I’ve been thinking about smell, the sense of smell, and how we often remember things when we smell certain things. We moved earlier this year and we now have this old, detached garage and when I go in there, I always think about my grandparents’ garage because it smells the same. It is a pleasant smell or scent--no, it’s definitely a smell: old dust and the lingering odor of motor oil and old wood. My grandfather’s wood shop was completely separate and it smelled of sawdust, and I love that smell, too. That family line had carpenters so maybe that is a genetic trait: loving the smell of wood freshly planed.
So, smells make me think of the stories we’ve been hearing the last several weeks. Scents and smells would have been familiar to the people Aaron from Chaplains on the Harbor called Jesus’ broke-ass friends the other day. The stories leading up to that were very much about overwhelming odors or scents. Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus with luxurious nard--a very strong scent--a pleasant scent. And she didn’t use a puny amount like the bishop did with the chrism the other day when he anointed Levi. She poured out a whole jar of it just on Jesus’ feet. “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” It was excessive. It was abundant. And pricey--someone in Jesus’ group wasn’t broke-ass!
Then, we heard the story of how much spice was used to quickly prepare Jesus’ body for burial: 100 pounds of spices! Now when we go to the store and buy spices, we might be purchasing 1 and a half or 2 ounces of spice--and we pay a premium for it! 100 pounds! Again, maybe excessive--Jesus probably weighed, at the most 150 pounds, as the Semitic peoples don’t tend to be tall or large so 100 pounds of spices is a lot! Again, the guys Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were not some of Jesus’ broke-ass friends. So, I would like you to think about 100 pounds of spice closed up in a tomb for about 24 hours and what that might have smelled like when it was opened again.
And think about this: Jesus was crucified on the Friday and the Sabbath (shaboth) began at sundown that evening. And the women who had followed Jesus knew it was their duty to prepare the body for burial. They knew he had been laid in the tomb because they had stood near the cross and observed it all. The smell of the sweat and tears and probably worse. The smell of blood and sour wine. And they knew where Jesus’ body was placed--in a hurry to beat the sunset.
And this wasn’t the regular Friday evening; this was Passover--where families would gather, leaving a place for Elijah, and the youngest child would ask the father questions about the great escape from the land of Egypt, the land of slavery. The smell of cooked lamb, hyssop, salty water, unleavened bread, and wine.
And the whole time, during this Passover Sabbath, the women are thinking about the body of Jesus. The teacher who had transformed their lives had died this horrible death. They had to be thinking of how much they wanted to be able to wash those wounds from the scourging, properly care for the body of this man who meant so much to them.
And there was the horror of what that would mean: to touch the body that was so ill-treated, beaten until bloody, skinned knees from falling in the street under the weight of the cross, the cuts from the crown of thorns, the piercings from being nailed to the cross and the wound in his side. I don’t know how they were able to spend this time with family, friends and set aside this thought that would have invaded everything they were doing until sundown on Saturday. They made their plans to leave at dawn and go to the tomb even though they weren’t sure if they would even be able to get inside to do the work they needed to do.
In today’s gospel, it is only Mary Magdalene who approaches the tomb. The story tells us she arrived when it was still dark. She was startled to find the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb and the tomb was empty! All those spice odors wafting out of the opening! In John’s account, she immediately goes to find Simon Peter and another disciple and tells them the tomb is empty. Like when the police take away a beloved’s body and tell you they will get back to you eventually, Mary didn’t know what else to do. Let the men sort it out, I guess.
Peter and the other man RUN to the tomb! Peter must have been older because he can’t keep up. This other disciple stops at the opening of the tomb and Peter catches up and goes right into the tomb. The smell of spices must have been overwhelming!
Imagine standing at the opening of the empty tomb: perhaps the sun was just beginning to rise and the light inside of the tomb was about the same as the light outside. They expected that Mary didn’t know what she was talking about--Jesus was dead--where could his body be? It had to be in the tomb! Where had it been taken? And there are the linen wrappings neatly folded on the ledge where the body should have been. Remember, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, he had to be unwrapped by others. And, the smell of fresh spices just as expected! These men were filled with grief and probably fear for their own safety and now the MAN had Jesus’ body!
In the story, we are told the other disciple stepped inside the tomb and faith took hold of him and he believed that God had done a wonderful thing. He may not have known exactly what–but he believed. The two men left and Mary began her vigil at the tomb.
She was weeping and she bent down to look into the tomb. Two angels were sitting at opposite ends of the body ledge and they said, “Woman, why are you weeping?” I don’t know about you but I definitely, at this point, would have thought I was hallucinating. Mary told them her master had been taken away and she didn’t know where. She stood upright and turned around--I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if I would have trusted turning my back on a couple of angels-just sayin’.
And, the story just gets well, weirder. A man is standing there and he asks her why she is weeping and who she is looking for. She asks him if he took the body away--that she would come get it if he had. The man spoke her name, “Mary-or likely, Miriam,” and she recognizes him as Jesus. Apparently her first reaction was to reach out and touch him in her joy but he asks her not to touch him. He sends her to his broke-ass fam to tell them, “I am ascending to my father and your father and to my God and your God.” So, she tells the disciples she had seen Jesus--I don’t know if she mentioned those crazy-ass angels or not.
All those men and women who followed Jesus were transformed by this experience of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. I can’t explain it--I just know the guy who found his faith, his belief when he stepped into that empty tomb was probably the only one to believe that quickly that something phenomenal had happened. God had moved and nothing would stand in the way--not even a brutal death.
These were the broke-ass folks who hung with Jesus and they became leaders who told others about their experiences with the man --his life, his death and his resurrection. Today’s followers of Jesus are like that beloved disciple: he saw an empty tomb and believed. Except we have not seen the empty tomb and yet we believe--we have not seen the risen Christ and yet we believe. We believe that broke-ass folks are where Jesus would hang out if he were here today and we want to hang out there, too. Of course, most of us have no choice about being broke-ass.
I believe this: there were angels in the tomb, the linen wrappings were folded and left behind, the tomb smelled of spices, Jesus suffered and died and rose again. I can be part of God’s kingdom here and now, especially when I hang out with broke-ass folks. I can smell the spices for the dead and I can see the risen Christ. Allelujah, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again! Allelujah!