Holy Wednesday (2018)

It was common in the early church to personify Death and Hell especially in contemplating the crucifixion of Christ.  Death, Hell and Satan were often portrayed having a conversation trying to understand what the death of Christ meant for them – their victory over God, or, as they belatedly realized, the dead Christ was the seed of their own destruction.  Life burst forth from the tomb of Christ, bringing an end to Death’s power over humanity.

Three crosses Pilate fixed on Golgotha,

two for the thieves and one for the Giver of life,

whom Hell saw and said to those below,

“My ministers and powers

who has fixed a nail in my heart?

A wooden lance has suddenly pierced me and I am being torn apart.

My insides are in pain, my belly in agony,

my sense make my spirit tremble,

and I am compelled to disgorge

Adam and Adam’s race. Given me by a Tree,

a Tree is bringing them back

again to Paradise.

(St. Romanos, On the Life of Christ, pp. 155-156)

The personified Death, Hades and Satan all become mortally wounded by Christ’s own wounds.  They become weakened and sickened by the healing power of Christ’s resurrection.  Simultaneously, for us humans, we are being restored to health by Christ’s wounds.  “Those who repent with all their heart and cleanse themselves of all their aforementioned evils, and add nothing more to their sins, will receive healing from the Lord for their previous sins...”  (Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 8:77:1-5)  Far beyond forgiveness of our sins, God gives us the gift of healing of soul and body through the suffering of His Son.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  (1 Peter 2:24)

Holy Unction (2017)

“…there is no health in my bones because of my sin.”  (Psalm 38:3)

On Holy Wednesday evening in some Orthodox traditions, the service of holy unction is offered. Throughout Lent we were called to repent of our sins, to receive the healing forgiveness of Christ. On Holy Wednesday we experience that forgiveness and healing through the sacramental oil of unction.  Confession, Holy Communion and Unction are all Mysteries in which we received healing from Christ.  They are all means for us to experience the salvation which Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, made possible for all humanity.   All three Mysteries become available to us during Holy Week.

Here is one of the prayers the priests say at the service:

“For you are great and wonderful God: you keep your covenant and your mercy toward those who love you, granting forgiveness of sins through your holy Child, Jesus Christ, who grants us a new birth from sin, who gives light to the blind, who raises up those who are cast down, who loves the righteous and shows mercy to sinners, who leads us out of darkness and the shadow of death, saying to those in chains, ‘Go forth,’ and to those who sit in darkness, ‘Open your eyes.’

You made the light of the knowledge of his countenance to shine in our hearts when for our sake he revealed himself upon earth and dwelt among us. To those who accepted him, he gave the power to become children of God, granting us adoption through the washing of regeneration and removing us from the tyranny of the devil. For it did not please you that we should be cleansed by blood, but by holy oil, so you gave us the image of his cross, that we might become the flock of Christ, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; and you purified us with water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit…

Let this oil, O Lord, become the oil of gladness, the oil of sanctification, a royal robe, an armor of might, the averting of every work of the devil, an unassailable seal, the joy of the heart, and eternal rejoicing. Grant that those who are anointed with this oil of regeneration may be fearsome to their adversaries, and that they may shine with the radiance of your saints, having neither stain nor defect, and that they may attain your everlasting rest and receive the prize of their high calling.” (Paul Meyendorf, The Anointing of the Sick, p. 82)

Throughout Holy Week we encounter our Lord, God and Savior Jesus, the Messiah, who comes seeking us, who heals us, who gives us His Body and Blood for our salvation.  Sin is another illness which affects our souls and bodies.  In unction we come like so many did in Christ’s own lifetime to be healed by Him of our physical and spiritual infirmities.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”    (1 Peter 2:24)

 

 

Holy Wednesday 2016

The Tree of Life was given as a gift to us by God to be our means to attain eternal life.  What is so incredible is that the Tree of Life is the Cross of Christ.  The Tree of Life means the death of Christ!  But it also means eternal life to us all.  The Cross is not a punishment for sin, but a healing tree (Revelation 22:2).

 

“The last hymn about the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 52—53 is important because it is so controversial. Why is it that the death of Jesus on the Cross saves us? How is it that, through this act, everything is made right and we are allowed, by faith in Christ crucified, to become ourselves the righteousness of God? We will never, perhaps, be able to explain it fully. This text is often interpreted to mean that God Almighty is angry at the human race and that He has to punish them because of their sin, that the Law has been broken and the only way things can be restored and reconciled and redeemed is when a sufficient punishment is made.

