On Wednesday we have the service of Holy Unction because it emphasizes the expectation of Pascha: the resurrection, redemption and sanctification of all life. The purpose of Holy Unction is healing and forgiveness. It allows a person to share in the victory of Christ and raise him to the level of God's kingdom. It assures us of the spiritual power of the sacraments of the Church so that our trials of physical and spiritual sickness can be carried with courage and hope. It helps us to realize how fragile human life really is and how dependent we are on God. In this sacrament we are sanctified and united to the sufferings of Christ which we will witness in the coming days.
The biblical basis for the Sacrament is found in James:
"Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:13-17)Its place in Holy Week is connected with the Gospel account read at the Presanctified Liturgy earlier in the day where the woman poured "very costly fragrant oil" on the head of Christ while He was at dinner on this very evening of Holy Wednesday with Simon the Leper, the father of Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead.
"And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table." (Matthew 26:6-7)As Jesus had healed Simon of physical leprosy, the repentant harlot hoped to be healed of her spiritual "leprosy." The connection between this Gospel account and the anointing "for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the body is obvious.
Throughout Great Lent we have been preparing to celebrate the Passion of Christ and especially the great Feast of Pascha through our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Tonight we prepare to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the morning honoring the establishment of the Mystical Supper. At the very least we should receive Holy Unction for the forgiveness of sins and the health of soul and body.