The gospels tell the story of God’s son eating, drinking, walking, washing, socialising, crying, sleeping, laughing and living a human life. We read about a Jesus who can relate to our everyday experiences but at the same time we read about a Jesus who is no ordinary person. Reading the gospels is not a flat two dimensional collection of words. Instead it is a life and death and resurrection story which points the way to our own journeying story. It’s an experiential story and when we experience it, it changes our world. Words are not enough for us to use in response to such a story.
This is the greatest story ever told and it requires a reaction from us. When we read it, focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of this story, we are left with some of the sensory impressions that might have been experienced by those who were witnesses at the time. It’s more than a historical story. It’s a story that gives life for us today as we journey. If it’s our journey story too, then we have to pay more than lip service to the story. It has to be a whole-of-ourselves experience. Of course we can’t really walk through a story, but we can read it as if we were reliving the experiential moments in the story by using our understanding of our own sensory experiences. Take a multi-sensory walk through John’s gospel.
Read each chapter in John’s gospel, considering the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch included in the story. There are several aspects to focus on by reading it from a multi-sensory perspective.
Jesus uses senses to live his ordinary daily life
The gospel tells of God’s son as a human. There are ordinary parts to the gospel where we see Jesus’ actions in his life journey being very similar to our own. We read about him walking, talking, eating, drinking and sleeping. We read about Jesus the man and we experience the Jesus who has a sense of smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing just as we do in our ordinary daily lives.
Jesus uses senses to teach and tell stories
Whether in telling stories or trying to make a point to explain something, Jesus uses a lot of images and metaphors. It’s as if he knows the points themselves are too complex and remote to understand and we need a sensory experience to aid our understanding. We read Jesus’ words about being born again as “Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.” John 3:8 CEV
Jesus uses senses to perform his signs and miracles
The miracles performed by Jesus are very multi-sensory. The water turns into wine. How would you know if you didn’t taste it? The royal official’s son is healed. The effects of the fever that could be seen can now no longer be seen. The invalid man lying beside the pool picks up his mat and walks away. After 38 years that is some activity! Jesus feeds five thousand. Imagine eating enough bread and fish until you’re full and then watching the leftovers being piled up. You can almost taste the moment.
There is a storm on the lake and Jesus walks on water. A storm uses all our senses… smell the stirred-up water spraying, see the effect of the wind on the waves, listen to the haunting echo of the wind and the waves crashing, taste the rain drops on your lips, feel your wet hair clinging to your face, the water droplets running down your neck and into your clothes and feel that chill that seems to go right through you to your bones when you’re cold and wet. Suddenly all is still. The senses are shocked into silence. Jesus walks on water. This is surely a visual experience never to be forgotten.
Then there is the blind man who is healed when Jesus spits on mud and puts it on his eyes. This sign involves both sight and touch. As for the rising of Lazarus from the dead – a bad smell experience is averted. 39 Then he told the people to roll the stone away. But Martha said, “Lord, you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell.” John 11:39 CEV
Jesus uses senses with his “I am…’ statements
The seven ‘I am’ statements in John’s gospel create experiential images for us to understand Jesus. When Jesus uses these metaphors to describe himself he also gives us clues as to how we can understand the metaphor. For instance, if we eat the bread of life Jesus says we will never go hungry again. It’s a very ordinary, practical example of a sensory experience to explain an aspect of our spiritual journey.
I am the bread of life (6:35)
I am the light of the world (8:12)
I am the gate (10:7)
I am the good shepherd (10:11)
I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)
I am the true vine (15:1)
Jesus uses senses in his final days & at his resurrection
The story of Jesus’ final days is overwhelmingly full of sensory experiences. The shouts of jubilation from a palm waving crowd, the ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, the meal shared with bread and wine, the lonely vigil amongst the olive trees, the sword that Simon Peter uses to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, the tying and binding of Jesus, the way Peter is cold and warms himself in front of a fire only to hear the cock crowing, the beating of Jesus, the wearing of a crown of thorns and a purple robe, the shouts of the crowd calling ‘Crucify him’, the nailing of Jesus to a cross, the gambling over his garments, the wine held out to him on a soaked sponge, the spear stuck into Jesus’ side, the spices that Nicodemus took to the tomb, the stone that is rolled away, the weeping Mary, the resurrection of Jesus, the locked room with the disciples, the way Thomas had to put his hand into Jesus’ side, the net that was full of fish, the breakfast on the beach with the disciples … this is a story where those that were there must have had their senses filled; the tastes, the sounds, the sights, the smells and the touch.
This is the story of Jesus.