“Her love was like lavender, delicate and melancholy.” Laura Chouette, The Painting of Mrs. Ravensbrook
In the deep of winter, I bought a bottle of herbs de Provence. While I do cook with it, my primary intention was to sniff the stuff. Lavender, basil, fennel, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme. It’s pretty much summer in a bottle.
This came to mind a couple of days ago when I heard a minister speaking about a rather unusual New Testament scene. One that only slightly precedes the unfolding horror and ecstasy of Holy Week.
You may have read it in John 12. It’s that almost surreal evening when Mary (part of the sibling trio who frequently hosted Jesus and the Apostles in their home) breaks open a container of extravagantly expensive perfume. She uses it to anoint Jesus’s feet. Which she then wipes dry with her hair.
Judas, the apostle who is both traitor and thief, complains. Not about the cultural unacceptability and intimacy of touch. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor, he says.
As the fragrance fills the house — a house where Jesus has recently resurrected Mary’s brother from death so gripping he stank with it — Jesus has an unusual reply. Mary is pre-anointing Me for burial, Jesus says, suggesting her extraordinary act is directly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In English, the perfume is called “nard” or “spikenard.” This suggests lavender oil. Whether or not this is historically accurate, it is the scent that I imagine when I read this passage. Clean, spicy, comforting. The kind of scent one wants on bed linens and sleepwear.
Such a fragrance must have been welcome. These final days before the crucifixion are tense. The gospel of John especially conveys the anxiety, the confusion. There’s been the stench of death. The scent of fear. The scent of impending panic.
Yet, in the midst of all of this spiritual winter arrives the very smell of life. And, it fills the house. Could this not be compared to the incense that burns in heaven’s throne room, a fragrance composed of believers’ prayers?
The scent of faith. A whiff of devotion and love and a longing for forever.
It made sense to Jesus then. It makes sense now, in another time of deep anxiety and confusion. Let us pour out our joys, thoughts and fears. And may the fragrance of faith fill not only our house but heaven’s throne room.