A sermon for Wednesday in Holy Week preached by Nikolaj Christensen on 31 March 2021.
John 13.21-32. You can also watch the sermon on YouTube.
It’s one of the most iconic scenes from the last supper, depicted in countless paintings: the Beloved Disciple leaning on Jesus’ chest; Peter asking, ‘who is the betrayer?’, while Judas sneaks off into the night. And it’s a deeply bleak scene really. Jesus is ‘troubled’. The disciples are ‘uncertain’. And Judas is possessed by Satan and walks off into the dark, away from the light. Beyond that description, we can probably never really understand what Judas’ motivations were. We can only speculate. But perhaps where we can begin to identify with him is in what happened afterwards, when Judas was overcome with regret and remorse at what he had done.
Regret is such a powerful, overwhelming emotion. I’m sure we can each think of times when we have been beset with regret over some decision we have made or some unintended but avoidable failure. It can occupy every idle moment. You just wish you could turn back time. You can’t believe you are now forced to live in a world where you did this, or didn’t do that, and you can’t get to live in a world where you did what you wish you had done.
Judas tries to go back; he tries to give the money back to the high priests, but no: ‘It’s your problem’. He can’t see a way forward; he’s completely stuck. And in the end, he takes his own life. But it didn’t have to end that way, and that’s the tragic part.
Things that have gone terribly wrong do get back on track, through God’s grace. Marriages that are failing get back on track, not always but some of the time. Other strained relationships are healed. Failed careers get back on track, or on an even better track than before. Often it’s forgiveness that’s the key: you forgiving the person who has hurt you, or asking for forgiveness, or both – and both are hard.
Jesus as he was being hung on the cross cried ‘Father, forgive them’. After the resurrection he reinstated Peter, the disciple who had so publicly denied knowing anything about Jesus. Paul, the foremost persecutor of the Christians, was turned around and made into the foremost missionary of Christ. And Jesus would have forgiven Judas as well; there can be no doubt about it. We see it in the passage we have heard just now, quite clearly, in hindsight, although the other disciples miss it in the moment: Jesus gives a piece of bread to Judas.
This is the last supper, the meal we are about to re-enact, so sharing bread in this context is no trivial thing. It’s a token of forgiveness, of restoration, of reconciliation, just like when we receive the bread of life into our hands in the Sacrament. Jesus took our burdens with him on that cross. So, whether it’s regret or whatever your burden is, make sure that when you reach out to receive his body, his life, you drop everything else.