Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Holy Wednesday homily for Covington's ecumenical Holy Week gathering

I suppose I have U2 on the brain at the moment, given that U2: The Hype and the Feedback is coming up in Cleveland (!) in a couple weekends. So, thought I would reinvigorate my blogging life by posting this one from just two weeks ago. It was a bit nerve wracking, actually, and the bulk of Holy Week, the Great Three Days, seemed a breeze after my official debut in the broader Covington community!

Wednesday in Holy Week (Year C)
27 March 2013
Homily given at First United Methodist Church, Covington, Ga.

OT: Isaiah 50:4-9a (“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”)
Psalm: 70
Epistle: Hebrews 12:1-3 (“let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”)
Gospel: John 13:21-32 (Judas at the Last Supper: “After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’”)

Let us pray:
(the Collect for Monday in Holy Week)
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Well, wouldn’t you know they’d give the new guy the Wednesday of Holy Week, when the appointed Gospel passage focuses, of all things, on Judas!  ...on one of the most despised characters in all of history and on his act of betrayal that sets in motion the harrowing events of Good Friday. So . . . Judas’s betrayal. Hmmm...

Well, I certainly don’t want to make light of the stark reality of betrayal in our beautiful yet broken world, but where do we connect with this story? Am I wrong in saying that it does seem like a hard one to get up close and personal with? It seems like such grand, over-the-top kind of sin that we’re probably more inclined to think of a story of betrayal in a novel we read, or in a movie we saw, or in a favorite TV series from the mid-1980s, than to think of something we’ve been a first-hand witness to. Love - or more likely, lust - seems to often be involved. The pursuit of power and influence seems to feature regularly. Selfishness overtaking the communal ties of family, friendship, and community is often at the root of betrayal. And without a doubt, material greed has got to be THE prime motivator in the history of human beings betraying one another, right?

Now, beyond the world of fiction, I’m also thinking there is enough cumulative and varied human experience in this room to guarantee that several of us have some pretty up-close-and-personal stories of betrayal. And if so, I hope those stories are not too painful to recall. But do stay with me...there’s a good word for all of us, today.

So, in a world where, at least in our day-to-day lives, we don’t typcially experience the kind of grand betrayals of a Judas or a Benedict Arnold on anything like a regular basis . . . or even feel like we perpetrate much in the way of betrayal ourselves, perhaps there’s another way to come at this. Perhaps we need to consider the little betrayals we perpetrate - in our daily lives - betrayals of the Christ in us, and of the Christ in others. The little betrayals of that divine spark, that imago Dei or image of God, that imprint of the Divine which, as Christians, we understand resides within each of us, and not just in us, but within the heart and soul of every...single...human...being.

I’m thinking, of course, of the multitude of ways that we fail to meet our full potential as human beings and beloved children of God; the ways we fail to live whole and full and Christ-centered lives; the ways we fail ourselves and our families and neighbors, in the community and the wider world around us, by not being as compassionate, as merciful, as just, as truthful, as generous, as peaceful, and as self-giving, as God created us to be.
Now, I’m afraid that, were were to go on down that path of ‘little betrayals,’ we would be here way past lunch time! So let me share with you the thing that truly came to me FIRST, when I sat down and read today’s text.

Haven't seen you in quite a while (the song goes)
I was down the hold, just passing time.
Last time we met it was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom.
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time...except you.
You were talking about the end of the world.

The words are not mine. They are lyrics from the first verse of a 22-year-old rock ‘n’ roll song. I’m embarrassed to admit...that given the utter familiarity of this song and how it has played in my head, on repeat, over those 22 years, I don’t think I truly realized the story it tries to tell until about six weeks ago. (How nice to have a new insight after so long!) What I finally came to understand recently, you see, is that this song - yes, a rock-song! - is about the betrayal of our Lord on the night before his death; and that the speaker in the song is Judas himself, talking to the Jesus who was once his dear friend and teacher, and whose disciples he’d served as keeper of the common purse. It is today’s story, told from the perspective not of the evangelist - the narrator - nor of our Lord, the betrayed . . . but as told by Judas, the most famous betrayer of all time.

Do you hear the allusions to the scene we just heard about in John’s Gospel? The “low-lit room” sounds just about right for a cramped, rented room lit only by candles. How about, “as close together as a bride and groom” - that marital imagery so commonly used in the New Testament to describe the relationship between Christ and his followers. And, of course, the reference to that final, meaning-filled meal there in the upper room: “We ate the food, we drank the wine.” But what’s that at the end, there:  “Everybody having a good time, except were talking about the end of the world?” At the end of the verse, there, the focus of the action shifts away from the plight of Judas the betrayer, directing it back to the person of Jesus and what is happening with him. That is, to the approaching end of one kind of world, and the beginning of another.

In the garden I was playing the tart (Judas continues to sing, as we moved forward in the story)
I kissed your lips and broke your heart.
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world.

Could it be, perhaps, that the Judas portrayed in this song is beginning to uncover a truth about the path Jesus was on, the path that could not be obstructed even by a betrayal by one of his closest friends?

Waves of regret and waves of joy (the song finishes)
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy.
You, you said you'd wait till the end of the world.

That’s what the Judas in this song hears our Lord saying in the end, you see. Saying that this ol’ broken world as we know it is coming to to an end, that a new world is dawning, and that he, Jesus, will wait - even until the end of time - for those who want to come along.

So at the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, at getting to Sunday before Thursday night, when we’ve fallen asleep in the Garden, stood dumbfounded at Judas’s kiss, and denied our friendship with Jesus to others; before we’ve watched on Friday from the side alleyways and the neighboring hillsides - watched fearfully and shamefully as our friend Jesus struggles up to Calvary to meet a tortuous death; before we’ve sat on Saturday in the utter silence of the tomb, at the bottom of the pit of despair and loss, wondering just how it all went so wrong for our teacher, the wise-cracking rabbi, our fearless leader and apparently also for us, his little band of brothers and sisters out to heal and remake the world . . . at the risk of jumping ahead in the story, this old song reminds us today that in his Passion, our Lord has shown us that this ol’ broken world, as we know it, has come to an end, that a new world - his kingdom - has dawned, and that he will wait - even until the end of time - for those who want to come along . . . even, and especially, those like you and me, who fall into little - and sometimes big - betrayals now and then, of the Christ-like people we were created to be.  Amen.

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