A sermon based on the readings for the fifth Sunday after Easter
Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35
Think very carefully about a couple of questions. The questions are simple ones. They are designed to help you form images in your mind; images that will help to shed light on a particular kind of wound. But before I ask the questions, let me give you a definition of the verb that drives both of the questions that I’m going to ask. The verb comes from the Latin verb “tradere” which means to hand over. In English we say: betray. The word betray literally means to hand over to an enemy by treachery or fraud. The word betray can also mean to be unfaithful; to violate trust or to deceive. So, here’s my first question: Have you ever been betrayed? Think about it very carefully. Has someone ever turned you over to the enemy by treachery or fraud? Has someone ever disappointed you; been unfaithful to you, violated your trust, or deceived you? Have you ever been betrayed?
The second question is this: Have you ever betrayed someone? Think about it carefully. Have you ever handed someone over to the enemy? Have you ever let someone down, been unfaithful, violated a trust or deceived someone? Have you ever betrayed someone?
Now take those two questions further: Have you ever been betrayed by someone you love? Have you ever betrayed someone you love?
The gospel reading for the fifth Sunday after Easter takes place on the night on which Jesus was betrayed. The night of Jesus’ last supper, a supper that took place after Jesus had humbled himself to kneel at the feet of his followers and bath them. A night on which the enemies of Jesus are plotting outside the dinner party; plotting to do away with Jesus. After washing his disciples feet, Jesus informs them that one of them will betray him. Peter, who is worried that Jesus might be talking about him, leans over and asks Jesus who the betrayer is? Jesus answers: “it is the one whom I give this piece of bread which I have dipped it in the dish.” Jesus dips the bread in the dish and gives it to Judas Iscariot and says, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”
No one at the table knew what Jesus was talking about. But after receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night. When Judas had gone out, Jesus proceeds to give his followers a new commandment. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Why after five weeks of celebrating Christ’s glorious resurrection does the church lectionary take us right back to Maundy Thursday; to the night of Jesus betrayal? Why bring up Judas at a time like this? Judas left the table a long time ago. Why bring up his dastardly deed? Now that Judas has done what he did; surely he’s no longer needs to be invited to our celebrations. Once Judas left that table and did what he did everything was different. But the church just won’t let it go. And so back to that horrible night we go. To the time when Jesus was betrayed. Jesus is about to go to the cross. Jesus is about to reveal to us a love and forgiveness that takes him all the way to the cross. So, he gives his followers a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Does this love extend even to Judas, and to the Judases of this world?
Upon hearing Jesus’ new commandment, did any one of the other disciples go out into the night looking for Judas in order to extend that love to him? Did anyone fear for Judas, miss him, or try — even after he brought soldiers to Gethsemane — to bring Judas back, to talk him out of his shame, his anger, his rapidly deepening hell? We don’t have the answers those questions. My guess is no one found him, even if someone tried. To this day people are searching for the “real story” about Judas. Judas is still out there, it seems, wandering somewhere in the night, forsaken by every generation of disciples since that ancient Thursday, the night of the new commandment. Every time we gather for our Holy Communion we commemorate Judas and his unforgivable behavior when we speak of the night when Jesus was betrayed. We speak of Judas’ sin, but we do not name him. We have not searched for him, and we have not found him. Judas’ place at Christ’s table remains empty.
We are not strangers to brokenness, either, we all know the pain of brokenness. We are all too familiar with the pain and shame of places at the table where no one sits any more. We ache and we sob over friendships that were put to death with hasty, angry, bitter words. For each of us, at least one Judas wanders about in the night unforgiven. From another perspective, each of us is Judas, slipping about in the shadows, unforgiven, unloved, utterly alone.
How then shall we love one another, as the Jesus’ new commandment requires? Judas is still hanging around. Judas is still out there. Judas is still here, within. The images that you hold in your minds of those who have betrayed you and those whom you have betrayed, these images are the very measure of our own brokenness. And I believe that these images are the very reason that we find it so difficult to follow Christ’s command that we love one another. Our wounds are deep and we cannot forget their pain. The wounds that we have inflicted on others have the uncanny ability to hurt not only those whom we have betrayed but we too suffer as a result of our betrayal. And in spite of all this pain, Jesus commands us to love one another.“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have loved one another.”
I suspect that the church brings us back to the night in which Jesus was betrayed precisely because our ability to love is directly connected with our ability to face those who have betrayed us and those whom we have betrayed. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We’re much better at holding on to our pain. Suffer enough pain and in no time at all you become familiar with it, and we learn how to live with it. Sometimes we can’t even imagine life without it.
As near as I can tell, the way in which Jesus loved, was by giving himself to others. Jesus gave so much of himself to others that Jesus eventually lost himself. Genuine love always means losing oneself—whether its losing oneself in another’s arms, in another’s laughter, in another’s tears; the more you love someone the more you loose yourself and in loosing ourselves we are finally able to find ourselves and we discover our true humanity. It’s strange how surrendering to love opens us up so that we can become the people God intends for us to be.
Those questions that I asked you to think about. Those folks who have betrayed you… those folks whom you have betrayed… surrendering to love means just that; surrendering betrayals. It doesn’t mean forgetting them. It does mean learning from them and surrendering them. Sometimes that means working it out and finding ways to reconcile with one another. But some betrayals we simply can’t sort out, so we just have to let them go, so that they don’t destroy our ability to love others. Surrendering a betrayal means giving it over to God and trusting God to work it out. I don’t mean some god up there in the sky who interferes with things down here on earth. I mean the God who dwells in, with, and through us. Letting go a betrayal means giving it over to the God who dwells amongst us; trusting the Spirit who lives and breathes in us to heal you.
Lately there’s been a great deal of speculation about Judas’ fate. I suspect that the many questions we have about Judas have something to do with the fact that at one time or another each of us knows exactly what it means to be Judas. Will Judas ever be forgiven? Will Judas ever sit among the communion of saints? We have reason to hope. The vision of restoration that is provided in the reading from Revelation provides hope. The writer of Revelation dreams of a day when God throws the party to end all parties, and at that party God will wipe away every tear. The pain of all the old betrayals will be no more. Following the writers metaphor to its conclusion I can see that day and in my vision of that day, I suspect that Judas will sit with us, and the scars of all our treachery will be healed. On the day when God makes all things new, the home of God will be among us, God will dwell with us as our God and we shall be God’s people, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. In the mean time, let all the world know who we are and whose we are.
Let us love one another as Jesus loves us. Let us do everything we can to heal the pain of betrayal. And the pain that we cannot heal, let us surrender it to our God so that it does not get in the way of our love for one another. Let all the world know we are Christians by our love.