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John 12:1-9

March 28, 2004

Wesley, Doncaster East

Judas was furious with the woman kneeling at Jesus’ feet. “Why wasn’t that perfume sold, and the money given to the poor?”

Jesus closed his eyes, savouring the fragrant aroma filling the room. Somehow it reminded him of another place. It was a scent reminiscent of both life and death.

“Let her be,” he sighed. “She has prepared me for my burial.”

How had she known? Why had she done it? Anointing a guest was common – but the head, not the feet. No-one anointed the feet. It was a distasteful, if not disgusting, job to wash the feet of guests who’d walked through the dirt and filth of the open road – especially the slops and filth of the city streets. Not even all servants could be expected to do that job. Yet this woman not only washed his feet, she anointed them – as the feet of those who would walk no more were anointed – and with pure and costly nard. The fragrance must have filled the room – almost overpoweringly!

How did she know? How could she have known he was about to die? Surely she was aware that anointing the body of one who died was a symbol of love and devotion for that person – a tender demonstration of placing that person in God’s hands. Did she really know what she was doing?

She looked up into his eyes. What was he thinking? She could never tell. Did he know this was the only way she could express her feelings? Gently, lovingly, she wiped the oil away with her hair. She knew the fragrance of her gift would stay with him for days.

The next day, when all Jerusalem was at his feet as he entered the city in a triumphal parade of palms, the fragrance continued to surround him – reminding him of why he’d come, and where this road was leading.

Later that day the people heard him preach. He heard them murmuring among themselves about blasphemy. He closed his eyes and was strengthened by the memories the fragrance evoked.

In a few days he too knelt to wash the feet of those he loved – the twelve who followed him. As he leant down and took on the role of servant, again, just faintly, he smelled the fragrance.

Later that evening the soldiers came to take him away. Was there something more than the fragrance of olive trees in the air, reminding him he’d already been placed lovingly in God’s hands?

Then came what seemed like endless hours of interrogation, beating, flogging, flaying and, above all, pain. Yet when he closed his eyes and was still, the barest hint of fragrance remained with him – and sustained him.

He was led to Golgotha and crucified – a sign above his head and a crowd below. Yet, as he hung there, mixed with the smell of sweat and blood, was the fragrance.

 Two days later another Mary discovered Jesus was gone. Confused, she sat in the empty tomb in the place where the body had lain, and closed her eyes.

“Wowan, why are you crying?” asked a gentle voice. She didn’t even look up.

“They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”

A sweet fragrance wafted towards her, startled her, seemed to surround her, to somehow penetrate her very soul – and fill her with hope.

“Mary.”

She opened her eyes and saw the figure – and moved towards the fragrance.

Phyllis Willams Provost in The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible. Volume Ten. John. Abingdon Press: Nashville. 1996. pp115-7. Alt.

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