The Fragrance of Love – April 7, 2019

The Fragrance of Love

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 12:1-8

April 7, 2019

Main Idea:  We are called to love Jesus.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

For the Season of Lent we are exploring the wilderness using our 5 senses.  The first week we used our sense of hearing to ponder the different voices that speak to us and how we discern to whom we listen.  The second week we considered how our sense of sight helps and hinders the commitments we make to each other and to God. The third week was a tasty exploration of the physical and spiritual foods that we ingest and how they nourish us.  Last week our sense was touch and we embodied one of Jesus’ most beloved parables by acting it out and touching the thoughts and motivations of the three main characters. This week our sense is that of smell.  Our sense of smell is perhaps the most visceral of the senses. “It’s the only one that goes directly to the amygdala and hippocampus in the brain—areas strongly linked to emotion and memory.” ( Aromatherapy is a whole industry which uses scents to relieve stress, help us sleep, boost our energy.  Smells bypass our rational mind. Like love.

Today’s Scripture text shows us how to live and love like a disciple of Jesus.  Here we experience what life as Christ’s disciple is meant to be; sharing a love that is physical, generous, and life-giving.  This story is full of details for all of our senses; sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell.  It is a story of love expressed through the body.  It is a story of a particular love which serves as an example on many levels.  This story reminds us, calls us, to love and serve Jesus with our whole beings.

For the Gospel of John, this story is the entry point into the account of Holy Week; the calm before the storm.  It comes right after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.  This miracle caused many people to believe in Jesus and also caused the religious authorities to seek Jesus’ death.  They said to each other, “What are we to do?  This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  (11:47b-48) Caiaphas, the high priest, responded with, “it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (11:50b)  “From that day on they planned to put him to death.”  (11:53)

Jesus took refuge at the home of his friends.  Mary and Martha are familiar characters to us.  They appear both here in the Gospel of John and in the Gospel of Luke.  Martha served Jesus a dinner ( the word used for served is diakoneo, sound familiar, Diaconate members?). Lazarus, newly reborn, reclined at the table and Jesus relaxed among people that he loves. We can imagine a happy gathering in which all gave thanks for Lazarus’ return to health.   At some point, Mary brought out a big jar of pure nard which came from the Himalayan mountains of India, Nepal, or China.  It was very expensive, worth a whole year’s wages. Nard is more than just perfume. Also know as spikenard, it is related to valerian and is used as an herbal medicine to naturally treat insomnia, stress, digestive problems, weak immune system and infections. It kills bacteria, fungus, relieves inflammation and works as a sedative (

Mary proceeded to anoint Jesus’ feet with the balm, rubbing the sweet smelling substance into Jesus’ tired, sore, dirty feet, not only washing his feet but providing him care and healing. [Imagine rubbing in IcyHot or BenGay.] This act was extraordinary; people usually washed their feet when they entered a home. Guests’ feet were sometime washed but only by servants, and just with water, not expensive ointments.  Then Mary did something even more extraordinary and frankly shocking; she wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair.   To us this act seems strange but back then, when women did not show their hair to men outside the family and certainly did not touch men who weren’t their husband, Mary’s act would be seen as completely outside the bounds of propriety.  As we imagine the scene we are astonished by its profound intimacy and sensuousness.   The fragrance of the perfume filled the air and the senses of all those present.  It lingered in Mary’s hair, connecting her to Jesus, even when she stepped away from him.

This expression of deep love was too much for Judas, who also was at the house.  He chastised Mary and Jesus for wasting the perfume.  “Why wasn’t this sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?” (12:5).  Judas didn’t really care about the poor, but he certainly was uncomfortable with Mary’s outrageous behavior.  Judas is the opposite of Mary.  Both are disciples but one acts out of love and one does not.  One gives all that she has to Jesus while the other steals from the common purse. 

Judas’ criticism of Mary’s action would seem reasonable, if John had not told us that Judas was a thief who would betray Jesus.  Judas used the poor as an excuse to diminish Mary’s act.  He chastised her not only for waste but for her disregard of social rules.   What Judas couldn’t stand, or understand, was Mary’s extravagant love for a man whom Judas (and the other disciples) would betray in a few short days. 

Then Jesus speaks for the first time in the story. “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might have it for the day of my burial.” he says.   Jesus understood what Mary was trying to convey while Judas steamed in his self-righteous indignation. The care of the poor would always be a part of a disciple’s work, but Jesus would not always be with them. Acts of extravagant love, like Mary’s, were to be encouraged.

Mary recognized that Jesus was heading toward his death.  She was not going to wait any longer to let him know what he meant to her.  She ministered to him, using the nard as medicine to lessen any anxiety or pain which might come to him. Her washing of his feet foreshadowed his washing of his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.  Mary embodied his teaching of service to others. Her gift to Jesus was extravagant, wild, improper even;  she gave all of herself to Jesus.   Her love for him filled the room like the fragrance of a beautiful perfume.

Mary’s gift to Jesus foreshadowed Jesus’ gift to the world. His gift is extravagant, wild, and to some, improper.  God, in Christ, took on our humanity, joined our suffering, and welcomed all who had been excluded.  Jesus journeyed toward the cross so that all might know the limitless love of God and in a few weeks we will celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death and all that keeps us from God’s joy.

Mary’s care of Jesus models for us faithful discipleship as we seek to serve Christ as Mary did.

First, we are called to pay attention to needs and respond to them.  Mary anticipated that Jesus might need some comfort and reassurance during this dangerous time.  She paid attention to him and took care of his tired and dirty feet, which needed the care!  This congregation is taking a great step by hiring a Director of Christian Education.  Jeneve Girard-diCarlo will bring attention and care to the children of our Church School and to the spiritual education of our whole community.  As individuals we are called to be on the lookout for ways we might help others.  Perhaps it is to befriend and check up on a neighbor.  Perhaps it is to bring a meal to a family who has someone in the hospital.  Perhaps it is to smile at a stranger in a checkout line.  We are called to pay attention.

Second, we are called to minister in particular places to individual people.  Mary did not see a category of people to help.  She saw Jesus.  When we do hands on mission work we get to know the people with whom we minister.  When we make meals for Anew Place or soup for the Sunday Soup Suppers, we spend time thinking of those who will eat it and sometimes we get to serve and eat along with those in need of the meal.  As individuals we are called to see the light of Christ in everyone with whom we interact.  This leads us to honor and care for others as children of God and to see them as unique persons rather than “one of those people”.

Finally, we are called to give of ourselves with joy and without limit. Mary gave extravagantly to Jesus because she loved him.  She held nothing back.  She was so grateful and happy that her brother was alive and that Jesus was with them.  She knew that sad days were ahead but she did not let that quench her joy.  When we gather here each Sunday, we come open-hearted in hopes of receiving peace from God and support from each other.   We aren’t laughing all the time, sometimes we cry together, sharing each others’ burdens.   We are called to minister together in the same open-hearted way, finding the joy in serving and being with others. 

As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper may we breath in the sweet aroma of Christ’s love for us and may we be empowered to love and to act as wildly and extravagantly as Mary.

Let us pray, Extravagant God, we pour out our love and our lives to you.   Your love surrounds and fills us like the fragrance of a precious perfume.  It buoys us and sustains us always.  Help us to share this love with others.  Help us to keep you and Jesus our Christ foremost in our lives so that all that we are and all that we do is empowered by your Spirit.  We ask this in Jesus name.  Amen.

Hymn of preparation –  #123  Fairest Lord Jesus