Outstretched Arms of Grace: Wednesday of Holy Week

In this Holy Week series I would like to invite you to consider Jesus’ “outstretched arms of grace” toward all who followed him as disciples. Many sought to emulate his humble life, obedient self-sacrifice, and unconditional service to others…what will be your response today? As you pray and reflect, behold his glory, believe his message, belong as his beloved disciple, and become more and more like his image, with more of your true identity in Christ Alone.

Read Mark 14: 1-11

Silent Wednesday. Known more for darkness than light. Many will gather tonight for Tenebrae service, when darkness will descend upon them through the hymns, readings and reflections calling for their heart’s focus on this mid-week turning point to the drama of Holy Week. The lights are extinguishing, as the earthly life and ministry of Jesus is coming to dramatic conclusion.  From Wednesday we descend even further into the dark days of denial, humiliation, and ultimate death on the cross. No turning back.

What we do know is that on this day Judas is preparing to betray Jesus. He agrees to thirty silver coins from the chief priests in return for directing them to Jesus. From then on Judas is on the watch for an opportunity to hand him over. Darkness is personified in a man with a dastardly deed to complete.

The account of Judas’ preparation for betrayal is preceded by the story of Jesus in Bethany, reclining at the table of Simon the Leper. A woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were indignant with the waste, and she was rebuked harshly. Judas was one who objected; not because he cared for the poor who could have benefited from selling the perfume, but selfishly for him as a greedy thief.

Jesus honors the woman for pouring perfume so extravagantly, calling it “a beautiful thing…to prepare for my burial.” Jesus knew her heart and was pleased with her offering of love. He also knew the heart of Judas and the eventuality of his betrayal. To both Jesus extends his outstretched arms of love, as a recipient of loving worship and as inheritor of Judas’ projected duplicity and disloyalty. His freedom and faithfulness to offer love no matter what will transpire is a wonderful portrayal of the true Jesus.

We are left to presume how the remaining hours of this day are used by Jesus and his followers. One might project him walking peacefully, reflecting prayerfully, watching and waiting, noticing, listening and preparing himself for the turning points yet to come.  While the plot to arrest, convict and crucify is unfolding all around him, we can only imagine how he’s getting prepared for what’s to come.

That’s why the picture of contrast between expensive perfumes being poured out on his head is so diametrically juxtaposed with his friend selling out to the authorities in order to hand him over to death. Both are essential to his pending death. Both are crucial to the story line of this dramatic week. Both are hinges to what’s to come. Both acts are indispensable to his final sacrificial drama on the cross.

Behold him resting peacefully amidst a brewing caldron of exploitation; believe in the power of the cross to stampede over death into eternal life; belong to the ones who know the full story and will mourn only so long; and become transformed from the inside out by the life-changing unconditional love of Jesus.

For additional reflection today, prayerfully consider the words of this ancient Holy Week hymn, “My Song Is Love Unknown” written in 1664 by Samuel Crossman.

My song is love unknown, My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.
O who am I, That for my sake
My Lord should take Frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, My Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way, And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save, The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life no house, no home, My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb, But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was his home;
But mine the tomb Wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

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