The Perfume of Grace
Past events can be re-called, remembered through the help of pictures, stories and even pleasant aromas. Toast reminds me of breakfast as its aroma fills the house and beckons me to have more. For some Jewish people the aroma of BBQ lamb contributes to remind them of the grace of God. It would be wonderful to share in that experience and have this house of God filled with the beckoning aroma of BBQ lamb. Christians also share in the Passover experience with the Israelites in which our Lord Jesus Christ was given as the Passover Lamb for our salvation.
Standing next to a BBQ, one can easily become covered with the smoke and aromas of the cooking. It can cover you completely in no time at all. It can permeate the clothes through to the skin and the hair is saturated with the aromas of the BBQ. If there are any windows open nearby the house will fill with the same cooking aromas. Like the BBQ cooking aromas there are many other aromas, scents and perfumes that can cover a person, fill a house, and stay with them for quite awhile. God likes the aromas of a good BBQ.
Our Gospel text today, in a sense, meets at a junction of aromas. There, it reminds people of the first Passover feast, the coming Passover Festival, and for some, the anticipation of the cross with its ultimate Passover sacrifice.
God instituted the first Passover meal as a means of salvation. While the people of Israel lived in the land of Egypt they suffered as slaves under Pharaoh. God heard their cry for help and set about to work their salvation. Finally, God instructed the people of Israel to prepare unleavened bread and a perfect lamb for sacrifice. The blood of the lamb was painted on the doorpost. That evening they ate the BBQ lamb while the angel of the Lord passed over their houses and brought death to the first born of the Egyptians, and deliverance for Israel from slavery. During this event the blood of the lamb protected the Israelites. It is possible to imagine that as they hurriedly ate the Passover lamb the aroma of the BBQ, the perfume of grace filled the house. Soon afterwards Pharaoh let Israel go to worship their God. In time to come the Passover proved to be inadequate. It was sufficient to release them from the slavery under Pharaoh, but inadequate to release people from slavery to sin and death. The continued reality of sin showed that a new Passover, a new sacrifice was required to fulfil the deliverance from the slavery of sin and death.
When the Temple was built at Jerusalem pilgrims came from everywhere to celebrate the Passover on the 14th day of the month of Nisan being the first month of the year. Hosts of families came to offer a sacrifice of a perfect lamb in the Temple. The fat of the lamb was burnt on the altar and its aroma, the perfume of grace filled the house of God and beyond. Each host would take home the carcass of the lamb wrapped in its own skin. There he would BBQ the whole lamb and shares it with family and friends as they remember the grace of God and their deliverance from Egypt.
During this week of Passover preparations Jesus and some followers are staying at Bethany with his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They are there to celebrate God’s grace through Jesus in restoring Lazarus from the grave to life again. They are there also to celebrate God’s grace in the coming Passover a few days away.
What happens at this evening meal is extraordinary. Jesus who is God is with his people as he was with his people, Israel in the land of Egypt. God’s word created freedom for the Israelites from Egypt, it created freedom for Lazarus from the grave and it also creates a new freedom here at Bethany. This evening meal displays and foretells a freedom through the coming Passover meal in which Jesus is the worthy sacrificial lamb. He will be crucified on the cross on Friday, a few days away.
The authorities are seeking to arrest Jesus as they plan to kill him. They fear that more and more people are leaving the Temple to follow him. In the meantime Jesus is staying at Bethany and his hosts respond with gratitude to having a saviour in their midst. Martha quietly serves the meal at the table while Mary opens a costly bottle of perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus.
The perfume was worth a years salary, and Mary gave it freely and willingly to anoint the feet of Jesus. Indeed, there in the room with Jesus is a costly sacrifice. Jesus who is God is this costly sacrifice. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross God will forgive our sins and give us eternal life now and forever. There in the room the aroma of the sacrifice, the perfume of grace has filled the house and covered all that are with Jesus.
Lazarus is sitting at the table with Jesus. He is the reminder of salvation to all those who are anxious and fearful of the coming next few days. His presence reminds and encourages us that God’s power through Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave to life. The same power will raise Jesus from the grave to life, and again the same power will raise us from death to life. Mary’s perfume permeates the house and clings to all in the house. It is a reminder of the costly sacrifice about to happen, the sacrifice of Jesus as the Passover lamb. It is a reminder of how the grace of Jesus will permeate all places and cling to us as a pleasant aroma. Jesus is the perfume of grace.
How will you respond to salvation, to the perfume of grace? People respond in different ways. For example, Lazarus’ life is a silent testimony of how God changed a man. Is your life a testimony of hope to others? Martha, as Martha can be freely and willingly serves Jesus at every opportunity. Do you serve Jesus without complaint? Mary gave herself and gave what she had to please Jesus. We usually give of our excess. Are we willing to give all for Jesus like Mary? Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were able to live that life of peace and graciousness because they have seen, heard, and experienced salvation in their life.
Judas is another sitting at the table with Jesus. He is also covered by the perfume of grace but his response to it can only leave the reader to think, “How can this be possible?” Graciousness and the signs of salvation surround Judas, but he complains. Judas has been with Jesus for quite awhile, he has seen him heal the sick, feed the hungry, raise the dead, and eat with him as a friend. After all this time Judas still does not understand who Jesus is and what he is about. At times we can all behave like Judas too.
The very thing that makes Judas and all of us blind to the graciousness of God is our self centred nature. We want our own way and are stubborn about it. It is difficult through selfishness to consider others, who they are, what they are about, and what they might need.
It is Judas selfishness, seeking to satisfy his own desires that threatens God’s plan to work salvation for all. He complains about Mary and what she is doing. His complaint threatens to make Mary feel guilty and change her actions from anointing Jesus as the coming Passover sacrifice. Without this sacrifice, without this perfume of grace we would have lost our hope for eternal salvation. At times we can behave like Judas and threaten God’s plan to bring about peace and hope to each other.
God will not allow our selfishness to ruin his plans for salvation. Jesus spoke to Judas. He said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial.” The word of God silenced the complainer, and gave Mary permission to continue to anoint his feet. Through this creative word, Jesus established himself as the worthy Passover sacrifice for all times.
Like Judas, despite our complaining, our selfishness we too are covered by the perfume of grace. Let the word of God continue to speak to us again, and again, and again that we may finally hear like Lazarus, Martha and Mary and be changed from death to life now and forever.