(sermon note: 04-06 sermon note)
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.” ’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ Judas, who betrayed him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ He replied, ‘You have said so.’
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
This evening’s reading reminds me of the one in which Jesus was setting up for his last supper and he called Judas over to help. “Judas, please set the table. ” Judas complied and set the table. “Judas, put the food on the table.” Judas placed the food on the table. “Judas, please call everyone to the table. ” Again, he did as he was told and gathered everyone. As they were enjoying the feast Jesus planned and had Judas serve, Jesus got really serious and said,” This will be my last supper with you.” He paused and continued, ” One of you will betray me.” At which point Judas threw his hands up in a huff, “Why do I have to do everything around here?!”
Poor, poor Judas, gets such a bad rap in the whole Passion narrative! As if betraying Jesus wasn’t enough, it’s fun to imagine him being overloaded with a bunch of menial chores on that fateful night, a night that has been remembered for nearly 2,000 years. Sure, it’s a night that gave us one of Jesus’ greatest gifts, the sacrament of the eucharist. Through the eucharist, we get to take Jesus’ very essence of being, his body and blood, into ourselves along with his grace and forgiveness. We get to bodily receive his love. Our bodies become one with his body and thus our souls become one with his soul as well. The eucharist is a powerful gift of connection with our God. But as great of a gift the eucharist is, it’s hard to overshadow the great sorrow of that night so long ago. Along with the gift came a great betrayal. One of Jesus’ closest followers betrayed him by enabling him to get arrested and set into motion all the events that culminated in his dying on the cross. Judas himself didn’t kill Jesus but he tipped the first domino. One of Jesus’ closest friends of all people.
Perhaps that’s what makes the whole Passion narrative such a tragedy. If only Jesus had done something or said something so outrageous, so disruptive, then his arrest and crucifixion would have at least been slightly justified and/or understandable. We know Jesus was a disruptive person. Recall from Sunday’s reading how he rode into Jerusalem and immediately made a beeline to the temple where he overturned the tables of the money-changers. Jesus knew he was a disrupter. And anyone in the practice of disrupting knows, or at least ought to know, that there is a limit to how much disruption they can do before the powers of order and stability have had enough. All disruption comes to end eventually, chaos isn’t forever. And all agents of disruption eventually come to an end too. Jesus had to have known this, especially since he has the privilege to know the mind of God, the order of God. There is an order to everything and only God knows the full extent of it. Nevertheless, it wasn’t Jesus’ disruption that got him arrested but his friend instead and that’s what makes the whole Passion narrative so unsettling. If we can’t rely on our friends to stay loyal and true, who can we rely on?
I suspect few of us like to reflect on the implications of Judas’ betrayal. If he can get with it, then surely anyone can. If someone can betray God, then anyone can. Why would God allow himself to be betrayed? I get that it sets into motion the events that lead to our salvation from sin and death. But surely God has other ways to redeem us from sin and death than through betrayal. Just as He has other ways than through suffering to draw us nearer to him. Betrayal isn’t the only way to redemption. Maybe there is something worthwhile to the assertions of the hidden gospel of Judas after all. Recall a few years back when an alternative account of the Passion narrative was revealed, the so-called gospel of Judas. In the writing it was asserted that Judas was in cahoots with Jesus all along, that Jesus had chosen Judas to betray him and told him how to go about it. Judas was simply following orders from Jesus himself. Now I understand why this account hasn’t been added to the Bible we know and love. It just doesn’t help to build faith and faith is the greatest gift scripture has to offer. That said, the account does reveal an order to the Passion narrative. Jesus wasn’t a victim of chaos and disorder. As much as he disrupted the order of the world, he was always in service to the order of God. Jesus was just as much a slave to order as the rest of us. Betrayal is an affront to order and harmony and God ought to know better than to use it for whatever purposes.
Awfully bold of me to tell God what He ought to do or not do, eh?! I just think God has alternate ways to redeem us than through betrayal. Perhaps in his next great revelation He’ll choose one of those other ways instead. We can only hope! Our God is a good and gracious God for sure. Maybe next time we won’t need betrayal to get our attention and enable us to receive his good grace. God is good! God gave us the eucharist this night and for that we give thanks. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.