Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” John 11:39
Death stinks. Spouses, children, families, and congregations all understand. Literally and figuratively, death stinks. Sometimes death comes after a long, slow march that has been anticipated for a prolonged period of time. In other cases, death comes so unexpectedly to shock so many of its cruelty and its power. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that whether death comes quickly or is a long time in coming, it still hurts for those who mourn. Tears are shed and hearts are heavy even for Christians at the death of a loved one. When Jesus meets Martha at Lazarus’ tomb, He weeps. Martha tries to stop Jesus from having the men roll back the stone because death stinks. Neither foul stench, nor burial cloths could prevent Jesus from demonstrating His mastery over the enemy of death. Lazarus, come out!
As the pastor traces the ashen cross on the foreheads of the saints, he says the cruel words, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Those words should pierce hearts and remind us of our own mortality, the result of our own sinfulness. The words are a reminder of the death sentence under which we all live. One day it will be our own death, and, like Lazarus, it will stink for our loved ones who will grieve our death. On this Ash Wednesday, after a particularly harsh few months, the brutal reality of death lingers and though we try to brush it away, we cannot help but be reminded that death stinks.
However, even on Ash Wednesday, we are comforted in knowing that we have a new identity in Christ, and it is sweet-smelling rather than a foul stench. St. Paul writes, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved.” (1 Cor 2:15) When we were baptized into Christ, we put on the robe of righteousness and the garment of salvation (Isaiah 61:10), so also those who are being saved are transformed from a foul stench of sin to the aroma of Christ. The odor of our sin has not just been covered over like a sweaty teenager who sprays on an excessive amount of cologne. The fragrance of life has replaced the fragrance of death so that we are the aroma of Christ.
What we have to look forward to in the resurrection is the sweet-smelling aroma of Christ and those who bear Christ’s name. All of the foul odors of sin and death will be cast away and not present in the new heavens and the earth. Like a garden in all its bloom will be the smell of those who have gathered around Christ. The Scriptures describe the resurrection on the last day with language that appeals to our senses of sight and hearing, but even helps to wait with anticipation for the sweet-smelling aroma of Christ in eternity, when all of the stench of death has been removed.
Death stinks, but far greater is the sweet smell of life in Christ that we enjoy for all eternity!
Prayer - Let us pray…Merciful God, You call us to turn from sin, turn to You, and live. Help us to recognize our sin for what it is, confess it to You, and then receive the forgiveness of our sins accomplished by our Lord Jesus on the cross; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan