On this resurrection day I am going to re-tell a familiar story that is found in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 13. To do this, I’m going to do something that every Seminary student is told NOT to do: combine the 4 gospels together into one story. I’m doing this because the character in question is painted differently in each gospel account – but I want to represent him as best as I can.
And so, without further ado, I would like to tell you the story of the first communion.
A young man entered into the upper room with his brothers; maybe he was laughing or maybe he was stoic, maybe he was looking for an opportunity to serve his own agenda. To be honest, I am not sure; I have heard it told different ways- four to be exact. What I do know is that he reclined on the floor with 12 other people – 11 teenagers, learning from one peculiar teacher. They gathered for the yearly feast in Jerusalem, not realizing that this particular Passover meal would be the unique – it would be the first of a new tradition – a new way of life. And so, these 13 people reclined on the floor, eating, celebrating their history, their friendship, and their God.
But at one point during the supper, the teacher, a man named Jesus, spoke odd words and the mood changed. He looked around the room, at the upturned faces of the twelve followers and said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” And then he continued to pass the bread. Immediately the young disciples turned to one another asking, “Is it me? Surely I wouldn’t do that!” There was terror in their voices for they loved their teacher. And according to the gospel of Mark, Jesus answered, “It is one of the twelve – one who is dipping bread into the dish with me”.
I’m sure their uneasy whispers continued after this statement – for they had all been dipping in the dish with him – every single one. One of the twelve? How could it be one of the twelve, one of us, who would betray Jesus? Wouldn’t it be the Romans who would lead an arrest against him, surely not a brother? Shouldn’t the scribes bring him before the council, why would a devout follower do that? He must be talking about a Pharisees or a Sadducee who would turn him over to the authorities of the world, not one of us who have followed him for three years. For we are no longer followers, we are brothers, we are family. We have seen His miracles. We ate from his hand when he multiplied the loaves and fishes. We watched Him bring Lazarus back form the dead. We celebrated with him when he was joyous. We wept with him when he was in mourning. We know who he is. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God – and we were all there when Peter admitted it. So why would betrayal come from within Jesus’ inner circle? Surely, we are closer to him than that.
Jesus ignored their grumblings. He broke bread and said that it was his body broken for them. Then he lifted the cup and said that this was his blood poured out for them. And so, Jesus turned to Judas, and as John writes, offered him a small piece of bread. Judas dipped the bread in the cup, one of the first men to ever partake in communion. But as he finished chewing and after he swallowed the body and the blood, Jesus looked at him and stated, “What you are going to do, do quickly”. Maybe Judas went pale as a sweat broke out on his forehead. Maybe he was mortified, and left quickly. Or maybe he was trying to get Jesus to take action. We don’t know – the gospel writers themselves seem to disagree over Judas’s motives. All we know is that after Judas partook in the body and blood of Christ – he left, into the night.
Maybe this was when Jesus turned to Peter and told him that he too would deny him three times. Maybe this was also the first time that Thomas doubted. I am not sure, I wasn’t there! However, according to Luke, we can be certain that every disciple felt uneasy, unsure of what took place; unsure of this new ritual of communion, and all wondering if they would be the one who would betray their teacher.
And this is where the story starts to unravel because if I were writing the rest of this story, I would tell it differently. I would tell a tale of how 12 disciples stood united with Jesus as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas among them. I would tell the story having Jesus finish out his life as an old man, teaching and healing until the very end. But as many of us know, that’s not how this story ends. It seems that God had a different ending in mind. And this ending involved disciples who slept through the night. It involved an angry mob lead by Judas descending down to arrest Jesus. And when violence broke out, when the Jesus was arrested in the dead of night and chaos ensued, Judas did what every other loyal and devout disciple did – he fled. He abandoned the Lord.
