This week in Boston, we’ve seen so many people in our community coming together to minister in many ways to those who have been wounded, whether visibly or not, by this tragedy. This reflects how Jesus called upon his disciples to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture. It is a story we know all too well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet.
What the disciples knew was that Jesus had just washed all of their feet, and told them that if they truly love him they must follow his example by ministering to one another, as he had. He then foretold his imminent betrayal by one of their own. Finally, Judas accepted an offering of bread and vanished into the night on some unknown errand. It was the evening of the “Last Supper.” The disciples had taken shelter from the darkness outside in the cherished, annual celebration of their love and connection with each other, and with the people of God.
We remember and celebrate this even today, in the sacrament of communion. The sharing of the bread is seen as the sharing of the Body of Christ that has been broken for us. By eating of it, we are sharing in his life, in his death, and in the resurrection. By eating of it together as a community, we are acknowledging that we are all part of the Body of Christ here on earth, working together to continue His ministry and to make manifest the Kingdom of God that is already all around us, even though we may not yet see it in all of its glory and perfection.
Judas took his piece of that bread as he left the light and warmth of his companions, and his Lord, as he retreated into the night.
Why did John think it so important to preserve the memory of this strange offering to the Betrayer? Judas is someone to be shunned, damned and forgotten for all time – why remember anything about him at all? Was that gift just for Judas? I doubt it. No passage in the scriptures has just one lesson for us – or I’d be out of a job!
I see some parallels between then and now. As a nation, as a community, we took in a family that had fled from war and oppression, gave them a home, gave them sustenance, gave at least one of them citizenship, and yet these two young Judases betrayed us. These sons of despair have forever scarred our beloved celebration of patriotism, of community, and individual achievement, with two bomb blasts, death and dismemberment. They have seared our hearts with their pain, shoved their inner darkness and alienation upon us in a forceful, shocking way that can never be forgotten, nor should it be forgotten. Many of us will forever bear scars, whether visible or not, of this evil.
But this meditation is not about our Judases. It was Jesus who put that morsel into those hands, his love and acceptance never left Judas, and it was Christ’s choice to continue to love him. The disciples had no part in that decision, and were not called to love the betrayer. Jesus asks us to love those who have personally hurt us, but he did not command the disciples to love each other until after Judas left. So, let us leave the two brothers of despair to history and consider the lesson here for us.
Almost two weeks after that terrible day, we are beginning to emerge from the same unlooked-for prison of fear, pain, and shock that must have consumed the disciples starting on that night, so long ago.
As the full cost of hateful deeds becomes known, as we eventually begin to hear the stories and losses of those who survived, as we begin to connect our stories with the narratives of those closest to the tragedy, and as news of what these two planned begins to surface, questions are asked, fingers pointed, accusations fly, and even (predictably) political advantage is being sought, using the misery of others as a footstool to victory. Shock and pain is turning to anger, and anger is being inflamed into hate.
The disciples faced such a time, too. They also had a need to find someone to blame, something to absorb misplaced anger, fear and frustration. It’s a very human reaction. They needed to find a way, somehow, to empty themselves of the pain within.
Jesus knew this. He knew that all too soon, great loss would engulf those he loved, and that it was inescapable. Those who survived would be asking questions, and questions would be asked of them. Accusations would be made, divisions would arise and could irretrievably fracture the tiny community that Jesus had worked so hard to build, a community that was still very fragile.
And yet, He gave some of that bread, a symbolic piece of his own body, an offering of community, and of his own death and the promise of resurrection, to the betrayer.
Jesus knew that a despairing and lost Judas would soon follow him to the grave. So, the lesson was mostly for his disciples, and therefore also for us: for as soon as Judas had left, and was no longer within earshot, Jesus said: “My children, My time here is brief. … You cannot go where I am going. So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.”
Jesus talked about love, not pain; about sharing love, not seeking justice; and about bearing witness to love, not enacting revenge, because carrying pain and anger is like a cancer: it devours us from within, destroying relationships, poisoning emotions, polluting our community with evil – just as those two young men sought to do to us with their pain. Can we allow this to continue?
The challenge we face, and it is admittedly a very difficult one, is the choice the disciples would soon face: are we going to do unto others as others have done unto us? Are we going to afflict those we love with the unresolved pain others have placed upon us, or not? By sharing that bread, Jesus showed that he did love his betrayer, but that love was now between him and Judas alone, the choice was his, and Judas’s, not ours.
Jesus was teaching his disciples, and us, that we have a choice as to what we do with the pain we carry. Shall we afflict others with it, or walk with them in love and compassion for their own wounds? Do we allow that pain to fester within our souls and do we allow it to then poison the ways in which we relate to others? Do we dump that pain out of ourselves in the misplaced hope that casting it from us can bring healing? It won’t. Dare we imagine that Christ welcomed such things, or that he was modeling them for us in this last moment of communion with his disciples? Obviously not.
For the body of Christ to survive, for the Kingdom to come to fruition, for us to succeed in the mission Christ bestowed upon us that night, the disciples had to model love, not hate; compassion, not judgment; and most importantly, unity, not division. For the group to survive and spread the Gospel as Jesus called them to do, they had to learn to make room for healing, not build new altars for hate.
And so we are given a new command: “Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways.” Christ loved us first, and it is only through sharing that love, which is already within us, that we shall be healed, and in so doing we shall find that we are helping others to be healed as well, for that love is in them too.
In other words, even though we will never forget what has happened, nor should we, that does not mean we have to allow the root of bitterness to fester within us and poison our lives, or allow it to destroy who and what we are and what we aspire to be as a community. The betrayer cast his pain upon us, but Christ gave us the choice, and the strength, to choose what to share of ourselves from here on. Christ will heal us, if we allow it to be so.
And so, rather than looking for blame as to why this happened, rather than shouting for revenge upon real or imagined enemies, let us unite and seek healing, let us come together to minister to those in pain. We are not called to judge, but to show the world our living, unbreakable, compassionate faith; that we are members of that indivisible, loving community of God preserved and passed down to us since that night through the many, many disciples of Jesus. For only by continuing to share Christ’s love and teachings, despite the pain, despite the losses, can we be healed, and only by doing so can we fulfill the promise that accompanies Jesus’ last requests: minister to one another, love each other and demonstrate that love to others. For only by doing so will everyone know us as His followers.
Christ’s seeds of love and compassion are already within us. We are called to minister to one another, so they will grow and not die. So, don’t despair, you are not alone, Christ, and all of us, are walking with you, and will do so for as long as it takes for your healing to be made manifest and beyond, for we all need each other in exactly that way in such times. The Holy Spirit will not let us forget that this is so.
Go in Peace, Amen.
Copyright (c) 2013, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site).