As my pastor mounted the steps to the pulpit to preach about Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume (Jn 12:1-8), he paused to light several sticks of incense. As he spoke, the smell from those few lit sticks wafted throughout the sanctuary. Together we imagined how the smell of Mary’s perfume must have filled that small house, before carrying its aroma into the street, much like the incense that was then filling our large sanctuary. By the time we sang the doxology, I felt engulfed in the scent and my forehead tingled with its pressure.
In today’s text, God shows Godself to be fragrant light in opaque darkness. Abram has recently awoken from his terrible dream. The air is cooling, night closes in around him. If birds of prey came for the sacrifices during daylight, what might come for them now? Amidst these fears, God, symbolized by a flaming torch and what I imagine to be a smoking incense holder, journeys the path between the halves of the animals. By doing this, God is helping Abram form a powerful memory. Abram can now associate sight, smell, and ritual with their covenant.
When we incorporate these elements into our worship, whether our devotion is personal or corporate, we can remind ourselves of this same assurance God gave to Abram: God is with us and will keep God’s promises. We will know God by God’s light and scent.
If you have a scented candle, light it as you consider today’s passage and these questions.
What smells do you associate with a profound moment or memory in your life? What scents immediately reassure you? What aromas might you associate with worship?
In a world full of smoke and mirrors, thank you, God, for being the smoke and fire, the scent and light that leads us through the darkness of fear and uncertainty. Amen