Winter is almost over now. I will miss it as I somehow like winter. Winter has a smell all its own. You can smell cold or rather you can smell the nothingness of the cold when temperatures really plummet. The air carries no scent of its own. The wind brings news of wood fires far off. The pig farm a mile away. The diesel truck being warmed up next door.
Spring on the other hand is rich in scent that needs no wind to carry it to you. Spring makes itself known by scent long before the eye cast on the fields and lawns alert us to the greening of the land. By the time the pastures gain their springtime emerald hue, their grasses have long since seeded the air with the smell of growth. That smell is ubiquitous it becomes the new background scent that mixes and often confuses other smells.
Between these two times of the year, in the place I live, stands late February and early March, skunk season, a rude assault on the nose. A whiff of it renders anyone incapable of smelling anything else.
As Mary, Peter, and the beloved disciple exit the tomb they do so with very different attitudes. John tells us that: “as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (Jn 20:9) The latter will not happen until Jesus breathes the Spirit unto them. (Jn 20:22)
Mary assumes that the body has been stolen and she persists in that conviction even after she had a vision of angels. She persist in it even after her eyes lay hold of the risen Jesus. (Jn 20:15)
Peter walks away. John does not tell us right then what his thoughts might have been. He just went home. (Jn 20:10) It might be premature to mention it, but he will require special attention later as it seems he is in danger of falling away into old patterns of living by returning to being a fisherman. (21:3)
The beloved disciple sees what the other two see. He, as yet, does not understand the scripture either. But, says John: “he saw and he had faith.”
Mary and Peter come to the same place as the beloved disciple. Thomas will as well, but they do so on the basis of a personal call. Jesus has to call Mary by name to have her sense who is standing before her. Jesus will call Peter to make an either/or decision on the beach. These are all personal challenges by the risen Jesus.
The beloved disciple seems to be cut of a different cloth. He saw Jesus die. He is keeping Mary of Nazareth safe as part of his family as if she was his own mother. (Jn 19:27-28) The story is unfolding round about him in confusing ways and he has faith. Even though he does not now understand, even though he sees an empty tomb, he remains loyal and trusts that he will see the Glory of God. (11:4) He shows what utter loyalty, even in the face of utter desolation, looks like.
We think of winter as a time of desolation. Winter has a cold — pardon the pun — clarity to it. Its smells are easily discerned. The sound of the lonely crow or hidden owl are easily pinpointed. The movement in the thickets is visible and recognizable to the interested eye. Yet, it is somehow sterile, antiseptic, and hostile to life, new or old.
Spring is a time of much more confusion. Smells abound and and are not easily locatable because there are just too many of them. The song of a hundred robins makes it difficult to pinpoint the individual. The advancing green makes the movement in the hedgerows invisible. But it is the time of living and new life from the rot of the old. Life is messy. It often confuses the senses, often doing so on purpose. Witness: The skunk. One thing life is not is sterile and antiseptic. For those who seek simplicity and clarity or simple pathways and pointers, spring is desolation by an overload of the senses.
The story of the Resurrection as John tells it is not for those who love everything nice and neat, clear and simple. The main characters, it seems, have to be called personally into faith, except the enigmatic beloved disciple. He seems to be navigating it in a spirit of detachment from the confusion of the senses. He sees but he as faith and remains loyal no matter what. Everyone else is overloaded by the first scent of eternal life and either walks oblivious or overwhelmed, or perhaps they are still numb by the skunk like scent of death.
And so walk we. Evidence of eternal life might surround us. How would we know though? This Jesus is the Son, the LORD. Quietly everywhere but hidden in life ever so noisy, ever filled with so many distractions and things covering the scent for anyone who would try to seek him. Where is he found?
And so we gather with the Mother of Faith and share in bread and wine. Will we see? Will we smell? Will we taste? Will we have faith? Will the skunk get the better of us?