The Spices of Death

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

–Mark 16:1

At times we speak of a pleasant thing being the spice of lifeWhen we do so we are speaking of those events or activities that make life joyful. Better yet, these things bring a pleasing aroma to what could be a rather stale existence.

But this article is not about those spices of life. Instead let’s focus on the spices of death. We are told in Mark’s gospel that these women followers of Jesus came to his tomb prepared to use spices to counteract the natural stench of death.

It is interesting that fragrances had twice already been applied to the body of Jesus. The first was by the woman at Simon the leper’s home. This happened on the eve of his crucifixion. She applied 300 days wages worth of pure nard pouring it on the head of Jesus.

Jesus said of her action, “She has anointed my body beforehand for burial (Mark 14:8).” Before he was even dead, his body was given a sweet aroma in anticipation of that which was to come.

Once he had died, Joseph of Arimathea secured the body of Jesus from Pilate. His fellow Jewish leader turned Christian, Nicodemus, joined Joseph to bury Jesus’ body. Before wrapping the body in cloth, they applied another round of fragrances. “Bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews (John 19:39-40).”

It was then that the women made their own preparations for an aromatic offering to be given after the Sabbath. They “prepared spices and ointments (Luke 23:56).” The spices were the aromatic spices and ointments refer to a blend of olive oil with fragrant spices.

As we know, this third application of fragrant offering was not to be given. Instead of a body reeking of the stench of death, they found an empty tomb and heard the pronouncement of Jesus’ resurrection.

So what happened to the spices which they had prepared?

It’s not an important question, but indulge me to use what some call a sanctified imagination. Here are three possible responses the women had with the spices.

1. Did the women bemoan the money wasted on these spices?

2. Did the women leave them as they fled from the tomb?

3. Did the women take them along and use them later for some other aromatic purpose?

It seems highly unlikely that they would bemoan their unused resources. What they received in the place of the spices was a resurrected Lord. In fact, had they understood his teaching that he would rise three days after his death, they could have saved themselves the expense altogether.

So, did they leave them or use them later? I don’t know. If used later, the aroma produced from those spices would have been even sweeter. Instead of masking the odor of death, they would not help recalling the sweetness of life in Christ.

Much of what we do in our religious efforts is a stench in the nostrils of God. In their place let us offer to God that sweet aroma of faith in the crucified and resurrected life of Jesus.