Arrest My Senses, Continued

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Follow me a bit further, if you will, down the road I started in my previous post about the woman who anointed Jesus on that Wednesday evening of that first Easter week. Mark writes, “While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.” (Mk 14:3) John tells us she used about one pound of this “nard.”

First, some context: What is nard? Nard is an oil-based perfume that is extracted from spikenard, a flower that grows in the Himalayas of China, and also in the northern regions of India and Nepal. In Jesus’ day, it carried both medicinal and hygienic value. As a perfume, it was intensely aromatic and of a thick consistency, sort of like honey, only oily instead of sticky.

In our convenient world of electrical sockets and running water, we take for granted our ability to take a shower when we stink. This wasn’t available in Jesus’ day, so people often masked their offensive body odors with oils. This is where you get references in scripture that talk about men putting oil on their heads. (Mt 6:17, Lk 7:46) It was a customary sign of hospitality to offer perfumed oils to guests in your home, like we might offer someone a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

With this context before us, let me invite you to imagine the results of this woman’s actions after the dinner was over. What happens when a woman pours a pound of thick, richly aromatic oil-based perfume on the head of a man who doesn’t shower every morning? He takes that scent with him when he leaves. It coats his hair. It eventually trickles down his neck and onto his back and chest. It gets in his pores. At rest, he is a walking diffuser. When he scratches his neck, the scent is agitated and released into the air like a scratch-&-sniff sticker.

So what if…

What if the scent that filled the room at Simon the Leper’s house also filled the Upper Room the next night? Can you think of a reason it wouldn’t have? I can’t. What if, as Jesus wound through the narrow city streets of Jerusalem, the scent of that perfume lingered mysteriously in the air like a spirit after He had disappeared from sight?

And what if, after His arrest, as He was stripped down for the cat of nine tails, the scent of this Himalayan flower was released into the air with every blow, filling the courtyard with an aroma that made everyone ask themselves, “What is that fragrance? Is that nard?”

And what if the scent followed the cross to Golgotha along the Via Dolorosa? What if as Jesus hung on the cross dying, every time He pushed Himself up for a breath, the nard came to life again? That would have to be one very expensive application of one very intensely aromatic perfume. Even a year’s wage worth.

Imagine that as the Man of Sorrows died on that hill outside Jerusalem, surrounded by Roman soldiers, confused disciples, grieving friends and self-righteous men whose entire lives were one big exercise in missing the point, imagine that the scent of extravagant opulence hung in the air.

It would be just like God to do this. Why? Because the cross is the most extravagant example of opulence ever offered, and because the scent of the opulence of His gift of life still hangs in the air today. Where? In His people. Paul puts it this way.

“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 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Easter is more than a story. It is a present reality. My Redeemer lives. And He calls me to a new life, not only in the world to come, but even now.

May we never forget what the opulence of God makes of us.

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


18 Comments

  1. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Oh man. Oh, man, I love this post. That idea of the perfume being released even as Jesus was being scourged is just an amazing thing to think about. The sweet savor filling the air, and Jesus’ persecutors refusing to smell it…

  2. Chris Yokel

    My family uses modern day therapeutic “essential” oils that have both medicinal and aromatic value, so I can totally appreciate this idea. If I am wearing some, the scent will linger throughout the day, and I’m sure if anyone comes next to me they will catch a whiff of the scent. I am appreciating more and more how God did not just give us a bare utilitarian accounting of things, but every details seems to reveal meaning and significance with time.

  3. Jess

    Gasp. This is… beyond words. I never, ever thought of it that way. It reminds me of this verse:
    Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
    Just the thought of the perfume’s aroma following him all through his suffering makes me need to cry, for the beauty and sorrow and redemption of that picture.

  4. Paula Shaw

    I got this picture while in Colorado probably 18 years ago. I’ve always loved it. Hope you like it, too. I hope it came through. . .
    🙂
    /Users/Paula/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Originals/2011/Apr 21, 2011/Scan.jpeg

  5. Alyssa

    I had to get up from my computer halfway through this before coming back to finish it. I couldn’t bear all the beauty of it in one sitting. Whew.

  6. Loren

    I heard about this for the first time about a year ago in a study I did; the funny thing is I just commented about it on Jonathan Roger’s blog today. Then I came over here and read this and got blown away all over again. This is so much richer than what I first heard/read ages ago. Thank you for this incredible image!

  7. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Thank you Russ – I’m so grateful for your Easter meditations.

    I heard a teaching not long ago that suggested that it may be possible – if this woman was a harlot – that the perfume may have been a tool of her trade, or perhaps even an extravagant gift from a lover or employer, or at any rate a prized item closely identified with her less than desirable profession.

    Do you think there’s any merit to this speculation?

    I feel like if there is, it makes the offering even more meaningful and beautiful in its way, and what makes your image here even more potent.

  8. Darlene

    This is very thoughtful and touching.
    I have always dreamed of wiping Jesus’ feet with my hair.
    Can you get oil of spikenard anywhere today? Does it go by the same name?
    Thank you Jesus. Happy Easter.

  9. Paula Shaw

    Darlene, yes, there is a place you can get spikenard. Several years ago, I did a little research on it. I used to rise at 5:00am every morning and pray with a friend for a healing she desperately wanted and needed. I sent off and got spikenard oil, had it blessed by our bishop, and anointed her (cross on forehead) and prayed every day for over a year. Here’s the place:

    Dandelion Botanical Company on N. 34th Street in Seattle, Wa. I don’t have the area code but the local number is: 545-8892.

    I’m not really sure if they are even still in business, but you can google them, I’m sure. The spikenard is very “odiferous” to say the least.
    Hope you find some.
    🙂

  10. SecondJon

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate your fresh perspective. Add me to the list of those who hadn’t thought of this before.

    It makes me wonder about the guards hesitating to arrest him.

  11. Lorrie Barker

    Eph. 5:1-2: “Therefore be followers of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

    So, Christ has given Himself for the saints, as an offering and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling aroma.

  12. GeraDessiel Simon

    Sweet aroma of mercy-grace-blessing be abundantly multiplied unto you all!
    We are spreading the aroma-fragrance of abundant etenalife in our personal experiences with our Lord & our God,Christ Jesus through HIS Holy Ghost,The Holy LOVE-Charity SPIRIT!Wonderful! I thank my GOD & Father for you.My Charity-Love be with you all in Christ-our Contact-Connector!

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