Most of us have heard the sad story of Judas. We’ve heard how he approached Jesus with a kiss – brotherly, intimate. We’ve heard about the 30 silver coins he took in exchange for a peaceful, hushed up, arrest of Jesus. We’ve heard how he hurled these very coins unto the temple floor in remorse and repentance for his actions. And lastly, we have heard that he hung himself, no longer able to deal with the execution he helped facilitate.
It is from this story that Judas has become one of the most infamous names in history. Have you met any couples lining up to name their child after him? Is he known for anything other than the being most famous betrayer? How could he do something like that? How could this man, this follower of the inner circle, this person who walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, listened to Jesus, and loved Jesus hand Him over the world? How could he deny Christ so much that he turned him over to the powers of darkness? What type of disciple could do something like that? How can he eat of the bread and drink of the wine one minute, only to cast Him away a few hours later with an intimate kiss? If I were writing the story, if I was Jesus, I would not have extended a morsel from my table to that young man, that Judas. I would not have included him in my first communion – the first time I made a new covenant.
History remembers Judas as a betrayer because he was the man who betrayed Christ. It’s his never-ending badge of dishonor – and he wears it like a one-hit-wonder. But what strikes me is that Judas did what every other disciple of Christ does. In other words, his betrayal of Christ wasn’t unique.
Because the Bible is full of Judas’s. The Bible is full of God’s people, and God’s people are a people who are full of betrayal. It starts with Adam and Eve who ate the forbidden fruit, and in that moment they decided that they would rather have their own life than a life with God. And so, the first family sold out the Lord for a taste of their own life. Joseph’s brothers killed a goat and spread it’s blood on Joseph’s multi-colored coat just so they could get some recognition. And so, Joseph’s brothers, the future tribes of Israel, sold out the Lord in order to get ahead in their own life. The people of Israel danced around a golden calf, ignoring their God who rescued them from bondage. And so, the people of Israel sold out the Lord for a sense of their own control. King David saw Bathsheba bathing on a roof and he wanted her. And so, David sold out the Lord for a one-night stand. Should I go on? If I did we would be here for hours. So we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Judas selling out Christ for 30 silver coins. After call, Peter sold out Christ three times – all so he himself could remain protected from the same fate Christ faced.
And so, again, I am forced to admit that Judas did what every child of God has done: betrayed Him; sold Him out. And then it hits me: I too am a disciple, I too am a child of God and that means that I too have sold Him out. I may not get thirty coins out of it, but I have betrayed Christ all the same.
I sell out Christ for another way of life every time I passive-aggressively attack my husband in an argument. For in that moment, I have eaten of a forbidden fruit that does not lead to Christ. I sell out Christ for another way of life every time I try to manipulate the truth to work for my favor. And in that moment, I spread goat’s blood on another person’s multi-colored robe. I sell out Christ every time that I put my hope and security in my bank account. And in that moment, I understand my brothers and sisters of Israel who worshipped the gold that came from Egypt. I sell out Christ every time I buy a new novelty item, thinking that it will solve alleviate the hurt. And so, just like David, I take what I want with no regard for how this could influence my future.
And just like Judas, I sell out Christ when I don’t understand God’s plan. When I am wondering why God doesn’t act the way that I think He should. And in that moment I begin to contemplate what I could do with 30 silver coins – I contemplate how much 30 silver coins will get me in this world, because many times, it seems that Christ will give me nothing. When a child dies young, when chronic illness strikes, or a loved one dies a painful death, we want to exchange Christ for 30 silver coins. When a job is lost, or a house is breaking down, it is all too easy to exchange Christ for 30 silver coins. When a family is separating, when no one can get along, we want to exchange Christ for 30 silver coins. When we are alone in our house enduring the monotony of life, when the sense of hopelessness washes over us and no one is there to see the loneliness we bare, we begin to rub those 30 silver coins between out fingers. It is then that we decide we like the feel of cold metal in our hands, above the uncertainty of following Christ.
It’s in these moments that we realize Judas isn’t quite so villainous. He could have been me. He could have been you.
