This evening at 6:30 we prayed what will be the last Bridegroom Matins service of Holy Week at St. Stephens. Tomorrow night we will be celebrating the Service of Holy Unction at St. Stephens with our sister Parish, Holy Transfiguration – Holy Unction is a healing and anointing service. The hymns of tonight’s service contrasted two events taking place as we draw near to Our Lord’s crucifixion on Friday. First, the hymns spoke of Judas and those among the chief priests who are already plotting to kill Jesus. Second, the hymns told the story of the harlot who anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Judas is presented as having received great gifts, as being chosen to be one of the disciples, indeed, having been close on a daily basis with the Lord as he traveled. Judas, though, because of his love of money, plots and schemes against Jesus and throws away the gifts given him for thirty pieces of silver.
The Harlot, on the other hand, has spent years in sinful living – and, we should understand “sinful living” as not just “she did bad things” but that she was harmed by her actions – in fact, spent a life in a dehumanizing, demoralizing profession. This sinfulness is not something to be looked at in condemnation, but of profound sadness, for what this does to a person. The Harlot at Our Lord’s feet simply brings who she is, and silently draws near to the Lord, anointing Him. The hymns tell us that she recognized His divinity – His ability to shake up the world, even the world that led her into prostitution – that she could be healed by Him – that she would be regarded by Him as one worthy of love, dignity, and true personhood. She brings herself, and receives a great gift – forgiveness of sins and a new start.
In one hymn, Judas is described as having fallen into the sin of “slothfulness”. Whats interesting about this, is that, from the actions in the Gospel account, as amplified by the hymns we sang, he seems very active – plotting, scheming, making back room deals, he is anxiously moving about in the shadows. But one can be very active and still be slothful. Judas is a sad example of this – as he darts about, here and there, with much to do, much to plan, people to meet – but he is neglecting his soul – he is slothful with attending to the one thing needful. The Harlot, in contrast, simply sits at the feet of the Lord – her act is simple and solitary – and she says nothing – but she is profoundly active in caring for her soul. Its a good reminder, especially in a world where, even in Church matters, there is a temptation to have “an angle” to be establishing an opinion publicly – to be in the know – to be busy with many things – to see the contrast of Judas and the Harlot – and to choose the better way.