Judas, Easter 5C, May 19, 2019, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, AR, 5 pm

Judas Easter 5C, May 19, 2019, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Little Rock, Arkansas, 5 pm

John 13:31-35

(“At the last supper, when Judas 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. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

I think often of Judas. At the National Cathedral they have statues for all the disciples at the high altar, but for Judas there is an empty nitch. Was what he did so terrible that he should be written off as one of the world’s greatest villains? I don’t know about you, but I betray God every day. I deny him by turning my back on people I meet whom I cannot see the Christ within them. I spend money on personal luxuries that should be used to help the poor. I struggle with an overindulgence in food.

There is a Gnostic gospel of Judas that does portray Judas as a hero, believing that what Judas did was God’s plan and that he was acting on Jesus’ intimate instructions for him alone. The canonical gospels present a different story. Judas becomes more and more evil as you read from Mark to Matthew to Luke to John. Judas is described in John as evil, the devil from the beginning. In Luke the devil enters Judas only at the last supper.

I can’t really go with the Gnostic gospel, but I do believe that Judas might not have been so different from the other disciples? Peter denied him. The rest of them abandoned him. None spoke up for him. Paul, his greatest missionary, persecuted Jesus’ followers. /

Matthew (27:1-10) tells us that when Judas realizes what he has done, he tries to return the 30 pieces of silver he is paid to betray Jesus and then hangs himself. The book of Acts (1:18-19) says that Judas falls on a field he buys with the money and dies a painful death./

What is different about Judas from the other disciples? Judas cannot forgive himself and feel God’s forgiveness for what he has done even after he repents and tries to make things right. This is such a crucial part of 12-step recovery. Realizing the harm we have done to others, making amends, and accepting God’s forgiveness that is so freely given. And we must do this daily. And Judas is our icon of what we will become if we cannot make amends and accept God’s freely given forgiveness and love.

Theologian Morton Kelsey wrote a very practical book more than fifty years ago called The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation, as well as a revised edition, published twenty years later called The Other Side of Silence: Meditation for the Twenty-first Century. Kelsey believes that meditation is simply the way we set up the conditions to prepare for the God who is seeking us and breaks through to us, particularly in silence. “Doing meditation” involves using biblical stories, dream images, poems, and images from other sources.

Included in Kelsey’s book is a moving poem, “The Ballad of Judas Iscariot,” by the Scottish poet, Robert Buchanan, which I read and meditate on every Easter season. It reminds us that no one is lost or unforgiven or unloved by God. The ballad must have been powerful when sung. The story is of Judas wandering through regions of darkness until he spies a light from a lantern at a doorway. Jesus is holding up the light, and he beckons to Judas to come in and join his fellow disciples who are getting ready to eat. Jesus tells Judas that they have always been waiting for him before pouring the wine.

I offer the poem also to spiritual friends who feel they have done something unforgivable, or that God no longer loves them; and of course, I meditate on it myself when that darkness of guilt or shame or a poor self-image surrounds me as well.

Judas is a reminder of what happens when we cannot accept that we might be forgiven or loved. He is an icon of what it is like when we have difficulty opening ourselves to God’s Grace offered continuously through dark and light times in our life. In all honesty, is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus really worse than denying Jesus or abandoning him or persecuting his followers or denying him as the others did? Judas simply can not ask for or accept forgiveness. Judas has forgotten that the God of his understanding is a loving and forgiving God.

Here are a few lines from this ancient poem

'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
Came with a weary face —
Alone, alone, and all alone,
Alone in a lonely place!

He wandered east, he wandered west,
And heard no human sound;
For months and years, in grief and tears,
He wandered round and round,

For months and years, in grief and tears,
He walked the silent night;
Then the soul of Judas Iscariot
Perceived a far-off light.

A far-off light across the waste,
As dim as dim might be,
That came and went like the lighthouse gleam
On a black night at sea.

'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
Did hush itself and stand,
And saw the Bridegroom at the door
With a light in his hand.

'Twas the Bridegroom stood at the open door,
And beckon'd, smiling sweet;
'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
Stole in, and fell at his feet.

{the bridegroom speaks}

'The Holy Supper is spread within,
And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
Before I poured the wine!'

{Then}The supper wine is poured at last,
The lights burn bright and fair,
Iscariot washes the Bridegroom's feet,
And dries them with his hair.

Robert Buchanan, “The Ballad of Judas Iscariot”

From Miscellaneous Poems and Ballads, 1878-83.

Joanna Seibert. joannaseibert@me.com