SENSE-ING THE CROSS – JESUS SMELLS!
February 25, 2018 2nd Sunday in Lent
What has been the most kind, generous, thoughtful, appreciative–perhaps even sacrificial–thing that someone has done for you recently…an unexpected gesture or gift that truly lifted your spirits when you needed a boost?
Sunday morning, October 15, 2017, was a Sunday like most any other here at Vision of Hope. It had been a particularly exhausting week for me personally–a lot of tough pastoral care issues to deal with. I led the 9 am service, then raced over to the worship center in usual breakneck fashion to rehearse with the Praise Team for the 10:30 am service.
It was there that John Evans and Joe Ruoto greeted me with a jawdropping surprise! They handed me a red Gibson SG Standard electric guitar, and told me it was mine!
Ever since I began playing guitar in the 6th grade, a Gibson SG has been my dream guitar. But life happens, and it was an extravagant want I could never afford when we had other pressing needs as a family. Joe had purchased a classic used model, and John took on the tedious task of rebuilding it with new pickups, tuning gears—they even had my name inscribed on the fretboard!
But that was not all--they had arranged that day for all my rowdy friends to show up–Jimmy Overton, John Douglas, Tom Pack, along with my son Tyler. A catered lunch was served by Cindy Grimes and Mackenzie Grimes after worship, and then we all commenced with an hours-long band jam that was probably heard in downtown McGaheysville! I was simply blown away! It was one of the most special days I’ve ever had in my life!
Now quite often, after a long, soul-sapping day…perhaps a day when I’m feeling somewhat down and a bit forsaken…I’ll close the door to my home office…turn on the amp, crank up that SG…rock a few tunes…and most of all…I’ll remember…I’ll remember that special Sunday when two dear friends along with a host of others thought enough of me to surprise me with a tremendous gift. The guitar, but moreso their encouraging friendship, has meant so much to me!
What has been the most kind, generous, thoughtful, appreciative–perhaps even sacrificial–thing that someone has done for you…an unexpected gesture or gift that truly lifted your spirits when you needed a boost?
What might have been the most kind, generous, thoughtful, appreciative–perhaps even sacrificial–thing that someone did for Jesus…an unexpected gesture or gift that truly lifted his spirits during his darkest hours?
Over these Sundays of Lent, we are seeking to grasp a deeper, transformative understanding of what the passion of Jesus is all about – what Jesus in his humanity senses on his journey to and on the Cross – what he feels, what he sees, what he hears, what he tastes and, yes, today, what he smells.
It all begins when…
LIGHT BREAKS THRU ON A DARKENING DAY
Yes, it’s Friday. And it’s anything but good. Jesus hangs in unfathomable suffering upon a crude cross, every labored breath an exercise in torture as his impaled body pushes against bone-splitting spikes to grasp a fleeting inhalation of air.
His nostrils recoil at the nauseating stench surrounding him. For you see, Golgatha is not some glorified Mt. Olympus or majestic Massanutten Peak. It is a slightly-elevated limestone outcropping in the middle of city’s garbage dump.
All around lay the rotting remains of animal sacrifices from the Temple, mingled with other refuse discarded by the community. It is a nasty place, swarming with flies, roaming with wild dogs, reeling with rats, reeking of decay and death. It is in this inhospitable, heinous hellhole that our Lord is dying a most inhumane death.
As the mid-morning fog is dissipated by the scorching noon-day sun beating down, Jesus is startled from his stupor of pain. Dripping beads of sweat and blood are channeling a sweet, surprising fragrance from Jesus’ mangled, matted hair down across his face. It is the faint yet perceptible aroma of perfume. And Jesus is heartened as he recalls the origin of the scent:
It was only a few short days ago, and yet, it seems like an eternity…
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” – Matthew 26:6-13
REMEMBRANCE REINFORCES RESOLVE
Yes, Jesus recalls that surprising moment of kindness afforded to him. He was enjoying a brief respite before the Holy Week of hostility was to break loose. It was a dark, foreboding time for him as he saw the storm clouds of crucifixion brewing just over the hill from Bethany.
