the Fifth Sunday in Lent

07 April 2019

John 12. 1-8
The resurrection and the life is love
right here and right now!

Any given Sunday, between the Prayer of the Day and the Sermon, we channel surf! We pick up the remote and we just start clicking. First Reading. Psalm. Second Reading. Gospel. We do it week after week, Sunday after Sunday. Next week and the week after, will be like last week and the week before. Old Testament. Psalm. Epistle. Gospel. We click our way through scripture one handful, one mouthful, at a time. And that becomes the bible, for us. A collage, a patchwork, a hodgepodge of images and impressions that flash before our eyes and, for a moment, for two, flicker in our thoughts. But then, we’re off to the next. Click. Click. Click. Click.

This morning, it’s John 12. 1-8. “Mary Anoints Jesus” is the section heading. Six days before the Passover, Jesus comes to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” We glance at the shapes and the colors and the outlines as the passage flies across the screen. Everything shallow. Superficial. But this time, something caught my attention. Slowed me down. Stopped me in my tracks. And for a while, I actually set down the remote and watched. One sentence. Not, even, an entire verse. John 12. 3, we’d call it. 3b or 3c …

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

I guess it was something only a geek of an English major could appreciate! But this is a great sentence! The kind I wish I’d have written! The words taste good in your mouth when you speak them! That have a texture all they’re own. “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” I read the words and got to wondering what he was thinking as the words came off his pen? If he stopped and just looked at them, for a while, when he saw them, for the first time.

First off, I went online and bought nard incense! I’d never smelled it, before. And I thought we could share it, together! Incense, not perfume, so we could watch as it fills the house! Wafting! Drifting! Floating! Fanning! I re-read all the verses, not just this one. The dinner for Jesus. Martha serving. Lazarus at the table. Mary anointing Jesus’ feet. Wiping them with her hair. The house filling with the fragrance! I set the insert aside and slid a bible from the shelf and read more. John, chapter 11. The Death of Lazarus! Jesus the Resurrection and the Life! Jesus Weeps! Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead! The Plot to Kill Jesus! Those were the section headings leading up to the one we read, this morning. John, chapter eleven, is the cause to John, chapter twelve’s effect. And in all our surfing, we miss that. In all our surfing, we don’t even notice. Chapter eleven’s why they’re in Bethany! In the house. Around the table. Martha serving. Mary kneeling! It’s because Lazarus was alive! They were celebrating! And the house was filled! Not just with the fragrance of the perfume! But with joy! And gratitude! And appreciation! The house was filled with love! And this smoke is what that fragrance would look like … if we could see it! This is how that love would appear … as it filled the house! Wall to wall! Floor to rafters!

Days before – maybe, even, just hours – Jesus had come to Bethany. When Martha saw him, she said, “If only you’d have come …” Mary had knelt at his feet. Heartbroken. Grief-stricken. She wept. Jesus had wept with her. And then, he said, “Take away the stone!” They warned him of the stench. Not of the odor. Or the smell. But the stench. That permeates everyone and everything it touches. That clings to body and soul. Stench you can’t get out of your nose no matter how hard you try. And Jesus raises Lazarus up! Jesus resurrects him! He gives him life, again! “Come out,” he says! And he commands the strips of cloth to unbind him and let him go! And now, this morning, six days before the Passover, in Bethany, Lazarus’ home. Lazarus sitting at the table. Martha serving. Mary kneeling before Jesus. Anointing his feet. No doubt with the same nard she had gotten to anoint her own brother for his burial. “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Taken all together – chapter eleven and chapter twelve – it’s as if the gospel writer is say, “We know what death smells like. We know what it feels like. The emptiness. The ache. But this! This is life! Life in plenty! Life in abundance! Life filling every nook and cranny! Life inspiring every atom and cell! “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume!” As was every heartbeat! Every breath!

We have this misconception, this misunderstanding, that the bible – especially the second half of it – was written by “simple, happy fisher folk.” Trimming sails. Hauling nets. Like some holy Forrest Gump. Some spiritual Gomer Pyle. Who in their spare time, wrote the bible. But nothing could be further from the truth. They were craftsmen. Artists. And what they wrote would endure for generations. Last for millennia. And that one verse – that one partial verse – John 12. 3b or 3c is a perfect example!

And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

What was lost was found! What was dead was alive, again! Look around you! Look for the wisps! For the curls! As the fragrance dances over us! Around us! Take a breath! Savor the aroma! The bouquet! Yesterday, it was the stench of the grave! Today, it’s this! Breathe deep, my friends! This is what faith smells like! This is what hope smells like! This is what love smells like! And this fragrance … this perfume … this love … is the resurrection and the life of all!