Perfuming the House
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him, and Lazarus was one of those at table. 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 (NRSV)
Lazarus was in the grave four days before Jesus raised him. When he came out, no doubt he reeked of death. When his sisters took him home, the stench filled the house. It took weeks to dissipate.
That sharp hit of sour vinegar—was it still in the house when Mary thought about the nard? Still clinging to the curtains when she bought it? Still making them queasy when Jesus came to dine? Who sat next to Lazarus? Was he still pungent when she pried the lid off the jar?
Death is so stubborn. It clings and clings. If that perfume overpowered it, if its sweetness filled the house from rafters to floor, it was a momentary stay. Death was biding its time. In a week, it would be Jesus in the grave. It was a holding action, Mary’s nard. It soothed Jesus, it made things better, but not forever or for everyone. Mary knew it.
But until the resurrection fully flowers with the sweetness that lasts, you fight death’s stench. You spend what you need to, sacrifice what you have to, let down your hair. Body to body, you love.
Even if it sweetens the human house for just a little while, you pry the lid off the jar. You empty it.
O for the day when life is the only scent we smell! In the meantime, may we pour out love to beat back death, if only for a while.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.