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Day 35—Holy Monday, March 25

John 12:1-10

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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well…

My grandmother died when I was 6 years old. This was my first awareness of death and what that might mean. I would never see my grandmother again. Where had she gone? Why did she leave all of a sudden? Questions for my parents led to discussions about soul and spirit and their struggle to explain all that to a 6-year-old. But alas, after 67 more years, I still have not gotten that all straight. I was devoted to my grandmother, especially since she lived only a few blocks away from my house and I spent a lot of time with her. I frequently played in her backyard containing her 30- or 40-year-old established flowers and plants which my new backyard did not. Her yard smelled different from mine.

In our reading today from The Gospel of John, we encounter Jesus in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This visit occurred just after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and immediately preceding Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. John repeats the fact that Lazarus, who had died (and was subsequently raised), was at the table. And what was to follow in less than a week was the death of Jesus. Death bookends this story. During this visit Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with a costly plant resin used as a perfume, incense, and funeral ointment. It was quite expensive in Judah, because nard was imported from India. The sweet, yet earthy aroma filled the room, celebrating with thanksgiving the ongoing life of her beloved brother and the devotion to the man who made that possible. Yet, Jesus foreshadowed that Mary would also use it to anoint his dead body in the tomb. Life and death. Jesus knew his life was on the line because he was being pursued by the religious authorities and hierarchy due to his heretical and countercultural preaching. It is almost always problematic to speak truth to power.

Several decades ago, as an adult, I encountered an aroma from a food spice that immediately took me back to my grandmother’s backyard where I had happily played as a child 30 years previously. In the intervening time, I had never reexperienced that fragrance. However, on more occasions thereafter (but not many more) I have reencountered that specific aroma that brings me up short. That sensory experience transports me back to those juvenile days and prompts in me a remembrance of my beloved grandmother. I then remember her in life, and I also remember her in death, a death that broke my young heart.

As we enter Holy Week, we are called to encounter the reality of both life and death, celebrating life by remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but also remembering his sacrificial death through crucifixion on the cross. May the aromas of this week engender in us abounding gratitude for both divine and human love, love that smells so sweet.

-David Dixon



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