Therefore, many people think God is punishing His Son Jesus on the Cross, in our place. I believe this is completely incorrect. There is another way of understanding this that has nothing to do with punishment. The very word punishment is never even found in the writings of the New Testament. I do not find it in the Holy Week services; I do not find it in the writing of the early Church Fathers. It is just not there.”   (Thomas Hopko, The Names of Jesus: Discovering the Person of Christ through Scripture, Kindle Location 2440-2448)

Previous:  Holy Tuesday 2016

Next:  Holy Thursday 2016

Great and Holy Wednesday (2012)

“A single good word made the thief pure and holy , despite all his previous crimes, and brought him into paradise (cf. Luke 23:42-43). A single ill-advised word prevented Moses from entering the promised land (cf. Num. 20:12). We should not suppose, then, that garrulity is only a minor disease. Lovers of slander and gossip shut themselves out from the kingdom of heaven. A chatterbox may meet with success in this world, but he will not do so in the next.[…]It has been well said: ‘Better to slip on the ground than to slip with your tongue’ (Eccles. 20:18). We should believe James the Apostle when he writes: ‘Let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak.’ (Jas. 1:19).”  (St. John of Karpathos in The Philokalia, Volume 1, pg. 319)

Christ Bears our Infirmities

On Wednesday of Holy Week we already hear hymns dealing with the Mystical Supper of Christ while contemplating the fact that one of Christ’s own chosen disciples betrays Him.

It is the custom in many Orthodox Churches that the service of healing (Holy Unction) is performed.

“Matthew now reveals to us why he tells these stories of Jesus’ readiness to comfort and heal all manner of people. On this day, Jesus exercised spiritual healing through His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He then healed the outcast leper, the servant of a powerful and feared military authority, a relative of one of His disciples, and crowds of ordinary people. No class of people remains excluded from His healing care! Quoting the Hebrew version of Is.53:4, Matthew shows that Jesus did all these things because He fulfills one of the roles of the Messiah as the prophesies tell:”This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’” Think about that. One of the reasons

Christ came into the world was to take up our weaknesses and to bear our illnesses! It was part of His mission to help us, to support us, to remove from us the bitterness and the hurt each of us experiences.”  (Stanley Samuel Harakas, Archbishop Iakovos, Of Life and Salvation – Reflections on Living the Christian Life, pgs.80-81)

Holy Wednesday (2010) Sermon notes

Holy Wednesday

Throughout Lent I’ve tried through the sermons to remind you of the catechetical nature of Great Lent – to experience Lent as catechumens from the first centuries of Christianity would have experienced it – a walk in which we come to know, believe and understand who Jesus Christ is.

Tonight we now come face to face with the things of this world for which God became incarnate.  The very reason that God sends His Son into the world is to confront what is wrong with this world – sin, suffering, illness, evil, Satan, and death.    We all experience the reality of these problems – the ravages of sickness, war, mortality, the Fallen world.  These battles are not simply the battles of the past – what ancient peoples suffered, what the Jews had to face in order to be faithful to God.

The ravages of the fallen world affect all of humankind – Jew and Gentile, believer and non-believer, saint and sinner, atheist and Christian.

Tonight we recognize the power of Christ to confront in the world sin with forgiveness, evil with good, death with resurrection, sickness with healing.  Tonight we ask the Risen Lord to heal us of our spiritual, mental and physical maladies.  We know these illnesses and diseases are part of this world, but we ask the risen Christ to help us in this world we our afflictions – to take away our sins and to heal our diseases.   We ask for this healing as an encouragement as we take up our crosses to follow Christ.  We don’t ask for Christ to take away our cross, for He has taught us He who would follow me must deny himself and take up his cross.  We ask for help in bearing our crosses.  We ask for His healing in order to give us the strength to bear one another’s burdens. To ask to have our cross removed would be to tell Christ, “I don’t want to be your disciple.”  So we accept our cross and ask Christ to give us the strength and the health to bear it.

We ask for healing, not to spend more energy on our own passions, desire and sins, but in order to help us love one another.  For the basis of Christ’s own healing power, as well as the power to forgive, and the power to conquer sin and death, is His love.

 As the Apostle James warns in his epistle,  “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3).  Tonight we ask for healing, not so we can be freed of illness and have more energy to pursue our self interests, but in order that we might all the more love one another.

Great & Holy Wednesday (2010)

REPENTANCE AS CHOICE 

 

The Disciple Judas betraying Christ with a kiss

On Great Wednesday the Church invites the faithful to focus their attention on two figures: the sinful woman who anointed the head of Jesus shortly before the passion (Mt. 26:6-13), and Judas, the disciple who betrayed the Lord. The former acknowledged Jesus as Lord, while the latter severed himself from the Master. The one was set free, while the other became a slave. The one inherited the kingdom, while the other fell into perdition. These two people bring before us concerns and issues related to freedom, sin, hell and repentance.  The full meaning of these things can be understood only within the context and from the perspective of the existential truth of our human existence…Sin is more than breaking rules and transgressing commandments. It is the willful rejection of a personal relationship with the living God. It is separation and alienation; a way of death…Likewise, repentance is not merely a change in attitude, but a choice to follow God…

“While the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh, the disciple came to an agreement with the transgressors. She rejoiced to pour out what was very precious, he made haste to sell the One who is above all price. She acknowledged Christ as Lord, he severed himself from the Master. She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy. Grievous was his lack of love. Great was her repentance. Grant such repentance also unto me, O Savior who has suffered for our sake, and save us.”   (Orthos of Great Wednesday)

(Alkiviadis C. Calivas, Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church, pg. 38-41)

