Sweet Scent

Every year I haunted the garden centres in Caracas looking for one special flower. It appeared only sporadically. The florists called it “nardo,” which would be translated “nard” or “spikenard” in English. The buds had a slight pinkish tone but the flowers, once opened, were pure white. I would take the bunch home, put it in a vase and wait.

It never took long for the scent to invade every nook and cranny of the apartment. It is the most beautiful, and powerful, scent I have ever had the opportunity to enjoy.

Spikenard originates in the Himalayas, and from it was made the rare and highly prized perfumes of the East. It is part of the Honeysuckle family of which my Venezuelan nard is a branch. When I was growing up we had a Honeysuckle bush outside our back door. The scent in the Spring when the tree was flowering was delicious.

It was the spikenard of the East that is described in Mark 14:3 and John 12:3 as being poured out on Jesus. This event was included in our pastor’s sermon last Sunday when he spoke about Mary anointing Christ as he sat at dinner during the days before His death. She poured out a jar of nard that was the equivalent of a man’s wages for a full year—a tremendous sacrifice and certainly the most valuable thing she owned. John notes: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Jesus commended her for her act of worship and service. When others criticized the “waste” He told them to, “Leave her alone” (vs. 7). Mary had sat at Jesus’ feet. She had heard Him speak of His death and resurrection. She, perhaps more than anyone else, understood what was soon to come, and rather than use the nard to soak His burial clothes, she chose to give Him the gift beforehand. I like to think that even on the cross the scent lingered on Him even above all the other smells, as it would have after the resurrection and His escape from the grave clothes. The account in Mark 14 says: “She has done a beautiful thing to me…she did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (vss. 6-9).

This whole subject of scent was part of my reading this morning. In Exodus 30, God gives Moses instructions on how the incense and anointing oils are to be prepared and used as part of the worship in the Tabernacle. These were to be sacred, holy to the Lord (30:33, 37, 38). The incense was to be burnt morning and evening (Exodus 30:7, 8). The scent would have lingered throughout the day and night, mingling with the smell of the sacrifices.

To Jesus, Mary’s act was one of worship, an act as holy as that which the priests would perform in the Tabernacle when they used the oils and incense that Moses describes.

Death doesn’t smell good, and we’d like to avoid it. But its reality only makes us appreciate more the lesson of the perfume. It reminds us that death is not the end of the story, that the sweet scent of resurrection, like Spring, is coming.

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