In the past couple of years I have learned of a unique day of Holy Week seldom celebrated by Christians in the West, but observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church: Spy Wednesday. It is the day when the church remembers the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, who delivered over the Lord Jesus to the religious leaders of Jerusalem to be crucified.
The day is observed in some interesting ways.
In Poland, an effigy of Judas is thrown from the steeple of the town church, and then dragged through the streets of the village/town. Sticks and stones are thrown at it by the townspeople, and then what remains of the effigy is drowned in the nearest stream or pond.
In the Czech Republic, the day is known as Ugly Wednesday, and chimneys are swept on this day, in preparation for Easter celebrations.
In Scandinavia, the metal clappers of church bells are replaced with wooden ones, to create a distinctly dull peal, in contrast to the joyous, resounding gongs of Easter morning.
I think it is a remarkably wise thing to draw the memory to this particular day, for the secret maneuvering, the selling out of a friends, the step-by-step slide into spiritual apostasy, insanity, and suicide by Judas is a tale that often gets lost in the events of the week, and anticipation of Easter morning. The life of Judas is presented to the reader of Scripture in a series of tragic ironies, and if each of the gospel writers had not recorded the tragic failure of Judas with the first mention of his name (“now Judas would later betray Him” they reveal at the first mention of Judas’ name), he would doubtlessly have seemed a fairly normal disciple to us. But as the week of the Passion unfolded—the ironies emerged…
- While he was entrusted with the common funds of Jesus and the disciples, a role that suggests trustworthiness with money—Judas routinely stole funds from the box.
- While he challenged the wisdom of allowing a woman to “waste” a tremendously valuable amount of perfume on Jesus as she anointed His body for burial, because the money gained through the sale of the perfume could have been used for the poor—Judas actually didn’t care at all for the needs of the poor. (John simply calls him a thief, John 12:6.)
- While he asked Jesus “Is it I, Lord” when Jesus revealed that one of the Twelve would betray Him—Judas had actually already struck a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus at time opportune for them.
- While he approached Jesus with a customary kiss of brotherly greeting—Judas was actually signaling to the hired mob which person they were to arrest and carry away to judgment from that dark garden.
- While he had received a large amount of money to betray Jesus to the chief priests—it was that very amount of money that Judas tried to return to them when he realized that he himself had been betrayed.
- And while he doubtlessly envisioned a future for himself of power, prestige, influence and wealth—Judas ended his own life at the end of a rope, a poor man whose name is the greatest byword for villainy in all history since that night. He is the Spy of Spy Wednesday, after all.
To be a spy is to live in paradox translated into hypocrisy. In the dark closet of the secret life, our inner goals, unspoken desires, and desperate plans for gain attract us, enchant us, intoxicate us, and then they often consume us. And along the way, they train us to be hypocrites.
Just like Judas.
Spy Wednesday is a good day to ask, “Are there any unidentified paradoxes in my life, that haven’t been laid at the feet of my Lord? It is also a good day to renew a commitment to remain close to Jesus, in a sense, living your life by His side. I write that because as I review the actions of the spy, it occurs to me that the only thing that might have saved him would have been if he had refused to leave the side of his Friend, Jesus, and his friends, the disciples, instead of going out into the night—alone.
Yours, Pastor Ken