Holy Wednesday - what brings you to Jesus?

A sermon preached at St George's by the Revd Neil Evans, 16 April 2014

After Judas received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. John 13:27,30

We live in the age of excuses. We are constantly looking for someone to blame, someone to let me off the hook. It’s the bankers, the politicians, the media, the estate agents, the Russians, the Iranians, the benefit scroungers, the idle, the immigrants, the tax avoiders, or just them… it’s never me.
There is real pressure not to accept the consequences of our actions, whether it’s global warming, rampant consumerism, spiralling house prices, glaring injustice, global poverty, abuse, disease, neglect. It’s not me, it’s not my fault; there’s nothing I can do.

As individuals we have more power than any generation before us, and more power in the West than people anywhere else in the world. But we take less responsibility for our world, our society, our environment that any other peoples in history. We have power without responsibility.

St John has a very ambivalent relationship with Judas Iscariot. On the one hand he is very clear – in a way that none of the other Gospel writers are – that Judas is a thoroughly bad lot. As we heard in Monday’s Gospel St John says he is a thief and stole from the common purse. But at the same time in today’s gospel reading it’s almost as if Judas’ action was impelled upon him. Jesus gives him the bread and the devil enters him…

There is a rather obscure tradition within some parts of the church that makes Judas a saint because without his actions the Passion and Resurrection – and therefore redemption and atonement for all humankind – would not have happened. A bit tenuous, but there is a degree logic here…

The issue is not about his actions but about his attitude. Both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus, yet Judas appears condemned and Peter is the Rock on which the church is built. How can this be?
It is possible to argue that Judas’ betrayal was a misguided attempt to ‘make things happen’; to force Jesus’ arm and create a situation for armed rebellion; to force Jesus into proclaiming himself as King. Peter’s betrayal, though, was just sheer cowardice. By human standards, Judas might seem to have the nobler cause!

The difference, though, is Peter faced up to his betrayal; he looked it fair and square. He stayed with it and was prepared to face the consequences of his actions and, following the Resurrection, at the lakeside Jesus gave him the opportunity to redeem himself. Judas went out and hanged himself.

Today is a healing Eucharist and one of the most important ways in which we can receive the healing power of God’s love is to accept ourselves as God accepts us – warts and all. Where the cross leads us is not to a place where ‘everything is alright’, but rather through pain, embarrassment, discomfort, knowledge of our sinfulness and wrong-doing, to a place of full acceptance and the healing power of God’s forgiving love.

For the place of love and acceptance is also the place of deepest pain; the place where we accept the consequences of our actions, the responsibility for the pain and hurt we cause others – both corporately as members of our society and individually through our actions and inactions – and discover that we are fully accepted and infinitely loved by God.

God hates the sins that we commit; God hates the damage we cause through our human actions and inactions. But God loves us and longs to forgive us. But it is only in the place where we take responsibility for actions and stop blaming ‘them’ that we can know the full power of God’s redeeming love.

The devil didn’t make Judas betray Jesus; Judas was responsible for his own actions. The individuals who challenged Peter didn’t make Peter betray Jesus; Peter was responsible for his own actions. Peter faced up to his need of Jesus’ loving forgiveness, Judas could not.

What brings you to Jesus this Holy Week? Could it be that you know the need of his forgiving, healing love?
Holland Park Benefice