*This post was originally published on Our Words Collaborative, which is “a tribe of writers who collectively share the way God moves in their lives.”
Have you ever walked into a room and been greeted by a certain smell? It was a clue that said to you, “Something just happened here.”
Maybe you remember strolling into your dorm at the end of the day and noticing a wretched fume in the air. It suggested, “Someone just burned popcorn here.” Or perhaps you recall going to a Dave Matthews Band concert years ago, and thinking, “Wow, someone just smoked weed here.” If you have small children, then you’ve certainly entered a room and learned, “Someone just pooped their pants while playing in here.” I’m the mother of three children, so my nose has been privy to this incidence quite frequently over the years. That poop tang is like an unwelcomed loiterer, dilly-dallying in the threshold long after the diaper has been changed and taken out to the trash.
Smells serve as evidence. They are tangible remnants of what just occurred. They incite the olfactory system of the brain, conjuring up parts of our lives and their companion emotions. And smells linger. They dance in the air after the party is over, and unfortunately, sometimes they out-stay their welcome.
Mary and Martha, from the village of Bethany, were two women who knew a thing, or two, about smells. Mary was acquainted with the fragrant; she was known for pouring fine perfume on Jesus’ feet, wetting them with her tears, and wiping them with her hair. In contrast, Martha was aware of the foul; after their brother Lazarus died, it was Martha who came to the place of acceptance in her grief. The reality that he had passed engulfed her, and with it, the certainty of a sordid smell.
We see this in John 11, when the sisters are standing at Lazarus’ grave with Jesus. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39, NASB).
Can you imagine? These two sisters just laid their sick brother to rest. They had moments of frantic frustration, wondering why Jesus hadn’t come sooner, followed by solemn sadness, weeping at his burial site with their loving Savior. And here we find them, standing with Jesus outside of Lazarus’ grave, ready to roll the stone away, bracing themselves for that intolerable stench.
What an awful feeling of anticipation, assuming that your nose would act as a coroner confirming death. And yet, Jesus reassures the sisters that if they believe, they will see the glory of God. As the story goes, He looks up, speaks to His Father, calls out to Lazarus, and Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Alive.
Notice that there is no mention of any lingering smell. No nauseating odor that made the ladies recoil. No remnant, no evidence, no memory of death. Lazarus is alive, and contrary to what the sisters expected, there’s not even a stench.
I find so much hope here. I believe in Christ’s resurrecting power, and I believe He conquered death, once and for all, giving us the opportunity to be with God forever. And as I inhale the truth of this story’s smells, or lack thereof, I am filled with the confidence that He truly is the Resurrection and the Life. And at the same time, He came to overcome the areas of our lives that reek of death.
So that there’s not even a stench.
And that’s been my prayer so far this year: “God, not even a stench.”
Lord, take the mistakes that I have, and inevitably will, knit as a parent and patch them up. Grow and nurture my kids, and leave no sign of my deficiencies. Not even a stench.
God, take those rough spots within my marriage. Take those lulls, disappointments, and missed opportunities for connection, and unite us. Fan any sour odor completely away until there’s not even a stench.
Father, take what’s dead within me, prune it, and remove it. Take the foul in my life and bring your fragrance. Yes, Father, I’m asking for not even a stench.
I pray these things knowing that God can and will do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And when He does, it will say to the world, “Something just happened here.”