I was invited to a friend’s 40thbirthday during the week and I have to say the occasion hit close to the home.
I’ll be 40 on my next birthday and the thought fills me with dread. People try to comfort you with phases such as ‘life begins at forty’. To be honest these statements feel like a football manager getting the board’s vote of confidence the week before he gets the sack. Being organised as ever I was rushing about the town looking to buy a birthday card at the last moment. I rushed into a card shop in one of the shopping centres. I wasn’t in the shop two seconds when the banter began revolving around what had started as a serious question. One of the assistants recognising the black clerical uniform asked ‘when you smell flowers what did it mean?’ Conscious of being in a rush I answered ‘it usually means you’re standing beside flowers.’ Unfortunately she wasn’t put off by my response.
Looking for something more profound, the girl persisted by further inquiring if you smelt flowers did it not mean you were being visited by God? Now you have to picture the scene in the shop. The girl and I are standing in the middle of the shop floor having a theological discussion surrounded by two other assistants, my friend and about two hundred Yankee candles. I’m sure there were other good varieties of candles present, adding to the scent of flowers as well as other fragrances. I did have to concede that people have confessed to smelling flowers when they have had an encounter with one of the saints, especially Saint Pio. By the time I had picked a card from one of the lower shelvesand paid for it, the mystery had been solved. It seems the young woman in question remembered she was using new tablets in her washing machine this week and this might explain the new scent of flowers!
I suppose in one way or another we’re all looking for signs, searching for reassurance that God is indeed present in our lives. Jesus throughout his ministry is challenged to produce miracles and wonders. Yet Jesus asks us to look deeper, beyond the miraculous and wondrous to God’s message revealed through his words and actions. When some of the crowds hear the voice from heaven many dismiss it as thunder whilst others concentrate solely on the dramatic event. Yet Jesus challenges his hearers to follow his example of lying down his life for others. Discipleship is shaped by walking in Jesus footsteps not by chasing after the spectacular and wondrous. Sentence will be passed on how we treat our brothers and sisters, how we welcome the stranger as much as our closest family member. In these later days of Lent Jesus is confronting our images of God and the nature of God’s presence among us. God’s kingdom is made a reality when like Jesus we die to ourselves through serving others.