This morning at St. Stephens we prayed the service of the Hours and Gospel Reading for the final time this Holy Week. The readings and prayers during both the evening and morning services have brought us to the moment just before the Upper Room. Tomorrow the services will begin to place us there – on the eve of the betrayal.
Even as we prepare for the solemnity of the next few days, there is a joy that permeates. A great example of this was in the psalm reading this morning. Nearly every prayer service in the Orthodox church has appointed psalm readings. Todays included Psalm 135 (136) – the one that begins “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever!” That refrain “For His mercy endures forever!” is repeated after verses that tell of God’s great works. Indeed, it is His mercy for us that we must remember during the next days – it is His mercy for us that takes Him to the cross to die for our sins.
In the Gospel reading for this morning, we continued through portions of Luke and John (Luke 15-18, John 8-10), which included many of Our Lord’s parables about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven as well as more healings. An always poignant passage is John 8:1-11, which is the story of the woman caught in adultery. In the account, the scribes and pharisees interrupt Jesus’ teaching in order to ask His judgment concerning a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. Jesus simply sits quietly, writing with His finger in the dirt. Some have suggested that He is writing down the sins of those standing by, others suggest that He is simply averting His eyes in respect for the dignity of the woman, who is, perhaps not fully clothed. No matter what the significance of this is, His silence is what speaks loudly of His mercy. While the scribes and pharisees stand about and accuse, He is simply present. When He finally says “He who is without sin cast the first stone” those standing by are so ashamed that they scatter. Alone with the Lord, the woman is asked “Where are those accusers of yours? Has anyone condemned you?” There is, of course, not one accuser left. He then speaks the words, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
This image of the woman, surrounded by accusers, but accusers that do not have the slightest care or love for her and for her well being, is similar to what we face when we are accused by our thoughts, or by suggestions from the evil one, that we are worthless, beyond redemption, or too damaged to be of any good to anyone. These lies come from the one who cares not for us, but wants us to be destroyed. When we allow the Lord into our heart – and ask Him to be present when we face these accusations, the accusers flee, and we are left alone with the Lord. In Him we have not an accuser but a friend. He tells us to go and sin no more because sin makes us sick, and He wants us to be well – but He speaks this out of love and mercy for us – this is our hope, brothers and sisters, For His Mercy, Indeed, Endures Forever!
Next up – The Service of Holy Unction – a Healing and Anointing Service – tonight@ 6:30pm