Sermon for Easter 5 – Sunday 19 May 2019 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe
Text: John 13v31-35
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Betrayal, grassing up, being let down, unfaithfulness, treachery and, reserved especially for the residents of this Sceptred Isle, perfidy all describe various levels of disappointment (often after an intentional act) by someone or some nation on whom you thought you could depend.
For those who have experienced of any of the above the consequences vary from the mild ‘I suspected as much would happen’ to utter devastation. It is never a pleasant thing to find someone going against what they had promised and it is very rare that anything good can come out of it.
The word ‘Betrayer’ has been the one most often chosen to describe Judas who, pantomime villain like, slopes out of the Last Supper to receive his ill-gotten thirty pieces of silver. As the first words of the gospel were read today perhaps it should have been accompanied by a chorus of ‘boos’ and ‘hisses’ from the congregation?
But Judas’ exit is quickly followed by something unexpected.
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified…’ (John 13v31)
Glory? What is glorious about betrayal? The last response we would expect from the actions of Judas is a divine fist bump and Jesus saying ‘Yes!’ But that seems to be what he is doing.
Faced with his betrayal, arrest, mock trial, brutal beating, and bloody death, Jesus lets out a whoop of joy and says to the forces of darkness ‘bring it on!’ This moment of betrayal becomes a cause for glory and the turning away of a friend leads to the proclamation of a New Commandment calling us to a love made visible in deeds.
Can there be glory in despair?
Can a bad thing have a good outcome?
Could it be possible that Jesus was looking forward to his horrible death?
Sitting this side of Easter we know ‘all’s well that end’s well’ and that A-Team-like ‘a plan comes together’ but glory? The cross, even after the resurrection, is surely far too full of gore to be considered as even remotely glorious?
But the promise of glory on, and not just ‘in’, the cross is a key part of how John reveals God’s love to us. In John’s telling of the Passion story, unlike the other three gospels, the cross is not a place of despair and weeping. The cross is not a scene of grief-shrouded disaster. For John the cross is the throne of Christ that he ascends deliberately, willingly and lovingly. It is not the end of the ‘old old, story of Jesus and his love’ but instead it is at the very heart of the new commandment to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’
It is for this reason that early representations of the cross in Christian art were neither the suffering figure on a crucifix, nor the bare empty cross of those who gaze through Good Friday to anticipate Easter, but instead the Christus Rex. A cross on which Christ appears, arms outstretched in blessing, wearing royal robes, and instead of thorns, a King’s crown graces his head.
We do not have a Christus Rex in our church, (perhaps a task for the vicar may be to acquire one the next time he is chasing his hang-gliding son around Southern Europe…)
How is it possible to turn the gore of the cross into the glory of God? God’s plan may be to, in Christ, turn an instrument of torture into the throne of heaven but we are frail human beings for whom this can seem to be a counsel of perfection. We find ourselves, sadly, more often kinsfolk with Judas and the other failed disciples than brave apostles proudly proclaiming;
God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Galatians 6v14)
If only we too could turn betrayal into glory and disaster into a divine destiny.
Facing betrayal Jesus turns it into glory and provides an opportunity to proclaim a new love. Knowing that it is at this very moment that his death is sealed, Jesus tells us how to live a new life by loving in a different way.
No longer are we called to love so that we can earn God’s approval. No longer is our love to be measured by declarations of faith, obedience of a legal code or the following of ritual – though these will still give us strength along the way. From now on we show or love by deeds. Not just ordinary deeds, but deeds done in imitation of the way he loves us.
We are called to answer betrayal with complete and utter self-sacrifice.
We are to learn to give ourselves away out of love for those whose only aim is to turn us in to the authorities.
Refusing to let the one who has fallen off of the edge of our fellowship be cast out into darkness, we reach out to them and bring them home. After all Judas also had his feet washed by Jesus? And Jesus gave Judas to eat the very same bread we will receive at the communion rail this morning. Communion has never been reserved for the holy alone. It has always been, since that first supper in an Upper Room, given to those who, like you and I, mess up and get things wrong.
Can we show such love? I’m not sure I always can, and I speak as someone who, with the Bishop of Johannesburg, turned himself in to the police at John Vorster Square for the ‘crime’ of loving others regardless of race, religion or skin colour.
We need to find a deeper love to help us for those times when others betray us, and restore us when we are traitors ourselves. A love that finds hope in failure and glory in weakness.
Recently, we saw the passing of Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche and its network of homes for those whom the world considers to be failures. Approaching his latter years he wrote;
‘My desire in growing old is to live what I have always proclaimed: that God is at the heart of weakness. I would like in my old age, with the possible loss of memory, mobility and even speech, to keep proclaiming his presence.’
Somehow this giant of a man looked forward to the time when even his own faculties betrayed him and saw that failure as yet another opportunity to proclaim the gospel.
‘God is at the heart of weakness’.
Perhaps a good thing to remember the next time we are wronged by someone, the next time something goes wrong, the next time we ourselves are wrong?
Jesus could see glory in the betrayal of Judas because he knew that the Father’s love is deepest in the darkest places? And knowing this instead of seeing the cross as a place of shame and suffering he turned it into a throne from which to proclaim a new love, a new commandment.
34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ (John 13v34)
May these words, even when our bodies fail and our hearts betray us, always be our song.
[This blog ‘No Guts, No Glory’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019]
 From his obituary in The Church Times https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/10-may/gazette/obituaries/obituary-jean-vanier