But woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.
We begin our Holy Week with an act of betrayal. Judas Iscariot has betrayed Jesus
Christ out of resentment and bitterness for Jesus’ refusal to be the earthly liberator that Israel has longed for. At least, this is the view of the Church’s Tradition. Judas had thought that the Christ was set to liberate Israel finally from all foreign occupation. Judas was an earthly minded man for whom the affairs of this world mattered much more than the affairs of God and His plan for Man’s salvation. Tonight we contemplate betrayal.
In fairness to the Jews, who had spent well-nigh 600 years awaiting the fulfillment of promises to them, one might be more than a little sympathetic. Foreign domination had characterized the history of the Jews. But Judas, along with no small number of his race then and now, had not understood the true nature of the promises made to Israel. The Jews had become intoxicated with their own thralldom and slavery. It is a temptation to those in every age. Human bondage and the absence of liberty are bound to make any people forever conscious of their own suffering. Yet, Judas and his friends ignored the finer points of what God had promised to His people. In tonight’s Old Testament lesson, Isaiah is full of rage.
And I looked, and there was none, to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury it upheld me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground. (Isaiah lxiii. 5,6)
The wrath of God fills the heart of the prophet. He hears God intending to make atonement for the bondage that Israel endured. Isaiah hears the Word of the Lord who prophesies that blood must be poured out to rectify Israel with God. But he imagines a spiritual state that far exceeds Israel’s need for any earthly Redeemer. His mind is on God and what God alone can do for His people. Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. (Idem, 16) The prophet does not know what kind of Redemption the Lord will bring, but his focus in on God, His power and love and that Wisdom that alone can bring Israel to spiritual peace. Far be it for the prophet to focus on earthly things. He in consumed with the spiritual intention and plan of God for His people.
Judas and his kind are always overly consumed with earthly responses to earthly problems. To prefer the earthly to the spiritual is to engage in utter idolatry. God’s first mission to His people will always be spiritual. The nature of the promises themselves is hidden to the prophets. Sufficient it is for Isaiah to be focused on His Lord and the Lord’s nature. To be thus consumed will be the intention of God the Father for His people in His Son. Judas has missed the meaning of the Father’s message as articulated in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.
We too are far too immersed in the affairs of this life on earth. Christ has better things in store for us. Judas, and so many of us, betray the Word of God with that anger and bitterness that reveal what kind of false gods truly move us mostly. Material happiness and worldly comfort seem all the rage and passion. Jesus responds to Judas and us this night with another kind of promise. Far removed from any kind of earthly hope, Jesus intends to fill His followers with what matters most. Tonight, Jesus redirects our attention to those things above and not the things of the earth.
Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. (Idem, 22-25)
In response to Judas’ betrayal, Christ bids His Apostles and us to wonder about something as simple as a meal. The promises of God are revealed then and now as something strikingly simple and seemingly earthly. But He speaks of some fragments of bread and a sip of wine as somehow linked spiritually to His Body and His Blood. In some mysterious way He prophesies both His leaving us and His coming to us again. The earthly is not abandoned but will become something remarkably new. Through the elements of necessity -bread, and the cause of mirth and all joy -wine, Christ promises to come to His people and to be with them forever. His Body will be offered to them. His blood will be outpoured for them. And more than this, both will be present to them whensoever they repeat the words of this simple ceremony. And He seals this manual act with the promise that He will not eat and drink with them until He drinks it new in the Kingdom of God. (Idem) This earthly action will be an instrument and means of His ongoing presence with them until they reach His Kingdom. Spiritually, Man will commune with God over a meal that will become a Heavenly feast.
To the ancient Jews, what He said must have sounded like gibberish. But to those who believed then and have faith now, this is the seal of God’s promise to His people. There will be no need for any earthly deliverance from tyrannical rulers. In what follows, He will promise His people that they must trust that this is the way that matters most. What matter most is to repent and believe. What matters most is the Forgiveness of Sins that Jesus Is.
The day following, He will offer His Body on the Tree of Calvary and will pour out His blood for the sins to the whole world. The key to grasping the promises is in trusting God’s promise to be our God and we His people as earth is swallowed up in Heaven’s feast. In partaking of His Body, He will indwell His people with His suffering and death. His suffering and death will remain with them as they blend theirs with His in absolute obedience to the Father. In drinking His Blood, they all shall be quickened and resurrected into new life and virtue. What more can man need for the fulfillment of all his hopes in God’s promises? To eat His Body and to drink His blood fulfill God’s promises to His people. In eating His Body and drinking His Blood, men are invited to participate in the meaning of the Forgiveness of Sins and the Resurrection into the New Life. All is well with Jesus. Nothing more is needed. Jesus’ presence with us depends upon nothing less than His promise. This is. Our task this night is to trust and obey. Our calling this night is to follow Jesus to His Cross so that the bread and wine might be ever so simply linked to His broken Body and poured out Blood on Good Friday.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: