Last week I reflected on our own resurrection stories. How for each of us there will always be a possibility to nail our old selves to the cross and be born again in Christ. That for each of us there could be a resurrection story no matter how much we mess up and no matter how much we disappoint ourselves and our Father in heaven. How there is always hope, there is always grace and there is always forgiveness no matter what.
Because as Christians we believe that for each and every one of us there is an Easter story waiting to happen. God will reach down to us in our shame and despair and He will surround us with his love and grace. There are no exceptions. Even when we walk away, even when we turn our backs on Him. He will pursue us to the very end and he pursues us through Jesus because through him we will receive our forgiveness, through him we are made new.
Then this week, I watched a documentary about Judas and I started to think about the message I had shared with you on Sunday and I thought about the message in relation to him, to his story, because there was no Easter for Judas, there was no resurrection for him. There was no light shining that would overcome all darkness, he never felt the joy of the spirit on Pentecost, he never saw death defeat sin, he never received grace and forgiveness. He walked away in shame and despair and he did not feel the loving arms of his father reach down and comfort him. There was no resurrection story for him.
When Judas went to that field to take his life he carried with him the burden of guilt and remorse and as he hung from that tree he never experienced Gods words of grace. In his isolation he didn’t know that Jesus died for our sins, including his.
If we go back to John’s words as he describes that night, we see a series of contradictions - we see Jesus flanked by both love and betrayal, the beloved disciple and Judas. The bread dipped and passed to Judas, an action that showed special friendship, and yet announces his betrayal, the betrayal of the deepest most intimate friendship. The tender foot washing, the last supper, the central sacrament in Christianity, and Judas is there, he too has his feet washed; he too tastes the bread and drinks the wine. He is invited to be part of the Easter miracle, and in a way he is. Then Judas leaves the light and goes out into the darkness. Here John paints pictures of extremes, love and betrayal, darkness and light, the trusted friend who then became the enemy for all time.
It’s a tragic story, a story which hurts and for me the saddest part of the story is not the betrayal, terrible as it is, for me the pain is in Judas’ terrible realization of what he had done, what he must have felt and carried, how in his shame and despair he saw no alternative but to take his life. The human isolation, the shame and despair, the regrets and repentance. Perhaps this hurts because we have all felt these human emotions at some point in our lives. We have all felt shame and despair, we have felt regret and remorse and yet we have been able to name these feelings, we have been able to name the shame and we have been forgiven, we have received grace and in our brokenness and frailty we have been restored.
There was no restoration for Judas, no Easter story, no forgiveness. Perhaps what hurts in this story is the if onlys, the what ifs. Because had his course of action been different he could have shared the resurrection, he could have known the spirit of Pentecost he could have been part of the good news. But by taking his own life he not only gave up on himself, he gave up on God, because forgiveness can only be received by those who repent and accept and although we know from Matthews gospel that he repents, he takes the coins back and leaves them on the floor of the temple, we also know that in his shame and despair he doesn’t accept. So great is his burden of guilt and shame that he gives up hope in God, and in doing so he closed his mind to what had been in front of him and stepped out of the light and into the shadows. His tragedy was that he didn’t realize that even he wasn’t beyond forgiveness. What hurts me the most in his story is that the Judas story is the story of others through the ages. That there are people out there who may feel the same, who don’t feel that forgiveness is for them, who share the Judas feelings of being an outsider, not good enough, unforgiven. What hurts me in this story is the humanness of it, the reality and the truth. I am not here to judge Judas, I am not here to judge those in shame and despair, but if I believe in the cross, if I believe that Jesus died for us so that we could be forgiven if I believe he died for all sins including ours, including Judas’ then I have a responsibility to share this and if you believe this then you have a responsibility too. We should have an urgency to reach out to the Judas’ of this world and convince them to accept Gods grace and love.
Maybe Judas had to betray Jesus, maybe it had to happen that way to fulfill the prophecy we will never really know. All we know is that his betrayal led to his isolation and the rejection of his community, we know that for all time the name Judas is one of the worst insults we can throw at someone. We know that that no one went to seek him out we know he was judged. But is it our place to judge? Was it the disciples place to judge? Did they fail him? Do we fail the unloved living in their shame and despair? Should they have acted on Jesus command to others, as he loved them? Should we? Because he needed more than anyone to hear the words of love and forgiveness and he needed to hear of Gods grace. There are Judas’ out there and they need to hear this too, and we are the ones to tell them because we all have the authority and we all have the responsibility to remind people that we are all loved, we are all forgiven.
Behind me is a picture of a window in a little church in Morton, Dorset. The image can only be seen from the outside and it is the image of Judas, the betrayer of Christ. It is the creation of the glass artist Laurence Whistler, and it was finally installed in 2014, 14 years after Whistler's death and almost 30 years after the parishioners, appalled at the subject and the strangeness of the image, rejected this valuable gift.
The church had been destroyed during the bombings during the second world war and it was slowly reconstructed by the faithful, including all the beautiful stained glass windows. The rector, Jacqueline Birdseye, led the move to bring Judas back to the church, because she believed it was a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness.
What interests me is the image is the light that shines onto Judas face because it reminds me of when I came to faith thirteen years ago. Shortly after my salvation one of my closest friends was found dead in his home having suffered a heart attack. We had been Buddhist leaders together for many years and I felt a terrible pain and loss because he had died without knowing the love of Jesus. When I shared this with a close friend she shared her view on salvation which is this; that she follows a God who pursues us to the last moments of our life and that in those moments before death we will never know if salvation takes place. It is between God and the dying. This gave me great comfort back then and it gives me comfort today as I look at this window. Like my friend I can’t limit God, the God of love, of grace and forgiveness, I cant know what miraculous moments take place during the last breaths of others. But it is my hope that salvation, grace and forgiveness can take place, even at the very end.
I don’t have any answers for you today; I am not sharing an opinion or a point of view. Today I offer you the questions that I have been grappling with this week as I reflected on Judas’ story, and my biggest question is what would have happened if Judas had walked towards the resurrection, what would have happened if he had received forgiveness and grace? What would have happened if he had heard the words of grace and forgiveness that were just for him? What would have happened in his story and more importantly, what would have happened in ours?
I want to finish with the prayer of Jesus from John 17, the prayer that Judas didn’t hear;
13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!
25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”