I’d like you to think very carefully about a couple of questions. The questions are simple ones. They are designed to help us form images in our minds; images that might 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; or been unfaithful to you, or 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, or been unfaithful, or 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. After receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. It was night, darkness. 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. Christ is risen. We are five weeks into the celebration of Easter. Why bring up Judas and his dastardly deed? Now that Judas has done what he has done, surely, he 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. 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 that takes him all the way to the cross. So, Jesus gives his followers a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
“Does this LOVE extend even to Judas, and to all 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?”[i]
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 Communion, we commemorate Judas and his unforgivable behavior when we speak of the night when Jesus was betrayed. We speak of Judas’ betrayal, 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. Even here in this community, 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 each of us.
The images that we hold in our minds of those who have betrayed us and those whom we have betrayed, these images are the very measure of our own brokenness. 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 our pain. The wounds that we have inflicted on others have the uncanny ability to hurt not only those whom we have betrayed, for we too suffer as a result of our betrayals.
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 we become familiar with it, and we learn how to live with it. Sometimes we can’t even imagine life without our pain. 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 involves a degree of losing oneself—whether it’s losing oneself in another’s arms, in another’s laughter, or in another’s tears; the more you love someone the more you give of your very self. Experience teaches us that 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 begin to live into our full humanity.
Those questions that I asked you to think about. Those folks who have betrayed you… those folks that you have betrayed… surrendering to LOVE means just that; surrendering betrayals. It does not mean forgetting the betrayals. It does not mean ignoring the betrayals. It does mean honestly name the betrayals for what they are. It does mean learning from them and it means finding ways to surrender our betrayals. Sometimes, this means working things out and finding ways to reconcile with one another. Sometimes this means recognizing that some betrayals we simply cannot sort out. Remember, Judas’ betrayal set off a string of events that resulted in the deaths of both Jesus and Judas. Some betrayals lead us to very dark places. Darkness has the power to swallow us up. Only LOVE can permeate the darkness. We can surrender ourselves to the darkness or we can surrender ourselves to LOVE. Darkness allows us to hold tightly to our pain. LOVE empowers us to see just enough light to find our way through the pain. We can hold onto our betrayals and hide in the darkness, or we can surrender our betrayals and trust that there is enough light to find a way forward.
I suspect that each of us know very well the contours of the darkness. I know that there is a familiar comfort to be found in the darkness. But we have also experienced the joy that comes from venturing out into the light of a new day. That new day cannot be fully embraced, when we are holding onto the pain that betrayal inflicts. We just have to let go of our betrayals, so that they don’t destroy our ability to love others. I know that there is a particular kind of self-satisfaction that comes from holding on to our pain. It is not easy to surrender what is rightfully ours. Surrendering a betrayal means giving it over to the LOVE that some call God; surrendering and not knowing but trusting that all shall be well.
I’m not talking about surrendering to some far-away-god up there in the sky who interferes with things down here on earth. I mean surrendering to the LOVE that dwells in, with, through, and beyond us. This kind of surrendering means stepping into the future, trusting that when we put one foot in front of the other, the GROUND will be there; the GROUND of our Being which is the LOVE that we call God. Letting go of a betrayal means giving it over to the LOVE who dwells amongst us; trusting the LOVE who lives in us, the LOVE that breathes through, the LOVE that works through us and beyond us to heal us.
Lately there’s been a great deal of speculation about the fate of Judas. Some scholars go so far as to say that Judas is an archetype designed to reflect our very selves to us. I’m not sure it matters. I am sure that Judas symbolizes something about each and every one of us. 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. Was Judas ever forgiven?
We have reason to hope. The vision of restoration that is provided in the reading from Revelation provides hope that even the worst of us can be renewed. The writer of Revelation dreams of a day when the HOLY ONE throws the party to end all parties, and at that party LOVE wipes away every tear. The pain of all the old betrayals is transformed into wisdom.
Following the writer’s metaphor to its conclusion, I can see that day and in my vision of that day, I suspect that each of us who have at one time or another embodied Judas, we will be renewed, and the scars of all our treachery will be healed. We don’t have to wait until the end of time to experience this promise of renewal.
LOVE is risen. LOVE is risen indeed. Alleluia! LOVE makes all things new. LOVE dwells with us and we are LOVE’s people, LOVE will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. In the meantime, let all the world know who we are and whose we are. Let us love one another as Jesus loved. Let us do everything we can to work together to heal the pain of our betrayals. As for the pain that we cannot heal, let us surrender our pain to the MYSTERY that IS LOVE. So that our even our pain does not get in the way of our LOVE for one another. Let all the world know we are Christ’s by our LOVE.
[i]“Proclaiming a Crucified Eschaton,” by Frederick Niedner (Institute for Liturgical Studies, Valparaiso University, copyright 1998)