Word for the Way: Aroma of the Cross

oil

“it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20

A few weeks ago my wife and I had our son baptized. The baptismal rite concludes with something called the signation. Taking scented oil the Bishop marked a cross on our son’s forehead. Like any good artist God signed his name to him. “You are God’s handiwork” says Paul in Ephesians. Forever my son is marked with the strong sign and name of the Lord God Almighty. For days after this we could smell the scented oil on him each time we kissed him or rocked him. It was the aroma of salvation. They say that smell is the sense most closely related to memory…well, we could smell the work of God in our lives and it helps us to remember. Scripture says “taste and see that the Lord is good” I suppose it could also say smell and remember that the Lord is good.

A few days later was the observance of Ash Wednesday. Again my son was brought forward together with all the faithful, young and old, to receive a different cross, an ashen mess. This cross was dirty and not particularly pretty. It was imposed on him with the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Impose is the right word there. The ashen cross is always an imposition on you. In short order it means that you’re gonna die. This is not an easy thing to see happen to your newly baptised infant son. I often tell people that as a pastor Ash Wednesday is the hardest thing that I do; looking into the eyes of old and young alike and telling them that they’re going to die.

Death gets us all. There’s no escaping it. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor; smart or dumb; successful or a failure; faithful or not; death gets us all. It’s the great equalizer. It’s the only thing that’s certain other than taxes, as the saying goes. An ancient Christian liturgical line used to read, “In the midst of life we are in death,” but it would go on, “in the midst of death we are in life.”
When I think about those two crosses that have marked my son’s forehead recently I think about that piece. In life there is death but in death there is life. People often ask why bad things happen if God loves us. Simply put, this is a sin sick world. It was created in a harmonious way but because of sin it is now at chaos with itself. Sadly that chaos isn’t always experienced in an equitable way. Bad things happen. But, in the midst of that sin and all those bad things Jesus does something about it. He doesn’t say “there, there, it’s going to be all right.” Sure that would be loving, but Jesus is about enacted loving. That’s what Paul says in our Galatians text, Jesus “loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus doesn’t simply explain away the bad things, he does away with them for good. Like that scent infused oil, Jesus infuses our death filled lives with his life. When Jesus died he had a surprise for death, he didn’t stay dead! That’s the gift he gives to us; when we die, because of Jesus, that same surprise awaits death, we don’t stay dead either! It’s Christ who live in you, and me, and my son. He’s signed his name to you, you can’t always see it clearly but that cross is there for God to see, for sin to see, for the devil to see, for death to see. God’s saving aroma covers you; it’s an aroma that beats back the stench of death. It’s the aroma of the cross.

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