For we are the aroma of Christ to God… ~ 2 Corinthians 2:15
Ro and I hiked together on the Colorado Trail for thirty-four days. During this time, we sweated profusely every day as we walked in the rain, the sun and in the mystical clouds above tree line. The tent we shared was usually damp along with our sleeping bags. We wore the same clothes every day. During our long walk, we took a total of six showers. Thank God for the wind and open spaces.
When we met fellow hikers on the trail, they were in the same predicament as we were. Ro and I ate supper one night at a place called the fire station with a young woman from Portland. The wind shifted and the odor was overwhelming, but I could not tell where or whom it was coming from, probably all of us.
On the trail, I quickly learned that everyone, myself included, gives off a pleasant aroma some days and many days we give off an unpleasant scent. It’s just the way it is, so everyone accepts it, and no one judges another. What a healthy way to walk along the trail.
Several years ago, I officiated at a wedding for a young couple. The groom grew up in Mancos and attended our church as a young child, so he returned home to get married in our church, a homecoming celebration.
The young man walked into our fellowship hall, and we shook hands while he introduced me to his fiancée. He breathed in the air and said, “This place smells exactly like it did when I was a kid.”
“What does it smell like?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s hard to describe, but it’s the same.”
In 2 Corinthians 2:15 Paul says, “We are the aroma of Christ…” What does the Living Christ smell like? The sweet fragrance after a rain? Soft perfume or cologne on our wrist? Damp leaves on the forest floor? Spring flowers? What about unpleasant smells?
An unnamed woman pours a costly ointment on Jesus’ head and on his feet (see Matthew 26:6 and Luke 7:38). Does Jesus smell bad and then good after she showers him with perfume? What is the aroma of Christ?
We took our youth group on a service trip to South Central Los Angeles one year. One of the more impactful days was a walk through skid row in downtown Los Angeles. The streets were full of people slumped against buildings and sleeping in the concrete jungle. Trash was everywhere. I was uncomfortable with the stench of soiled clothing and the vacant looks of the homeless. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat. I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (see Matthew 25).
Were we smelling the aroma of Christ? It was not a sweet scent or a comforting one. What does love and compassion smell like?
Father Greg said his parish in East Los Angeles started welcoming the homeless to sleep in their church at night. “There was always the faintest evidence (smell) that they had been there.” People started to complain, go to church elsewhere, and some members tried to rid the sanctuary of the smell to no avail. It just lingered. The grumbling grew.
“What does our church smell like?” Father Greg asked during an open homily. No one would answer.
Finally, an older man said, “It smells like feet.” “Why?” “Because the homeless sleep here.”
“Why do we let the homeless sleep here?” “It’s what Jesus would do.”
“So, what does our church smell like now?” A man stood up and bellowed, “It smells like commitment.” A woman said, “It smells like roses.” Their church smelled liked the aroma of Christ. “The stink in the church hadn’t changed, only how the folks saw it,” writes Father Greg.
Over the last couple of years, our church has been locked down due to the pandemic. We are opening up again and slowly people are starting to trickle back in. As we open our hearts, our doors, and our minds, what will our church smell like?
May we embrace the fullness of the aroma of Christ. May our doors and hearts remain open.
Blessings and peace,