Holy Week commentaries: Thursday

Posted in Christianity, Religion by Alex L. on April 28, 2009

This post has been very late in coming (Holy Week – and Bright Week which follows – have passed), but I decided to complete the series anyway. Here it is, from my journal of last year:

“I missed the service of the Twelve Passion Gospels but read it anyway in the service book. The Vesperal Liturgy readings followed the story of Moses and Job, emphasizing their steadfastness with the Lord and the Lord’s faithfulness to them. The gospel readings describe the betrayal of Jesus. The service of the Twelve Passion Gospels is fittingly named: the gospel readings are about the Passion. I remembered a few passages from the service:

‘What caused thee, O Judas, to betray the Saviour? Did he set thee aside from the Disciples? Did he deny thee the gift of healing? Did he eat with the others and send thee away from the table? Did he wash the feet of the rest and then pass thee by? How much goodness hast thou forgotten? Yea, thine unpraiseworthy mind hath been exposed. But his incalculable long-suffering which is beyond all measure and his great mercies are proclaimed with praise’ (435-436).

“That passage emphasizes how ungratefulness is a betrayal of God, while the following text delves into the biblical imagery of the tree:

‘Because of a tree, Adam was estranged from paradise; and the thief because of the Tree of the Cross abode in paradise; for the former in tasting, disobeyed the Commandment of the Creator; but the latter, who was crucified with thee, confessed, admitting to thee that thou art a hidden God. Wherefore, O Saviour, remember him and us in thy kingdom’ (452).”

2 Responses

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  1. Jesse said, on April 28, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    I like the passages taken from the service. I remember the one about Judas from hearing it in church – it’s effective at getting across his ungratefulness as you say.

    One thing I still wonder about is the bit that we say during church each Sunday: “neither will I give thee a kiss as did Judas.” In some way it makes sense; we’re committing to not betraying Christ. In another way, though, in a pious sense, we betray Christ constantly, day in and day out, and just try to make our way back to him by mercy; so that statement on Sundays would be false, or at least incomplete at face value. Then I thought about it some more, and (if my latter understanding is the accurate one) thought that maybe what it’s saying is that we don’t despair of our salvation like Judas did by hanging himself. As long as we keep coming back in repentance, he will see us through. I’m not sure what the saying means, but it keeps me thinking.

  2. historyjournalblog said, on April 29, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Jesse: I see your point about the “‘neither will I give thee a kiss as did Judas'” statement being “incomplete at face value” (you punning rapscallion!). You’ve set me back an hour puzzling over your comment, and I’m afraid I couldn’t come up with a solution either.

    I did notice that the second half of the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom (the part of the Liturgy to which you referred) closely parallels the conversation between Jesus and the thief on the cross:
    “. . .Of thy Mystic Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant: for I will not speak of thy Mystery to thine enemies; neither will I give thee a kiss as did Judas: but like a thief will I confess thee: Remember me, O Lord, in thy kingdom. . .”
    And from the Gospel of Luke:
    “Then [the thief] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'”

    Interestingly, both passages emphasize communing with God “today”. Before reflecting on the text, I took it for granted that Jesus’ promise to the thief meant the thief will be in Paradise forever. Yet the text does not say that; it says “today you will be with me in Paradise”. Likewise, in Chrysostom’s prayer, we ask to commune with God merely “today” as well.

    Perhaps this helps resolve in some way the problem you mentioned. Considering that Judas’ root sin was forgetfulness (“How much goodness hast thou forgotten?” as quoted in the original post), the mere fact of remembering God in the Liturgy assures us that God will answer us as he did the thief: you will commune with Me today.

    Liturgy, then, is kind of like theater, with us playing the role of the thief as we approach the chalice, week after week. What if after a Sunday “performance”, we leave and on Monday ‘give Christ a kiss as did Judas’? Well, like you said, God is merciful. And, at the very least, if we keep coming to the Sunday show with open ears, we will perhaps be less liable to forgetfulness of God, Judas’ downfall. Just a thought.

    I’m also glad you brought this up because it made me realize how even more prevalent the image of the tree is in the Bible than I thought. As I quoted in the post, Adam disobeyed God by means of a tree while the thief repented and obeyed God while hanging on a tree (the cross). Christ, of course, was crucified on a tree. And Judas too, like you mentioned, manifested his despairing of salvation by hanging himself from a tree. Other references that seem less connected are Israel as the fig tree and the cedars of Lebanon (symbolizing pride) of the Old Testament. I wonder if there are any others and how they relate to one another?

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