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The scent of salvation

The power of smell in our memories and in the Passion of Christ.

My father had a green thumb. It seemed whatever he planted flourished – vegetables, fruits, flowers, shrubs and houseplants. He loved all things horticultural. Our dining room looked like a greenhouse. I recall tables full of various plants, a huge rubber tree in one corner, a thriving schefflera in another, and the wide sills of the two southern windows jammed with numerous cacti. They were his pride and joy. My mother chided him for the snags they made in her delicate sheers. But she finally relented and tied back the curtains so the prickly plants could take over. They rewarded us with prolific blooms.

At the first sign of a flower, Pa would move a cactus onto a table so it had lots of space. We watched eagerly as the stem extended and the bud developed. Each flower only opened fully for 24 hours and then the show was over. Their gentle fragrance filled our small home, especially when multiple cacti bloomed at once.

Helen Keller said, “Scent is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” So true. I have only to close my eyes and with a deep breath I smell that lily-like perfume wafting through the house. Suddenly I’m seven years old again.

It’s a scent that permeates my imagination every time I read of Mary anointing Jesus at Bethany. In Grade Two I first heard the story of this dear woman breaking open her alabaster flask of expensive nard and pouring its contents onto Jesus. The teacher told us the jar, once opened, could not be resealed. It was all or nothing. That’s how it should be when you love the Lord.

Judas criticized her extravagance, pretending he would have sold it and used the money to help the poor. But Jesus once again defended Mary’s choice. She would be remembered for all time, he said, for the beautiful thing she had done for him. The fragrance filled the house. Surely it smelled like cactus flowers.

The aroma of God

I picture the ointment soaking into his hair, glistening on his skin. I wonder – did the scent pervade his fervent prayers in Gethsemane’s garden? Did the aroma cling to him – mingling with the blood, sweat and tears of the hours that followed? Would it serve as an indelible reminder of those he loved so dearly – those for whom he would soon suffer a criminal’s death?

Was there a subtle but undeniable hint of it lingering in the empty tomb as the women peered into the dim cavern wondering where their beloved Jesus had gone?

Even now – does the memory of it come to mind as he sits at the Father’s right hand interceding for his own, waiting as we are, for the day of his return?

For the love of Jesus, Mary gave a fragrant offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Her actions were right and good, and graciously accepted. He was anointed for burial, but destined for resurrection.

In a season of spring flowers and new life we have great cause to celebrate. “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2: 14-16).

Think of that when you smell an Easter lily this year. Breathe deeply!


  • Heidi VanderSlikke

    Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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