Holy Week

The Fragrance of the Perfume

Monday of Holy Week Year A   John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

(John 12:1-3)

There are moments in all our lives that we associate with fragrance. It might be the warming scent of cinnamon erupting from baking cookies, or the antiseptic aroma of attempts to keep a sick room clean or even the sad smell of a dead skunk in the road, each fragrance touching our minds and activating our memories.

In seminary I wrote a paper about Mark's version of this story, the unnamed woman who anoints the head of Christ, not the feet. I wrote about the alabaster jar and considered who the woman might have been and where the jar might have come from. I remember the faintly musty smell of the room I had that semester, in a corner of an unattractive, '60s-era dormitory. I remember the whiff of popcorn in the air, wafting through the halls, calling us to gather in the lounge and watch "The West Wing" on Wednesday night.

In all the years I spent going to seminary, it was the only year I made friends, chatting during the commercials, getting to know the students who lived there year round and the others who, like me, drove in from some far city or town to spend one night per week in the dorm, clustering our classes around it. We were Episcopal and Unitarian Universalist, Baptist and UCC, even one Disciple. We celebrated triumphs and deconstructed lectures and evaluated professors.

Did anyone else take as long to finish as I did?

I see them now, a middle-aged women giving herself a cap highlight while another cooked ramen like a teenager, the night a potpourri of popcorn, peroxide and pork broth.

There must have come a day when Mary smelled something that reminded her of the perfume, something that brought the scene before her mind's eye, the night she poured out her love for Jesus.