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February 28, 2016

Lent 3 Sermon 2016

Series: ,
Passage: Ephesians 5; John 11
Service Type:

Historians often note that one of the most significant differences between earlier ages and our own is the extent to which the odours of life in community are nowadays largely masked by perfumes and refrigeration, running water and septic systems. The smell of bodies and of breath; the odour of markets, from flowers to vegetables to meat; the smell of waste, of sickness, of death – all were more and not less pungent historically than they are today. Indeed, this is so much the case, I think, that when Mary and Martha stand before the tomb of their brother Lazarus in St John’s Gospel, who is four days dead, most of us can only in the most abstract sense understand what Martha means when she responds to Christ’s intention to roll back the stone with some of the most memorable words in the Bible: He stinketh.

Odours and aromas form a continuous thread in the Holy Scriptures. There are the pleasing fragrances of perfume and flower, incense and temple sacrifice (all of it rising as a ‘pleasing aroma’ to the Lord). These fragrant smells circle around Jesus. The wise men bring him incense and perfumed oil, for example; elsewhere he is identified as the aromatic Rose of Sharon or Lily of the Valley. Paul tells us just today that Jesus is a “sweet smelling savour.” There are also of course noxious smells throughout Scripture: the smell of death, for example, and of disease. But most pungent of all, the Bible suggests, is hypocrisy – offering sacrifice to God with one hand, and with the other oppressing the poor. And so the prophet Amos writes: “...your treading is upon the poor ... I hate, and I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.” Isaiah goes on: “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me ... your hands are full of blood.” As Martha says so succinctly at the tomb, “He stinketh.” ...

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