But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2: 14-16)
Perhaps it’s the smell of donuts and tea, all yeasty and sweet. Or roses: nuanced and subtle, filling the room. Or the smell of baking bread where there should be the stench of burning flesh.
This week’s meditation is an invitation to breathe deep and discover the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ. Of course, the Apostle Paul was only using a metaphor, right? The intellectual colossus of Christianity would have never intended we could actually smell the presence of Jesus, would he?
I was away on a business trip last week. My 8 year-old daughter used my Cheerios Tee as a nightshirt, but not before smelling all the T-shirts in the closet because they reminded her of Daddy. We could never remember Jesus like that. Never? Widows tell of opening a dresser drawer and catching the fragrance of their husband long departed. Our brain recalls the decades past by the faintest whiff of a meal we ate as children. We smell the beach before we see the ocean.
Check the commentaries and you’ll find the musty smell of books and study. The commentators will remind you of Roman processions and temples filled with incense. The learned professors will explain these words were the stuff of Paul’s creative metaphor.
But there is another way: you can check the history of the people of God, common folk who have experienced uncommon things:
John the Apostle had a disciple named Polycarp. In 155 A.D. he was arrested and threatened with fire because he loved John’s Master, Jesus. “You threaten fire which burns for an hour and is soon quenched.” he said. “Why do you wait? Come, do what you will!” When the authorities tied him to a stake and set him ablaze, his skin turned golden brown and witnesses smelled the smell of baking bread. Since the witnesses were not theologians they reported their experience and not a metaphor: the aroma of the bread of life.
But who can trust witnesses dead for 18 centuries? Something like that could never happen today.
That’s what I thought until a gnarly old musician, a 60’s throwback who sang worship songs to Jesus came to our little town. Barely 40 people gathered to hear him sing and minister. Yet when he prayed one-on-one for those who stayed until the end, the room swelled with rose-scent, a bouquet of God’s presence right before my very nose. It happened again the next day as I drove him to the airport. Our car filled with perfume as if an alabaster jar had been broken before me.
Still, it’s hard to believe, I grant you. And who could possibly expect it to happen again:
Until one Sunday morning when two rows of worshipers in our church encountered the smell of donuts and tea while they sang and raised their hands, each one sure they were the only ones until one looked at another and said, “This is weird, but do you smell tea?”
Of course, the commentators are right: Paul's words are allusions to the practices of the day. He was merely drawing on the common understanding of his times. But what if Paul also wrote his experiences down? What if there is also a spiritual reality long lost, and the Spirit is trying to whet our appetite for his presence again today?
How about you? Do you have a story to tell? Has his fragrance ever settled on you?