Today is Holy Wednesday and for me Holy Wednesday has always been the last deep breath before the plunge. This afternoon I’ll be headed out to do the last (planned) visits before we begin the craziness of Maundy Thursday (at least it is a bit crazy around here), the solemnity of Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday, and the riotous celebration of Easter. Today is that moment where it seems all clergy take that last deep breath.
With that being said, today’s lectionary reading does not leave a ton of room for that deep breath. It is emotional, deep, and troubling. To be entirely honest, I feel strange writing a blog post about it in my bright clergy shirt. It feels very dark. In choosing an image to match this feeling, I chose a painting of Jesus’ giving His Farewell Discourse to the 11 remaining disciples as painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna in the 14th century because of the person who is missing from the painting.
The lectionary reading is found in John 13:21-32 and technically took place on Thursday of Holy Week. In the reading, Jesus reveals that someone at the table will betray Him. There is a moment of confusion and John is approached by Peter to ask who will betray Christ. A piece of bread is dipped in wine and given to Judas. The scripture says that after Judas receives this bread that Satan enters into Judas. Judas is sent to do what he must do and the actions of the evening are set into motion.
I must be honest, I do not like this reading. One reason I am not a huge fan of this passage is that I know this reading has been used to disparage the act of sharing communion by intinction along with Mark 14. I honestly do not like people who use scripture to disparage a meaningful act of communion with God, especially when it is not really an airtight argument.
Another reason that I struggle with this passage is simply the wording. Judas has been traveling with Jesus. Judas has the very best teacher, the very best friend, the very best guide, and the very best leader. Judas has the ideal situation to learn about the heart of God and Judas still just falls away. Judas is taken by the tempter and that is very discouraging to me, especially as his journey ends in suicide.
I have to be entirely honest. I wish that Judas’ story ended differently. Don’t you? Judas does betray Jesus, but the scriptures seem to imply that this is simply what must be. Judas has journeyed with Christ, shared a few loaves and fish with thousands, been sent out to preach with other disciples, and been a leader. In Acts, Judas’ place is filled by another disciple because Judas’ role had been very important in their life together. I wish Judas’ story ended differently. I wish it with all of my heart.
This reading hurts me down to my soul. Perhaps it is a good thing that we remember that Judas was a person on the day before his betrayal of Jesus. Judas’ story is a tragedy that leads to one of the greatest gifts of history. Even so, it is still a tragedy.
May God bless all those folks who are tempted to head in the way of Judas. May God help lead them into the path of folks who can invite and guide them back onto the path of life.