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Wednesday: turmoil

A simple offering of words this night as we enter into the troubled state of Jesus’s heart and his disciples’ turmoil and anxiety ….

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas,the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

John 13:21-32 NIV

Scripture gives us some insight into the kind of man that Judas was. We met him on Monday as a liar and a thief who would criticise a woman for an extravagant act of worship because of what it cost him … and lie about his motivation for doing so. 

We will meet him again tomorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane when he betrays his teacher and friend with a kiss. We know his end – how he regretted what he had done and hung himself because there was no way to take it back. 

Yet, as we look around the table in this particular passage tonight we see a gathering of very anxious, very human men who – at Jesus’s proclamation of the coming betrayal – do not rush to point the finger at another or protest their innocence but want to know which one of them it might be. 

They were a close group who had journeyed together intimately over a number of years – from different backgrounds, yes; with vastly different personalities, certainly – but bound in wonder and belief to this man: Jesus. There would have been squabbles and conflicts, smaller cliques developing between those with a natural affinity, and an understanding of each person’s gifts and shortcomings that physical closeness and camaraderie brings. 

As they listened to those words, as they scrutinised each other, I wonder what they saw in one another’s hearts and minds? I wonder if they considered what was truly going on within their own and that gave them pause.

What strikes me most, time and time, about this story is how Jesus acts from the turmoil within his spirit. He speaks the truth and then dips a piece of bread into the dish and gives it to the one who will betray him. This act is not just a means to out the betrayer in the midst but, culturally, a tradition performed by the host of a table to honour a special guest. 

It is a radical, intentional gesture of affection that includes him for eternity in the meal of broken bread and shared cup which proclaims that, by a love and grace that we are freely given, we are forgiven and bound to the eternal life of Christ.

Still, Judas chooses to leave the table and to cloak himself in the shadow of night. And soon, Peter will choose to deny any association with the Messiah to save himself. 

We all make our choices. This Easter, what life do you choose? 

Monday: Fragrance

Tonight, we gather at Jesus’s feet to worship an extravagant act of worship (based on John 12:1-11, from The Passion Translation). Before you begin, I invite you to light a scented candle or rub some scented oil or spray some perfume lightly on your wrists – if you have these things at home. 

Watch the video reflection and prayer below by clicking here Video – or read the words carefully giving yourself time to breathe and reflect as indicated.

Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply. Notice the smells, the fragrances which fill the room in which you are sitting – much as the Spirit of God fills your heart. 

Think back on this night of costly perfume spilt in an extravagant act of worship to a story that comes well before it … to a time when something amazing happened in Bethlehem: the birth of the One who would be King of the whole earth.

Remember how the wise men came to worship, bearing costly gifts of their own. The gift of gold. The gift of frankincense – which was used for worship then – and is still used in places to pray today, turning first from black to white before its scent is released.

There was another gift too. Another smell. That of myrrh – a gum or resin – that was placed with the dead at burial and burned at the funerals of those whose death was important.

Think of Jesus who died for you, whose death was important for the life of all. 

Breathe in deeply. Imagine the scents of the stable and the foreshadowing of a tomb outside which, very soon, women will weep in the bleak morning light as they seek to care for a body taken in haste from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. 

This is the night that we breathe in deeply the sweet scent of love between friends, of a meal shared where Martha served and Mary scent and there was no squabble between them because Lazarus, their brother, was returned to them from the dead, or worship in spirit and truth that does not count the cost and will not be contained by the practical.   

Six days before the Passover began Jesus went back to Bethany, the town where he raised Lazarus from the dead. They had prepared a supper for Jesus. Martha served, and Lazarus and Mary were among those at the table. Mary picked up an alabaster jar filled with nearly a litre of extremely rare and costly perfume—the purest extract of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them dry with her long hair. And the fragrance of the costly oil filled the house. 

Breathe in deeply and let your love for the Lord fill your heart – Saviour that he is.

But this is also the night that we breathe in deeply the sharp scent of ambition, of dishonesty, of betrayal as we are given a glimpse into Judas’ heart and find it full of himself. Meanly, he turns on Mary for her generous act. Quickly, Jesus comes to her defence with words that speak of the darkness that will soon descend – and Judas will play a significant part in that.

But Judas the locksmith, Simon’s son, the betrayer, spoke up and said, “What a waste! We could have sold this perfume for a fortune and given the money to the poor!”

(In fact, Judas had no heart for the poor. He only said this because he was a thief and in charge of the money case. He would steal money whenever he wanted from the funds given to support Jesus’ ministry.)

Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has saved it for the time of my burial. You’ll always have the poor with you; but you won’t always have me.”

Breathe in deeply and let the Lord’s love for you fill your heart – sinner that you are.

This is the night that we breathe in deeply the contradictions of those who were moved by Jesus’ miracles to worship and believe and those who would plan and plot to see him die for such miracles were incontrovertible proof that he is the Son of God..   

When the word got out that Jesus was not far from Jerusalem, a large crowd came out to see him, and they also wanted to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. This prompted the chief priests to seal their plans to do away with both Jesus and Lazarus, for his miracle testimony was incontrovertible and was persuading many of the Jews living in Jerusalem to believe in Jesus. (John 12:1-11 The Passion Translation).

Breathe in deeply on this night when past and future meet in a fragrance poured upon soon-to-be pierced feet. Breathe.  

***

Oh Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead,
and, in your last days, reclined at the dinner table with followers and friends,
~ savouring the intimacy,
~ unearthing the essential,
~ contemplating the road ahead,

in grateful adoration, I kneel before you this night:
my Saviour,
my Rabbi,
my Companion …

my Treasure:
~ cherished,
~ worshipped,
~ sought after,
~ centre and sustainer of my life.

Like perfume from the alabaster jar,
may my unstoppered confessions spill
and find your welcome and defence:
~ that I have forgotten the cost of your unconditional love while putting a price tag on on my own offer of forgiveness and friendship,
~ that I have held onto and hoarded – for good reason and poor – my time, my resources, my grace,
~ that I have been so caught up in my plans, my agendas, my desires, that I’ve lost sight of your will and your way,
~ that I have been ignorant of your presence, of your need, in light of the urgent and the tangible that crowds in on each day.

As I look upon these feet that walked within my world,
freshly anointed,
soon to be wounded,
~ wipe away all of my transgressions,
~ make me attentive to the immediacy of your kin(g)dom,
~ and fascinate me with the fragrance of your loving-kindness.

Amen.