We, brothers and sisters, do not believe in magic. Miracle, wonder, mystery, absolutely. Uncertainty, yes. But magic, no. On this night (Easter Vigil) we engage in that deepest mystery, a challenge to our understanding. We continue to wonder, and try to see this celebration through the eyes of Judas, the betrayer.
At this point in the story, there are no more words about Judas, because just as Jesus was on trial in front of Pilate, in front of the High Priests, Judas was in the midst of taking his own life. Judas, consumed by guilt, doubt, fear, killed himself. There are three different version of the story. He hung himself, he threw himself off a cliff, and he hung himself on a branch hanging over a cliff, and the branch broke and he fell to his death. I wrote on Maundy Thursday that Judas had spiralled in to a kind of madness. He went to a very dark place – Sheol, a place outside of, away from God – the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Judas put himself there. There are words from another psalm(139) that say if I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
There is traditional, classic, solid theology that in answer to the question of what was Jesus doing on this Holy Saturday – where was Jesus on this day between Good Friday and the day of Resurrection? The answer is, he went to hell. It says in the letter of Peter that he went to preach to those who were dead – he went to preach to them the Gospel of life, that the kingdom of heaven has come near. That same message he preached to those who were living. Where was Jesus on this Holy Saturday – he went to hell to find his friend Judas, to redeem him, and to bring him back.
We do not believe in magic, but in mystery and miracle.
If you have ever had to deal with addictions – your own or someone else’s, we try to rationalize our way out of it – to make sense of it, but the truth is, there is no reason or rhyme and there is no sense. Addiction makes people do things that are not good, and that hurt, and that betray. I am not saying that Judas was an addict, but in terms of trying to make sense of what happened – there is no sense to be made – that is why Scripture says that Satan entered into his heart; that is why Scripture says that the devil had put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot to betray Jesus, because we cannot think of any other way for Judas’ betrayal to make sense. Because it doesn’t. Broken, full of fear, rudderless, Judas made a choice. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
We must identify with Judas though, because we must face our own demons and imperfections – nowhere does it say that Jesus stopped loving Judas. Nowhere does it say that Jesus rejected or condemned Judas. Nowhere does it sat that in the midst of the darkness, that Judas was far from God. Jesus does not blame Judas -he makes the simple statement that “woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born!” We can take this to refer to Judas, but it could refer to anyone who is guilty of betraying Jesus, of betraying God – when we think of meeting Jesus in the faces of all of the other people we meet in life, this takes on a whole new level of understanding of love and compassion, one that is radical and challenging and offensive in its inclusivity.
Guilt and fear are destroyers of the soul, and that is the self condemnation and self judgement that puts someone into the outer darkness and leads to suicide – that thing that gets called the coward’s way out, when someone doesn’t want to face up or take responsibility…. these are the things that we say to try and make sense of something as equally devoid of sense and reason as addiction. When we are face to face with addiction, when we are face to face with suicide, when we are face to face with betrayal, to protect ourselves, to avoid looking in that mirror that has us face our own demons, we put distance between ourselves and whatever it is that we don’t want to face. What if we stopped trying to make sense of the end result, and instead looked at the whole picture of life with the kind of love and compassion that Jesus has?
In Judas, through Judas’ eyes, we are invited to open our hearts beyond what we ever thought possible, to be open to God’s love, and that is miraculous and mysterious, that is a most difficult notion to accept – that as St. Paul says “nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus, our Lord. – that applies to Judas, and believe it or not, it applies to us, to every person on the face of this earth. Nothing, absolutely nothing is beyond the love of God. Things don’t stay in places of death or places of unhealthiness – the God of life seeks to change and transform and redeem. If we do stay, then we die. The guilt and fear destroys the soul. But God comes in to those places and lifts us up to the place where Jesus is – the place of light and love. Nothing is beyond the love of God. Amen.