SERMON: ‘The house was filled with the fragrance’

SERMON: ‘The house was filled with the fragrance’

A sermon by Nikolaj Christensen for Monday in Holy Week.

Readings: Isaiah 42.1–9 and John 12.1–11.

‘Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany’. He knew the countdown had begun. What better place to spend one of his last days than with his friends in Bethany.

His friends knew it too. Here Jesus had raised Lazarus to life; now Lazarus’ sister anoints Jesus for his death. But it was to be more than just an ordinary death: a death to end all deaths – to strike down, conquer, and crush death. As tender as Jesus had been with his friend Lazarus, so ruthless would he be with Death.

The raising of Lazarus had provoked the priests and scribes into devising a scheme to have Jesus killed. Thus, for raising Lazarus, Jesus had to give his own life. But by giving up his life, he not only gave life to Lazarus but offered life in abundance to all of humanity. We who are afflicted in life are given an infinity of second chances. As the prophet Isaiah wrote:

‘a bruised reed he will not break, 
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; 
he will faithfully bring forth justice. 
He will not grow faint or be crushed 
until he has established justice in the earth’

Christ was crushed in the end – and thereby established justice, condemning death. Through putting our trust in what he has suffered for us, we can be partakers of the mystery of his resurrection into never-ending life.

‘You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ His death was unique, because he himself was unique. When Mary anointed him for his death, this was more worthwhile than any ordinary human pursuit – even our foremost calling of remembering the poor. Rich and poor are equal in death, and only in the death of Christ can either rich or poor find unending life.

John writes that when Mary poured out her oil on Jesus’ feet, ‘The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’ As we spend more time in our houses during this epidemic, my prayer is that our houses too will be filled with this fragrance of Christ.

When we can’t meet together in church, let us instead spend time seeking the peace of God in our homes. On Sundays and on the coming Holy Days of Easter, many of us will worship and even commune with the Lord in our houses – so let us pray that from that holy act of worship the fragrance of Christ may spread out and fill the whole house.

May you experience Christ with you richly this Holy Week. May his sweet fragrance fill your heart. May those of you who are able have the courage to go out and serve your neighbour selflessly as Christ did. And may we all be brought out of our darkness into his kingdom of light.