Friday, March 29, 2013

Sermon, Maundy Thursday

Very truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.

We don’t hear these words from Jesus in tonight’s gospel.  While they are spoken on this night after the supper and after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, the people who put the lectionary together cut this section and moved it to be the gospel reading for Wednesday in Holy Week.  That’s too bad.

It’s too bad because by removing the scene with Judas we might come to the conclusion that he had left to betray Jesus earlier.  We might mistakenly come to think that he wasn’t part of the foot washing ceremony.  The fact is that Judas was present with the other eleven disciples at the supper and Jesus did wash his feet.

One of you will betray me.
Lord, who is it?
It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread.

Two thousand years of hindsight and selective memories have made it pretty clear that Judas is the bad guy.  Even though John makes it fairly specific that Judas is going to betray Jesus, he is also careful to point out that none of the other eleven really knew why he left.

If eleven people at a private dinner didn’t make the connection between, “It is the one whom I give this piece of bread,” and a certain person receiving that piece of bread and then leaving, then we need to keep in mind that neither do we live in such a clear-cut world.

Judas was a disciple for three years.  He followed Jesus, learned from Jesus, was sent by Jesus to heal and drive out demons.  On this night he ate with Jesus and had his feet washed by Jesus.  On this night, Jesus gave him a piece of bread and he betrayed Jesus.

One of you will betray me.
Who among us will it be?
It will be the one whom I give a piece of bread.

We will move into the church in a few minutes and, as part of our celebration of Holy Communion, I will give each one of you a piece of bread.

One of you will betray me.

I am not equating myself with Jesus; nor am I equating you with Judas.  But this incident brought to mind the fragility of friendship.  We can cultivate a friendship over years, but an ill-timed word, action or argument can destroy that friendship in an instant.  And in that instant we can feel betrayed.  It takes something special to overcome those feelings, to work through the pain in an attempt to regain trust and friendship.

Tonight the relationship between Jesus and Judas will be damaged.  Tonight the relationship between Jesus and Peter will be damaged.  The relationship between all twelve disciples will be damaged.  Tonight our relationship with Jesus will be damaged as well, as every one of us will receive a piece of bread and turn our backs on Jesus.

Tonight is a fragile night as relationships fall apart and we decide to participate in the removal of Jesus from our lives.  One of you will betray.  One of you will deny.  And before you look for the specter of betrayal and denial in someone else, you should look to your own actions that quite possibly lead to strife and division.

In Lent we are called to a season of self-examination.  There’s no better time for examining our own complicity in the events of tonight as we wash feet, share a holy meal, and then turn our backs on Jesus and walk out of an empty church.

And while it is important to put effort into understanding our own part in this great drama of misunderstanding, betrayal and denial, we should put just as much effort into Jesus’ mandate to love one another.  For it is only through the hard work of sacrificial love that we will be led to life-giving relationships. 

Because if we don’t learn to love one another as Jesus loves us, then at some point we will experience our own version of Maundy Thursday with betrayal, denial and relationships left as empty as the sanctuary after it has been stripped of everything meaningful.


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