This humble woman, a friend of Simon the Leper, a woman devoted to Jesus’ life-transforming teaching and redeemed by his grace, brought out her most priceless possession – an alabaster container of perfumed ointment. She generously poured out the spiced fragrance over his head, saturating his hair, filling the room with the smell of sweet spices. The ointment was worth at least one year’s wages, a treasured commodity that she had been saving, perhaps as an heirloom from her mother.
With faith-filled respect, she had drenched Jesus in that perfume out of the joy of her heart and the gratitude of her soul. She had emptied the entire flask upon his head. And Jesus was very much moved by her extravagant act of sacrificial kindness.
In contrast to his disciple’s petty and critical grievances, he commended the lady, telling her that she was in essence preparing him for his impending death.
And now, as Jesus hangs upon the cross, dying for the sins of all humanity, he remembers the gift of the one–this dear woman who offered her most prized possession, anointing his head with her flask of perfume.
Jesus smells the sweet, spiced fragrance dripping down over his eyelids and cheeks and over his beard from his matted, mangled hair. And the remembrance of this one simple act of kindness reinforces resolve. When all around him there at Golgatha is consumed with the forsaken stench of hatred and hurt and decay and darkness and death, Jesus catches a glimmer of light not with his eyes but with his nose. It is the fragrance of kindness. Kindness shown by a dear, humble woman. And the recollection reminds him that humanity is indeed worth the cost of redemption, that God’s plan for saving the world is a sacrifice worth dying for.
Jesus will find the inner strength to forgive and to offer his life for the world, even those who have vilified and crucified him. The remembrance of that sacrificial act of kindness will reinforce his resolve to endure and persevere in the work of salvation on that Friday on that cross on a hill far away from our time and place today.
Thankfully, there are still extravagant acts of sacrificial kindness being poured out today.
In the midst of all the pain and rage and politics surrounding the murder of 17 teens and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, this incident of caring was revealed:
Jordana Judson, 23 years old, was working in New York City when she heard the news that a close family friend, Meadow Pollack, had been killed in the shooting at Jordana’s former high school.
Jordana raced to LaGuardia Airport, and ran to the ticket counter, seeking to find a flight home. When she discovered the cost of air fare was $700, she broke down in tears, sobbing over the phone to her mom that she just didn’t have the money for the trip.
Meanwhile, two NY state troopers patrolling the airport had overheard her conversation about the shooting with her mother and saw her convulsing in tears. They looked at one another, and without a word Robert Troy and Thomas Karasinski approached the ticket counter, pulled out their credit cards, and purchased the plane ticket for Jordana.
Jordana collapsed when they presented her the ticket. “You don’t have to do that…I can’t let you do this!”
To which they responded, “It’s done. Go be with your family!”
Judson, who works in public relations in New York, said she could barely fathom their generosity and didn’t know what to say. She gave them both a hug, thanking them profusely.
Jordana made it home in time for Meadow’s memorial service. Though the girls were five years apart in age, Meadow was the best friend of Jordana’s younger brother. Her dad had been like a father to Jordana’s family when their own father died of cancer.
The memorial service for Meadow Pollack was a time of intense grief for all gathered there last week. Near the end of the service, the rabbi invited Jordana Judson to tell her story about the gracious gift the NY state troopers had given to her earlier that day.
“What those officers did provided great comfort in the moment. It made my heart full,” Judson said. “It was just a selfless act of humanity. We need to see more of that to balance out all the bad in the world.”
[Allison Klein, Washington Post, February 21, 2018]
Indeed we do, my friends. Indeed we do.
Each and every day we have opportunity to anoint someone with the fragrant oil of kindness. We are compelled to pour out our lives for Christ in extravagant acts of sacrificial love.
Just as the remembrance of the kindness of a dear woman centuries ago reinforced Jesus’ resolve to endure the cross, could your next act of kindness be the inspiration for someone to hang on, to push thru, to step up or step forward in their particular struggle?
That is certainly something to ponder….