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Maundy Thursday: We are Peter, We are Judas, We are Loved.

Filed under: Pastor Jeff's Sermons — Pastor Jeff at 12:56 am on Saturday, April 15, 2017

A sermon given on Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2017 based upon Matthew 26 and 27.

Re-reading the old, old story we will again hear tonight, certain things caught my attention.

The first thing I took notice of was of what directly precedes the words of the passion of Jesus:  his words regarding the dividing of the sheep and the goats — how the sheep are those who have served him in the least of his brothers and sisters – those whose lives are mangled by pain –  the lonely, the hungry, the thirsty the imprisoned.  Jesus meets us in every hurting human being.

The second was the absolute clarity Jesus had of how things will turn out in Jerusalem.  He has spoken of it clearly – at least three times in advance.   He will go to Jerusalem and suffer and die and rise on the third day at the hands of the religious authorities.  Challenge the powers in charge and you will pay a price.

That evil is very real, and we will hear again of evil planned in darkness, behind closed doors by respected upstanding citizens intent on holding on to the status quo.  That is the way of the world.

The world is held captive to evil forces, and yet, this world isn’t irredeemable, but redemption comes with a steep price.  Evil is not overcome with evil, but only with a love that is willing to suffer and die if necessary.  That is why Jesus comes to Jerusalem.

There is horror in this story — the extreme cruelty of those who conspire to have beaten, humiliated and Jesus nailed to the cross.

But the third thing that struck me is how disturbing is the behavior of the disciples in this story.  They who have been blessed to have had Jesus call them to be his disciples, who have had the benefit of two years of his personal tutelage – watching the life he lived, hearing the things he said, being loved by him – will show so clearly they have yet to understand “his way.”  This is so even though he has spoken clearly of the difficulty of his way right from the outset – in the sermon on the mount – when he spells it out.  “Love your enemies,” said Jesus, “and pray for those who persecute you,” because God is love and God loves everybody – the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Two years of tutelage, and they still don’t give it.  Just before arriving in Jerusalem, they’re jockeying for position to have the highest seats in his kingdom.  They’re reaching upwards – Jesus is emptying himself, taking the form of a servant, even unto death on a cross.

They are in denial that Jesus really is going to die – tone deaf in the story we will hear of the open-hearted woman they lash out for being impractical – this woman who unlike themselves recognizes what is about to happen and is determined to anoint Jesus for his burial with expensive perfume.

Jesus knew them far better than they knew themselves, and he knows us too.  He announces at the end of the last supper that they will all desert him, and Peter takes this as an opportunity for a perverse kind of boast:  though these other fall desert, I will not desert you. But Jesus knows the frailty of Peter.  He knows our frailty too.

Shortly afterwards he asks them simply to stay awake – to keep him company in the hour of his great torment in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But even this they can’t to.  They fall asleep.    Perhaps we can remember similar times when we have failed to be there for a loved on in their hour of great darkness.

When the arrest comes, one of the disciples takes out a sword and cuts the ear off of some poor underling, the High Priest’s slave.   “Put away the sword,” he demands. “All who take the sword will perish by the sword”  He’s been saying this sort of thing all along, but it was as if they refused to take it in.

And of course there are Peter’s three denials that he ever knew Jesus.  Fear is a powerful thing.  It can make the best of us deny our ideals.  We are Peter.  We are the disciples who have been tutored by Jesus –many of us for years and years – but still his way seems strange to us.

And the fourth thing that struck me was the figure of Judas.  Why did he betray Jesus? We do not know.  He became enraged for some reason – a seething, quiet anger — and who among us has not had anger eclipse our love?   In the moment following our anger seemed so crucially important.  But the anger passes, and the recognition of the love returns, and with it, a deep regret for what we did in anger.

Jesus knows Judas has betrayed him – will betray him — and yet he doesn’t stop loving him.  He doesn’t kick Judas out of the fellowship of the communion table.  He serves Judas the bread that is his broken body — the wine that is his she blood – all for the sake of forgiveness.

Jesus predicts that that the time will come for Judas when it will seem better that he never was born, and sure enough, when Judas realizes what he has done, that he has set things in motion a series of events that will lead to Jesus’ torture and death, he remembers the love he has for the man, and is filled with deep despair – surely in agreement now that it would have been better if he had never been born.  And so utterly alone, filled with self-contempt, Judas takes his own life.

We have known something of such feelings, such darkness, such despair.  We are Judas.

And then this most amazing thing:  in the end, Jesus willingly  enters into the same space that Judas found himself in – utter isolation and abandonment, crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

He dies for Judas, he dies for Peter, he dies for the authorities conspiring his death, for the soldiers mocking him, beating him, banging the nails into his hands.  He died for you and me, deeply flawed followers though we are. He considers us worthy to die for.

The world is full of evil and suffering, but the world is redeemable, and he invites us to pick ourselves back and try again to follow in his way for the redemption of this world God loves so.

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