The Feast of Simon the Pharisee (Peter Paul Rubens)
Wednesday in Holy Week, 12 April 2017
8 p.m., Compline,
Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
Reading: John 13: 21-32.
Throughout this week, as we journey together through Holy Week, we continue the gradual build-up from Palm Sunday, with services each evening in this group of parishes. We began in Saint Mary’s, Askeaton on Monday [10 April 2017], moving on to Saint Brendan’s, Tarbert, yesterday [11 April].
This evening we are here in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale. Tomorrow, we travel on to Castletown Church for the Maundy Eucharist [13 April 2017], so that we can mark Good Friday prayerfully and appropriately in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Rathkeale, at noon on Friday and in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, that evening.
All this is to prepare us to celebrate the Resurrection, on Easter Eve in Castletown and on Easter Morning in Tarbert, Askeaton and Rathkeale.
Today is popularly known in Ireland and in other countries as Spy Wednesday, because, as in today’s Gospel reading (John 13: 21-32), this day is thought of as the day Judas Iscariot agreed to show the chief priests where they could easily capture Christ, betraying him for thirty pieces of silver (see Matthew 26: 14-16; Mark 14: 10-12; Luke 22: 3-6).
In the Orthodox tradition, on the other hand, this Wednesday is associated with the dinner Christ had in the house of Simon in Bethany. There he was anointed on the head by Mary with very expensive ointment.
Some of the disciples were indignant at this apparently wasteful extravagance, claiming the myrrh could have been sold and the money given to the poor.
But Christ told them that the woman’s actions would be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26: 13), for she had anointed him in preparation for his burial (Matthew 26: 12).
Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on, Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
In the Orthodox Liturgy today, the hymns of the Bridegroom Service remind us of the woman who poured precious ointment on Christ’s head at Simon’s home (Matthew 26: 7).
Those two principle themes are interwoven in the texts of the Orthodox liturgy today: the betrayal of Christ by Judas, and the anointing of Christ by the woman in Simon’s house in Bethany (Matthew 26: 6-16).
This woman draws a sharp contrast with Judas. She is a repentant sinner, and as she prepares for the death and burial of Christ she is reconciled with God. Judas, who has been given everything by Christ, shows no gratitude and turns his back on salvation.
The theme of anointing is continued in most Orthodox parishes this evening, when the principle evening service is the Anointing of the Sick.
Whether we have everything, or we have nothing, the choice we face this Holy Week is the choice faced by Judas and this woman: between darkness and light, between death and life, between turning our back and walking way, or being reconciled with God.
Judas cannot accept himself, and in so doing rejects Christ. On the other hand, the woman who finds mercy in Christ finds she can now accept herself. The fourth-century Church Father Evagrius Ponticus says we can only encounter God if we are prepared to encounter ourselves in truth. When we can acknowledge and accept our own darkness, then we are able to accept others.
The Collect of the Day:
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters,
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings
of this present time,
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This Holy Week reflection was prepared for Compline in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on 12 April 2017.