Scripture: II Corinthians 2:14-3:6
Key verses: (14-16) “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
Reflection: Paul’s letters to the Corinthians contain some of my favorite bible passages. II Corinthians outlines the highlights of the Christian faith in the first few chapters of the letter. It is a powerful reminder of who we are as the community of faith and how we are to be in the world. The Apostle Paul was challenged by the Corinthians church because he didn’t have the kind of credentials that secular teachers of prominence had at that time. Paul didn’t let that stop him. Using metaphorical language, he described followers of Jesus Christ as aromas and letters. Being described as an aroma sounds strange, but to Paul’s congregation, it made sense. On the main road in Corinth it wouldn’t have been unusual to see a Roman victory parade. And parades in the ancient world had aromas. We have lost touch with many of the smells in our modern world because we are a deodorized culture. We spend more time getting rid of smells than smelling them. In recent years, there has been an interest in aroma therapy to help people relax, energize, and sleep, but mainly we use Febreze and other products to neutralize smell. In Paul’s world, Roman victory parades were full of aromas – many of them pleasant and many repugnant. In preparation for a parade, there would have been the aroma of food cooking, bread baking, flowers being cut and arranged. Depending on the victory, these parades could be dramatic spectacles. When the army arrived, there would be the smell of the crowd (no deodorant), horses, leather, and soldiers, followed by dead bodies that were often dragged at the end of the parade – a grim warning of what would happen if you turned against Rome. That’s a lot of smells! So, when Paul encouraged them to be a triumphal parade spreading the fragrance of Christ in the world, the Corinthian church would have understood what he meant – at least about the parade.
Even though these parades sound foreign to us, I think we do understand what it means to be a “fragrance”. Have you ever heard someone referred to as a “stinker”? Or perhaps, a situation that “stinks”. We still use “smell” language to describe a person or a situation. Today’s passage invites us to think of ourselves as the fragrance of Christ. What is this fragrance? It could be something as simple as kindness or as challenging as forgiveness. It is the way we conduct ourselves in the world knowing that we are beloved by God and called to serve others. We can be the sweet smell of love, acceptance, patience, justice and devotion in someone else’s life. As a community, we can continue to be a sanctuary to all those who are hurt or suffering. We can be the sweet smell of salvation from all that seeks to destroy our world as we follow Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Lord of Lords, lead us in a fragrant, triumphal procession as we follow Christ. It is in his name we pray. Amen.
Author: Deborah Conner
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].