Smell is a presence in absence. I smell the roast in the oven, and know dinner is close. A woman’s perfume precedes her and lingers after her, whether I see her or not. I smell something decaying in the wall, but I have to pull away the wall board to see it. I can smell my daughter’s shampoo when she tries to sneak up behind me.
Christ has poured the oil of the Spirit upon us, anointing us with the fragrant oil of priesthood. In Christ, we are living sacrifices, spreading the aroma of Christ, a savor of life and death. Because we are enveloped with the aroma of the Spirit, we are a sweet savor to the Father. We are quickened not only by hearing the Name of Jesus, but by its aroma, since His “name is like oil poured out.”
CS Lewis quotes Housman in his Introduction to Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”
An air that kills
from yon far country blows.
He suggests that the aroma of Christianity is death to the enemies of Christ, while giving life to those who are in Him. I remember telling my literature students that one of our goals for the year was to sniff out Christ in the works that we were reading. I forgot to remind them of that as the year went on, but every so often, the idea comes back to me. Christ does leave traces of where He’s been. Why shouldn’t we try to smell them out?
Since I am currently immersed in a theology of translation, I will add this: you can a good translation from a bad one by the way it smells. A good translation smells like the source text.