Collect, readings and a sermon by Andrew McKearney
Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards the human race sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
THE FIRST READING Isaiah 50.4–9a
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
THE GOSPEL John 13.21-32
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Tomorrow night, Maundy Thursday, we will recall Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. It’s a deeply poignant moment when we hear Jesus invite his friends to remain loyal, to not let the forces of darkness prevail, to remain united with him by breaking the same bread and sharing the same cup, joining him in this covenant meal.
Today our gospel invites us to reflect on another action that took place that same night, an action that could not be in greater contrast – the betrayal by Judas! This is the opposite of all that the supper means – it’s the rejection of loyalty, turning away to choose darkness rather than light.
Jesus and Judas had shared so much. Judas had heard Jesus preach, shared meals with him, watched him transform people’s lives. You get a sense in John’s gospel of the anguish of Jesus over Judas’ betrayal.
Today’s gospel passage comes immediately after Jesus has knelt in front of his disciples and washed their feet, has knelt in front of Judas and washed his feet!
No wonder Saint John writes: ‘Jesus was troubled in spirit.’
A moment later Judas leaves the room, some thinking he’s gone to buy something for the festival, others that he’s going to give something to the poor. John in writing his gospel leaves us in no doubt that Judas was doing neither of these things. Saint John writes: ‘after receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night.’
Judas does return a little later, but this time at the head of a large crowd with swords and clubs to lead them to Jesus as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’d arranged to give them a sign so that they could be confident of arresting the right person under cover of darkness. So coming up to Jesus, he greets him and gives him a kiss.
Many painters have portrayed this moment of betrayal. There have been other famous kisses caught by the paparazzi – one in particular comes to mind between Charles and Diana when Charles went to kiss Diana and she turned away.
Jesus did not turn away, but received the kiss from Judas, saying to him words very similar to the ones we heard Jesus use when Judas left the meal table: ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’
There was no going back. They then came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. There was no going back for Judas either.
It’s a deeply tragic part of the Passion story. Unlike Peter who denies Jesus, and the other disciples who all abandon Jesus, there’s no restoration of Judas, no story of forgiveness offered and accepted, no welcome back to the fellowship of the Lord’s Table. Instead a replacement apostle has to be found by the early church to make up the number of the 12, and Matthias takes the place of Judas.
What ultimately happens to Judas before the throne of God? We don’t know. We have to let this uncomfortable and difficult story be part of the bigger Passion narrative, and in turn let the Passion narrative be part of the even bigger story of God’s redemptive purpose for the world – a purpose in which nothing is lost.
Between today and Easter Day are the momentous events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
The last supper and the betrayal, the foot washing and Judas’ kiss, they all happen together on the same night, Maundy Thursday. These events culminate on Good Friday with Jesus being handed over to be crucified.
We can’t explain Judas’ action – many have tried! Instead we’re invited to go with the whole thrust of Christ’s Passion, which is to affirm in the most concrete way possible, that the mystery of human iniquity does not have the last word!
By Christ’s wounds we have been healed!
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included in this service, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, from which the scripture readings are taken, is copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.