Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Is There Room at the Table?

If you were at the Maundy Thursday service, you may have had a hard time hearing the sermon. That was intentional. If you were not at the Maundy Thursday service, you definitely had a hard time hearing the sermon. Here it is, if you’d like to read it:

Disciples: Judas Iscariot (Mark 14:26-34; Luke 22:47-53) Midway Hills Christian Church. April 17, 2014.

Does Judas Iscariot have a spot at this table?

A chair is left open for him; on this night of remembrance, as the penumbra of the cross looms ever closer, as the darkness closes in—does Judas Iscariot have a spot at this table?

Suprisingly and not, his seal stands with the rest of the Twelve Disciples. He was one of them, he is the name that Jude Thaddeus avoids, the treasurer Matthew was glad to have, the incendiary that Simon the Zealot held suspect. Unlike other traditions that leave his shield and sign blank—a legacy left unfinished, a life unworthy of notation—here we have the price of his betrayal: thirty silver pieces.

Perhaps it is fitting, and perhaps it is not. Many of the other seals speak to the means of the disciples death—sawn in half, bludgeoned, crucified, snake bite. The other seals speak to the priorities of their interaction with Jesus—the shell in James the Greater’s seal for baptism; the book in Simon the Zealot’s for teaching. To minimize Judas Iscariot to thirty pieces of silver—is it some sort of revenge by the Church on him? To quantify and characterize him only as a betrayer, an outsider, a thief and embezzler, a renegade, a hypocrite, a scoundrel and a problem—

Is there room at this table for Judas Iscariot?

He is the most egregious of the egregious in the Gospels—John introduces him as a traitor; Matthew and Mark both spoil the story, noting Judas’s betrayal in the first list of disciples; Luke flat out accuses him of being the agent of the Devil in the end of his gospel. For thirty pieces of silver he hands Jesus over to his trial, mocking, scourging and crucifixion; repentant, or at least concerned over blood guilt, he returns the money. He hangs himself, we’re told in Matthew; he falls and is eviscerated on sharp rocks, Luke records in Acts.

Is there a spot at this table for Judas Iscariot?

And I do not mean on Maundy Thursday, as if this were a reenactment of the Last Supper. It is not enough to say he had a spot and he lost it; he fell from grace and he fell on rocks. We cannot let Dante get the last word on Judas Iscariot, who in The Inferno now suffers eternally in the lowest pit of Hell alongside Brutus. No relief, no redemption, no mercy, no hope.

When Jesus takes bread, give thanks, breaks it and passes it, can anyone be skipped? When the wine is poured out for the many, which is a nice Biblical translation of a word perhaps best spoken as “all,” are there conditions? Does Judas Iscariot have a spot at this table?

We cannot contain this story of the Table at this Table. We cannot contain the power of God through love in spite of power on the Cross. We cannot forget the promises God has made to all people in Christ, even the worst of the worst, the least of the least.

There is possibility Judas acted out of fulfillment of prophecy. To goad the Empire and the Jesus movement to clash. To usher in the Kingdom of God as he, and really all of the Disciples, understood it to be—a political entity, a Rome-free theocratic paradise. There is the possibility Judas was hurt, offended and otherwise dismayed and so he left, and acting impulsively set into motion things he could not control, undo or participate in. There is even the possibility that Judas Iscariot chose to betray his teacher and friend Jesus for a simple thirty coins; that he was done with the movement, he had had enough, he supported the status quo after all. In all these things, though, we are a people of the cross in the light of resurrection; of reconciliation made possible through God’s shattering of death; we walk with Christ as he calls us from our own tombs. So we have to ask—is there room at this table for Judas Iscariot? And if not, is there room at this table for anyone?

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