Sacrament of Holy Unction
26 April 1989
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
In today's service we remember with a sense of horror, but also of awe the betrayal of Judas. But we also remember in the service the story of the three young men cast into the (fiery) furnace by the king of Babylon. Let us dwell one moment on the betrayal of Judas.
He was a disciple; he was as close to the Lord Jesus Christ as every other of His followers. In ways too mysterious for us even to guess something happened to him; he chose possessiveness, he chose the world instead of the poverty, the utmost poverty of God. He chose: he was free. And yet, the very betrayal shows us once more, in a new way what love divine is: against the background of this human frailty and this human treason we see Christ telling him, Go, and do what you intend to: not a word of condemnation, only, addressing His disciples, words of pain: Better would have been for the man who betrays the Son of God not to be born... And yet again, when Judas comes into the Garden bringing with him death and treason, Christ addresses him with words which are so powerful with love, so full of love: Friend! What has thou come to do?.. At a moment when Judas is delivering Him unto death, He calls him ‘Friend’ because He does not betray anyone: He remains faithful. And the eternal destiny of Judas remains to us a mystery; we only can imagine that when Christ descended into hell and harrow(ed) hell, Judas and He met again face to face. What this meeting brought, we cannot guess. But we can ask ourselves about our own faithfulness of our own betrayals; Judas’ betrayal was caused by his attachment to the things of this earth, to his political hopes, to his desire to be rich; ultimately – by his incomprehension of Christ and the ways of God. This is a warning; he was like the men of the parable, who refused to come to the feast of the King because the one had bought a field and he thought he possessed it, but in fact he was possessed by what he had acquired; who refused to come to the bridal feast of the King because he had bought five pairs of oxen, he had to try them, he had a task to fulfil on earth, he had no time for the feast of the (bridal room (?)) he refused to come because he had himself taken a bride and his heart was too full with his own happiness, his own joy; there was no space in it for sharing in another man's joy and happiness... Doesn't it remind us of oneselves in more than in one way? But when we have said all this, can we forget the words of Christ, ‘Friend’? And the faithfulness of one who in the Book of Revelation is called The One Who is Faithful: faithful to the end.
And we can see this faithfulness in the second image given us in today's service taken from the Old Testament. The three young men who had refused to adore false gods: greed, possessiveness, lust, hatred, who had rejected it all and who were condemned to be burned in a furnace by the king of Babylon. And when the king came to see what was happening to them, he exclaimed, ‘How is it – have I not cast into this furnace three young men in chains, and what do I see? Three men free of chains, and in their midst a fourth one Who is the Son of God...’ In the worst, in the most cruel trials, in the most fierce temptations, when temptation and trial are at fire, Christ is with us. Isn’t that enough to feed our hope with certainty? Not a tentative hope – the powerful hope which is certainty that God is with us... But does it apply only to those who are righteous? The three young men suffered for God's sake – what about the sinners, the criminals, the evil-doers? Remember the little mount without the walls – Calvary; three Grosses; one – the Son of God, dying, pure of stain, but carrying upon Him all the evil of the world. And two men who had been truly evil. And because the one recognised that he w a s evil, that he had d o n e wrong, turned to Him with a cry of repentance, regretting what he had been, what he had done and bearing the consequences of what he had been and done as the just reward for his sins – don't you remember his words addressed to the other man trying to silence his blasphemy and saying to him, We die justly condemned because we have done wrong, but He dies unjustly doomed because He had done nothing wrong... He accepted all the consequences, all the pain, the suffering, the horror that had befallen him because he saw in it justice, God’s justice and the retributive justice of men. And Christ promised to him that on that very day he would be in Paradise with Him.
What does it tell us again? It tells us that we all stand condemned before God; haven’t we done wrong? Haven’t we transgressed, that is crossed over (for from (?)) the land, the Promised land, the land of God on to the land which is still possessed by the adversary? Haven’t we done wrong turning away from the law of life and choosing the law of death? And again, when we look at ourselves – can we not see ourselves as a disfigured icon of Christ; and disfigured not by circumstances, not by other people, but first and foremost by ourselves. We can then turn to God and say, Yes! I recognise myself as one who has betrayed the trust Thou hast put in us! I have been unworthy of Thy faith in me – I accept all the consequences of my unfaithfulness... Lord! I am crucified by pain and shame – Lord, receive me in Thy Kingdom. And the answer is, Come unto Me all of you who are heavy laden, who travail and I shall give you peace... C o m e unto Me...
And so we come today to this Sacrament of unction with this complex awareness which is convoyed to us by today’s service. We come in the certainty that God is with us in our trial and in our temptations, in the furnace of evil and in the scorching furnace of purification if we accept the consequences of what we are. And if we turn to God and say, Lord! I h a v e sinned against heaven and against Thee! I am no longer worthy to be called Thy son – and we shall then be received by God as the prodigal son was received by his father: forgiven, that is embraced with joy, given our first robe, given God’s own trust, given by God our true name: My son, My daughter...
Let us then receive this sacrament of unction unto healing of soul and body, simply because we have come to God, simply because we say, Lord! S a v e us, as Peter cried when he was drowning... And we shall be cleansed, healed, and put on the road to salvation... What a wonder! What a wonder to be so loved and to be so s u r e of being loved.
Let us therefore come with faith, that is with certainty, with hope, which is another certainty and offer to God whatever amount of love we can; gratitude at times is the best beginning of love. Let us bring Him our trust, our gratitude, and let us receive from Him forgiveness and newness of life. Amen.