Consider the sounds of this week. Betrayals, denials, false accusations. Shouts of hatred, sneers of mockery. Words of forgiveness too, amid the crack of whips, the hammering of nails into wood, the groans and cries of the condemned, the weeping of the women.
But think too of the smells of this week. The smells are important. There would have been the smells of sweat and blood and of a city’s refuse. But there are smells at the beginning and at the end of the week, smells of overwhelming beauty. It was at Bethany, at the beginning of the week, that Mary, the sister of Martha, poured out a pint of pure oil of nard over Jesus’ feet, and the perfume filled the whole house. At the end of the week, as Jesus is laid in the tomb, his body is embalmed with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, and wrapped in linen cloths.
The myrrh harks back to the story of the Magi. Their gift foretold this moment. It is said that of all the senses, smell has the greatest power to evoke emotions and memories. The route from nose to brain is very short and direct. These smells, of nard and myrrh and aloes, communicate with us on a very deep, primal level something of beauty and peace and love, of things which transcend the worst which humans can do. They speak to us of the essential nature of God, which is truth and peace and beauty and love, for these and all good things have their origin in God. The fragrance of truth and peace and beauty and love are God’s gift to us. They overcome the stinks of blood and sweat; they will remain when even the bitterest words of hate and betrayal and wrong have faded; they will outlast the horror of cross and nails and linger beyond even the memory of deepest pain. Truth and peace and beauty and love are what we have to hold onto, as Christ lies in his tomb, and we await the glory of Easter Morning.