sermon was preached
Reading: Mt 26:14-16
There are still plenty of people in this so called rational age
who solemly change their house no. from 13 to 12a,
who cancel their visit to the dentist if it is on Friday 13th,
and scrupulously avoid inviting 12 friends to a birthday party,
lest with themselves those eating number 13.
And - consciously or unconsciously,
they are recalling the story of the Last Supper when 13 people -
Jesus and his 12 disciples - broke bread together,
with Judas the betrayer, the Judas, the 13th guest at table.
Dante drew a word picture of the circles of hell,
and put Judas at the very deepest point - the epitome of evil.
And over the centuries people have shunned even the shadow of Judas -
the unlucky 13th man whose influence is till to be still to be avoided.
But what sort of person was Judas?
And why did he do it??
Its the question all the detectives ask -
Whether you watch Morse or Taggart or Frost or Hetty Wainthrop,
they are all anxious to find a motive - why did he do it??
And what of the biggest crime of all time - the death of God - why did he do it?
Many motives have been put forward for Judas –
objected to Mary wasting money on precious ointment –
maybe he was the apostolic treasurer
who felt the money was being squandered.
he was after money for himself -
the modern equivalent of a £1000 or more.
could be a corrupt version
of a word meaning “assassin” -
and maybe he was after a more violent seizing of power
and lost confidence in Jesus’
strategy of sacrificial non-violence
he didn’t hate Jesus, he just thought he’d got it wrong,
and he needed to be pushed into a crisis
so that he’d have to use his supernatural powers
to bring in the Kingdom.
We don’t know, but when we start
thinking like this,
Judas suddenly begins to become alarmingly human,
alarmingly like us -
a mixture of complex emotions, hopes, fears, sins and failings.
Not the devil at all, but a sinful
maybe, more than we like to confess, like the rest of us?
It is said that when Leonardo da Vinci
was painting his masterpiece The Last Supper,
he needed a sitter for the figure of Christ.
In the end he found a chorister in one of the Churches in Rome,
a man called Pietro Bandinelli,
a man of fine character and fine features.
He then looked for models for the disciples.
Years went by, gradually the picture progressed,
more faces added, until only one remained - Judas Iscariot.
Leonardo went into the backstreets of Rome,
where finally he found a beggar on the streets
with a face so villainous he shuddered everytime he looked at it.
But he paid the man who sat for the likeness.
When he was finished, Leonardo asked his name -
Pietro Bandinelli, he replied -
many years ago I sat for your picture of Christ.
And if so Pietro Bandinelli, then maybe Judas Iscariot also -
Judas frighteningly like the rest
made in the image of God, but the glory of God defaced
and lost in the compromises and failures of life.
And the Book of Genesis tells us
that all humanity was made in the image of God -
there is in us all the divine spark -
that on which the spirit and grace of God can work.
Sadly we twist and distort the
image of God
till its sometimes seems quite defaced -
We cease to resemble Xt and begin to resemble Judas.
But what has the Gospel to say to Judas & those like him?
First, notice how our Lord responds to the one
who he knew was set on betraying him -
Did he bawl him out, denounce him, shun him -
No - he said come to my table, there are 13 places,
one is for you the betrayer, but still I invite thirteen to table
- take bread and wine,
come sinner to the Gospel feast,
let me wash your feet -
and then in the Garden, let us exchange a kiss.
And this is our Gospel - that Christ came into the world
not to save some sinners, but all sinners,
not just minor sinners but those of deepest die.
Jesus never gives up throughout
his earthly ministry -
nor we believe does the struggle end there.
So it is that Edwin Muir in his marvellous poem
talks about a God who is not bounded -
like we mere mortals - by time,
and a God who in his love and power enables us
in another existence to go back in time
and to undo earth’s ancient wrong -
and he pictures
Cross growing again into a tree
(as indeed on Easter Sunday
we often decorate the dead Lenten cross
with signs of new life out of suffering)
Judas replacing the kiss of betrayal
with the rediscovered innocence and childhood kisses
for his mother.
To us, who are bounded by space
and time, the past is the past -
and whilst we can change and redeem some of our past
through penitence and forgiveness,
some evils of the past seem for now inexorably fixed and unchangeable.
But if our last word as Christians
the sins and crimes of the past must stand unchanged for ever,
then our final word is one not of hope but of despair.
But that is not our last word -
our last word is of the love and power of the Lord,
which can take the deepest oldest sin and redeem
undo it so that it was as never done -
This is the Gospel - the Gospel that says that no-one-
not Judas, not Hitler, not Frederick West,
no-one is beyond the reach of the Good Shepherd
who searches searches, not for the 80th sheep
the 90th the 95th or 99th, but for the 100th sheep
Jesus is seeking the wanderer yet -
Love only waits to forgive and forget -
home weary wanderer home.
Like Hitler & Fred West after him, Judas committed suicide.
There is an old story that after his death,
Judas wandered the Universe
looking for somewhere where he could be laid to rest.
Hell would not take him in, and earth would not receive him.
Judas could find no resting place in all creation.
At last, in a nameless region of dark and cold,
the soul of Judas saw a lighted hall.
The sounds of music and laughter spread across the wasteland.
As Judas approached the open door,
he saw a long table set for supper, with the guests all seated.
The host rose and embraced Judas with a kiss and said
“We have waited a long time for you, so that the feast could begin”
So we come to Lord’s table
it a memorial of the Upper Room where even Judas was welcome -
And if we feel today like the 13th
person at the feast
or the 100th sheep on the hillside,
then let us know that we are welcome here
to share the peace of God and meet with our Lord.
So let us eat and drink here,
and as we do so, perhaps we will
just a glimpse of that Heavenly Feast,
when every seat shall be filled,
and the love of God shall finally
complete the work assured on the cross,
and you and I and Judas
may finally come in out of the cold,
and know ourselves forgiven and welcome
at the heavenly feast.