Because I have taken communion before, just like Judas did. And afterwards I have gone about my day, forgetting that I have communed with the Lord. And so go forth into the world holding contempt in my heart; I have been jealous of my brother, and blaming of my sister. I have ignored God’s voice many times and walked my own way. And I find, just like Judas that I am truly undeserving of dipping my hand in Christ’s cup because hours later, I too haven give Christ a kiss of death in my own intimate garden, and I flee just like the disciples, leaving the life that he entrusted to me to the powers of the world. I have bore his name falsely. And so I have to ask, is there any hope for me, or do I too, face the same reality of death that Judas himself faced? Maybe I too should run out into the night, and not wait for the dawn: for I am such a disciple as he.
If we are just like Judas, why do we villianize Judas so much? Why do we look at his actions as being the most rebellious, the most hellish actions of anyone else in the Bible? After all, he threw his silver coins unto the temple floor! He renounced the vile thing He did. Adam and Eve did not renounce their decision to eat the fruit. Joseph’s brothers never admitted to the vile thing they did – until they had to save themselves. Peter never admitted to being a follower of Christ after He denied Him three times. All these characters kept their 30 silver coins. Judas was the only one who gave them up. HE was the only one to throw them away in remorse. So why do we turn him into a villain? Well . . . I think I figured it out.
The only difference between Judas and the other disciples is that Judas hung himself on a tree. Judas was so overcome by his actions he could no longer live with the knowledge that he helped kill the Messiah. It’s the drama that we remember him for. It’s the irony of his death that we can’t forget. Christ died on Friday. And Judas ended his own on Saturday. It’s this poetic justice that makes Judas the so infamous.
But what if Judas would have waited one more day before he hung himself? What if he would have persevered through the pain and uncertainty until Sunday? What if he would have been there when a resurrected Jesus met with the disciples? What if he was there to realize that his sinful actions did not kill the Messiah? What if he would have been there to receive forgiveness?
As I stated before, Judas and I have a lot in common. If fact, Judas seems to do what all the other followers of God do: betray Christ. But the only difference is that the others waited one more day.
Where have you sold out Christ for 30 silver coins? It’s an important question because we all done it – and it goes all the way back to Adam. But maybe a more important question is this: are you willing to stay faithful another day for Christ? Because if Judas would have waited another day, something different would have happened in Judas’s story. I think Jesus would have turned first to Peter first.
“Peter,” he would say, “you denied me three times. You did not love me, and you fled. But Peter, you dipped your hand in my cup, and I forgive you because I love you.
Then I think Jesus would turn to Thomas next and say, “Thomas, you doubted me. You did not love me, and you fled. But Thomas, you dipped your hand in my cup, and I forgive you because I love you.
And finally, I can imagine that Jesus would turn to Judas as all the other disciples wait with baited breath. And Jesus would say, “Judas, you gave me over to death with a kiss and you fled. And when you realized what you did you hung yourself on a tree. But Judas, I too hung on a tree because of your actions. I knew what you would do. Yet I still gave you the bread so you would dip it in my cup. I forgive you because I love you Judas – even you.”
I don’t know what you are going through – but what I do know is that if you are disciple of Christ, you are good at selling out Christ: I know this because it’s what the people of God have been doing since the beginning of time. With whatever trials and struggles you are going through, I encourage you not to be a Judas; instead, I encourage you to wait another day.
I am grateful that betrayal happened from within the twelve disciples. I am grateful that it wasn’t someone on the outside that caused the murder of our Savior. I am grateful that the actions of one of Christ’s first followers is so similar to my own reality – our own reality. And it has demonstrated that His disciples, that we, are welcome at his table.
Today, on this Resurrection Sunday we have dipped our hand into the cup with Christ – just as Judas did. Today we have hopefully come with our 30 silver coins only to hurl them on the temple floor. Because here, at his table, we meet Christ . . . it just might take another day.
A Resurrection Day.