’s laughter?

For me, God’s love and grace feel like a big bear hug and the sun on my face. They smell like candle wax, old wood, and the air before a summer storm. They sound like laughter, the crackling of a fire, the unique silence of an empty church, and the glorious ending of “Thine the Amen.” They look like wrinkled hands, smiling faces, and the dying embers of a fire. They taste like mom’s Christmas Bread right out of the oven, baked pork chops, or an ice-cold beer on a hot day. Mary’s act reminds me to engage my senses; that my relationship with God is a full-body, sensory experience as God can be seen, heard, touched, felt, and tasted everywhere. Mary helps me see that while giving myself to God may bring criticism and be misinterpreted by the world, it is exactly what my God asks of me. And that, while what I do may be momentary, the memory invoked by the “scent” of my faithfulness lives on in memory for others.

Grant me the boldness of Mary to give my life lavishly over to you. May every sense be attuned to your presence as I live a life of praise and glory. Amen.

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