Maundy Thursday message

During our Lenten book study, I was struck by a passing phrase from the Revd Mark Bozzuti-Jones, who wrote in a reflection, “Anybody who has broken bread with others in good faith knows that betrayal sits at the table of fellowship.”[i]

My God. I told the gathered group that no doubt this chilling sentiment would make its return during my Maundy Thursday sermon. But here we are, and I am still turning it over in my mind and my spirit, wondering whether it is true, and what it means.

I suppose I grew up with a heart for the tragic, and that must include Judas Iscariot, surely. Here is a man who was as close as anyone to Jesus, who followed him, served him, was loved by him. On that night, at supper, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, and Judas let him.

Later, Judas would come so deeply to regret, to be so horrified at what he had done, what he had accomplished by his betrayal, that he could not live with it. Yet because he was not there, because he could not follow, because he would not see his betrayal through, he missed Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, forgive them!” He forgot Jesus’ words to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Judas was tempted by the devil to betray not only Jesus, but his own sense of hope, of mercy, of God.

I remember being taught as a young student that the essential element of tragedy is that it didn’t have to turn out this way. Judas didn’t have to betray Jesus, it’s true, but the writing was already on the arrest warrant: I don’t think that his hesitation would have averted the crucifixion. It would have lessened the suffocating weight of his conscience, but here is the tragedy: so would believing all that Jesus had come to teach him: the forgiveness of sins, the mercy of God, the everlasting plan of salvation.

This, for me, was the tragedy of Judas: that he couldn’t see how much God loved him, even when God was right in front of him, washing his feet.

Whenever we sit down at the table, the betrayer is close at hand: not Judas, but that whispering devil that tries to distract us from the love of God, that tries to detract from the salvation that Christ has offered us. That devil makes us betray one another, by undermining our confidence in the enduring love of God, the want of courage to trust that there is enough mercy to go around, the divisions that are sown between us, and the distrust that they nurture. So we betray the sons and daughters of God, condemning our neighbours for their culture or their colour or their class, for their gender or their generosity. We betray our own faith in Jesus.

That devil whispered to Peter not to allow Jesus to love him so much, to humble himself so far as to wash his feet. That devil that twisted Judas and hung him out to dry. The devil that tells us that we are too far gone, or that the world is beyond saving, or that we are unforgiven, that makes us unforgiving.

And still, and yet, Jesus kneels at the feet of Judas, and takes his flesh in his hands, and cleanses it tenderly. And still, and yet, Jesus sits at table with us, betrayals and all, and welcomes us to his salvation, if we will have the humility and the hope to receive it.

[i] Mark Bozzuti-Jones, Face to the Rising Sun: Reflections on Spirituals and Justice (Forward Movement, 2021), 32

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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