Which of the five senses brings back your memories most sharply? For me, it is surely the sense of smell. A certain kind of soap takes me instantly to the French Provence. The delicious aroma of dolma brings back childhood and takes me to home. A certain kind of aftershave reminds me of my father. The smoke of the incense says “Church,” and the scent of Holy Myron reminds me of my ordination.
The theme of the fragrance of Christ spread by the messengers of the Gospel is at the heart of today’s epistle reading:
“… 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…” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
Indeed, in Paul’s mind is the picture of a Roman Triumph and of Christ as a universal conqueror. The highest honor which could be given to a victorious Roman general was a Triumph. In a Triumph, the procession of the victorious general marched through the streets of Rome to the Capitol. The Romans made sure everyone knew they had been victorious by burning incense on altars throughout the city and in the procession. For the victors, the aroma was the perfume of joy and triumph and life; but for the wretched captives who walked so short a distance ahead, it was the perfume of death, standing for the past defeat and their subsequent execution.
Thus, as Christ followers, we are victorious soldiers. Just as the emperors or the victorious generals invite their chosen soldiers to partake in the procession of their triumph, God, the eternal conqueror, always makes victorious with Him those who serve Him in Christ.
And when the gospel of Christ is preached, it is a pleasing fragrance to God. Paul speaks of this cloud of sweet smelling incense being diffused "in every place": it goes where we go, for it is a very part of our inner life. Perfumes are not affected by their surroundings; they do not take on their scent from what is round about: their fragrance is the liberation of their essential being, released freely without taking account of their surroundings.
As the aroma of Christ, what perfumes do we bring with us as we walk into a room?
In a sense, we are only the incense-bearers, for Christ alone can be the true incense; yet, since He is the very inner life of our life, it is impossible to describe our Christian life as though we were merely utensils for carrying the fragrance around. By new birth, our baptism with the fragrant Holy Myron, we, too, have the heavenly deposit within us, and it is that heavenly life which provides the fragrance of Christ, for it is His life being lived out through us.
The fragrance of Christ is not something that can be bought in a bottle or a jar. Many things in our life can be artificial, but this fragrance of Christ can’t be fabricated. It can only be acquired by those who live in the place of communion with the Him in the House of the Lord. We may say the right things, do the right things, give the right impression, but if we have lost touch with the Lord there will be no fragrance of Christ about us.
We need to be a people of the Communion. When we spend a lot of time with someone, we begin to think and act like that person. Only by spending time with Jesus Christ will help us to become “the aroma of Christ to God” and to spread "the fragrance of His knowledge in every place."