Holy Wednesday: The Sinful Women as a Model Disciple

Sermon Notes Holy Wednesday 2002 Gospel: Matthew 26:6-16

footwashingThe Gospel Lesson has the story of the women who right before the Passover, comes to where Jesus is meeting with His disciples and pours expensive ointment on Jesus head. When the disciples complain about the wastefulness of the woman, Jesus defends her saying she has prepared his body for burial, and proclaims that what the woman has done will be remembered where ever in the world the Gospel is proclaimed – the Lord thus recognizes her as one of the Myrrhbearing Women Saints of the Church. In the hymns for the day the Lesson of Matthew 26:6-16 is amplified by details taken from the parallel Gospel Lesson found in Luke 7:36-50 where we learn that the woman was considered a great sinner and she washes Christs’ feet and in John 12:1-8 where the lesson is clearly connected to the Last Supper and Jesus the Master washing the feet of His disciples.
The Holy Wednesday Gospel Lessons’s appearance draws our minds to the sacramental foot washing which Christ will perform in the Upper Room with His chosen disciples. Christ says at that occasion that we are to learn from Him and to do as He did – humble ourselves and become servants one of another. This women, who is branded as a harlot and great sinner in the liturgical texts for Holy Wednesday, not only prepares Christ’s body for burial, but in washing His feet she takes the role of servant and thus becomes a Christ like figure in the story. {Dostoyevsky captures the character of the harlot in his novels in Sonya, the prostitute who is the Christ like figure, sacrificing her life and soul because of her great love for her step mom and her step mom’s children}. She understands what it is to be servant to others, though she is labeled a sinful harlot. She models for us what it is to wash the feet of others and to do it in humility and repentance. She does it not because she is a good Christian, but because she understands the depth of her own sin and so values the forgiveness she receives from Christ. She understands her need for repentance and forgiveness, something which the disciple Judas clearly did not understand, even though he had been trained by Christ. The sinful woman, not the kind of woman who would have attended Temple, nor would she find herself welcomed in the church, understands Christ in a way that Judas does not, for he is in the Gospel lesson plotting to betray Christ. Judas is looking how to make money off of Christ, the woman is giving her money away understanding the love she has freely and gracefully received from Christ our Lord.

AS THE SINFUL WOMAN WAS BRINGING HER OFFERING OF MYRRH,
THE DISCIPLE WAS SCHEMING WITH LAWLESS MEN.
SHE REJOICED IN POURING OUT HER PRECIOUS GIFT.
HE HASTENED TO SELL THE PRECIOUS ONE.
SHE RECOGNIZED THE MASTER, BUT JUDAS PARTED FROM HIM.
SHE WAS SET FREE, BUT JUDAS WAS ENSLAVED TO THE ENEMY.
HOW TERRIBLE IS SLOTHFULNESS!
HOW GREAT HER REPENTANCE!
SAVIOR, YOU SUFFERED FOR OUR SAKES://
GRANT US ALSO REPENTANCE, AND SAVE US.

The contrast between the Disciple Judas and this sinful woman could not be more clear – a woman and a sinner, despised by decent people everywhere, uninvited to the table of the Lord and yet she understands Christ and her own need to have her sins forgiven. Judas, hand-chosen by Christ to be a disciple, chosen as a leader of the disciples as the keeper of the purse, personally trained by the Master for 3 years, does not understand Jesus, and chooses for a little money to betray his Master and hand him over to death. It is the sinful women who becomes a model to us, not the Disciple Judas. She shows us that true discipleship consists of humility and seeking the forgiveness of one’s sins.

THE HARLOT SPREAD OUT HER HAIR TO YOU, MASTER;
JUDAS SPREAD OUT HIS HANDS TO LAWLESS MEN:
SHE IN ORDER TO RECEIVE FORGIVENESS;
HE IN ORDER TO RECEIVE SOME SILVER.
WE CRY TO YOU, FOR YOU WERE SOLD FOR US AND YET SET US FREE://
O LORD, GLORY TO YOU!

It is the repentance of the sinful woman we are to imitate, not the actions of the apostle! She as a woman disciple of the Lord shows us how to love Christ and how to live our lives. She kisses the Master’s feet in thanksgiving for the forgiveness of her sins. Judas kisses the Master’s cheek, but in betrayal. The sinful woman humbles herself to wash the feet of Christ, but Judas whose feet the Master washes consigns Jesus to execution. The women becomes a model of repentance for each of us – it is not the depth of sin which separates us from Christ, but rather our unwillingness to repent.

ONCE EVE HEARD YOUR FOOTSTEP IN PARADISE IN THE COOL OF THE DAY,
AND IN FEAR SHE RAN AND HID HERSELF.
BUT NOW I WILL TENDERLY EMBRACE THOSE PURE FEET
AND WIPE THEM WITH THE HAIR OF MY HEAD.
WHO CAN MEASURE THE MULTITUDE OF MY SINS,
OR THE DEPTH OF YOUR JUDGMENTS, SAVIOR OF MY SOUL?//
DO NOT DESPISE YOUR SERVANT IN YOUR IMMEASURABLE MERCY.