Bombs, Betrayal, and the Glory of God: Sermon for Wednesday of Holy Week 2016

Isaiah 50.4-9a; John 13.21-32

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On Sunday the crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna!” which has come to mean “Praise!” but literally means “Save us!” – a plea and a prophecy.

And on Tuesday the bombs went off. Dozens dead or injured in Brussels. But not just Brussels: Homs, Baghdad, Kabul. Thousands of places which never make our news headlines. We don’t even know their names. And still there are those who make Jerusalem a battleground.

From cheering crowds to death and destruction. That is the narrative of Holy Week. It must have seemed like a tragedy, a catastrophe, an outrage – all those words we hear on the news when the next bomb goes off – an absolute failure. And it would be a narrative of failure, if that were the end. We know, of course, that death is not the end, failure is not the end. And sometimes, especially when we are faced with almost overwhelming sorrow and grief, it is so tempting to rush on to the resurrection – the glory, the joy, the hope that makes all the suffering ‘worth it’.

But we aren’t there yet. This week, and especially as we approach Good Friday, we take time to sit in the place of darkness and desolation. “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light” – perhaps we have to become the people who walk in darkness before we can truly see the dazzling beauty of the Light.

Today is the day when our gospel reading focuses on Judas. Why? I think it’s about not ducking the difficult stuff. Someone asked me recently whether, when I’m talking about Easter with very young children, I talk about death. “Of course,” I replied, “It’s part of it.” It’s a vital part, and so is betrayal. The story of salvation is incomplete, indeed it doesn’t make sense, without these aspects of darkness.

We live in a culture which wants to brush aside the things of darkness – to ignore them or – worse – to find someone to blame. Because once it’s someone else’s fault, it’s not my problem. That’s what our culture would tell us.

But it isn’t what Jesus tells us. Jesus doesn’t say “not my fault, not my problem”. Jesus says “not my fault, but my beloved people, my brothers and sisters for whom I weep, and for whom I would do anything – absolutely anything – to put things right.” And Jesus says that not just to you and me, our friends and family, to the church.

No – Jesus says this to everyone. To those we would so love to hate – the people who have lied to us and cheated us, the people who have hurt us, and – yes – to the people who planted those bombs. Even to the one who he knows will betray him – even to Judas – Jesus says “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.”

In this Holy Week we face the enormity of the agony, the pain, the betrayal that is pivotal to the story of our salvation. And there is no ducking it, no skipping ahead to the glory of the risen Christ.

Jesus suffered and died for you. And Jesus suffered and died for the person you would least want him to do that for. There are no limits to the sacrifice, no limits to who is included in redemption.

Jesus did not die so that the chosen few, or even the chosen many, could join some exclusive club and live with him in heaven when they die. The enormity of his suffering is too great for that.

Jesus died to set the whole world free, and in doing so turned the whole world upside down. If we are truly an Easter people, everything we do has to be coloured by the death and resurrection of Christ.

Everywhere you look – in the newspapers, on TV, on social media – there are people calling for a violent response to violence. “Kill the terrorists”, “shut the borders”, “ban the hijab.” That is not the Christian response. That is not the response of an Easter people. That cannot be the response of people who follow the One who broke bread with his own betrayer, who washed the feet of the one who would send him to a violent, painful, tortured death.

Each morning this week at Morning Prayer we say “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.” It is an invitation to dwell in the dark places of this Holy Week journey, not to rush through them in pursuit of the light. It is an invitation to see in Jesus not just the one who breaks every chain, even the power of death, but also the one who suffers with us.

God is not only in the moments of joy, but also the moments of sorrow. God is not only in the light, but also in darkness so thick it seems endless. God is not only in the resurrection, but also in the crucifixion, torture and betrayal. And it is here in today’s gospel– not in a burst of light, but in the grim depths of betrayal – that Jesus says “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

We do not have to wait for the resurrection to see God’s glory. We do not have to make, or pretend to make, everything alright before we can rejoice. It is not only when we are led out of darkness into the marvelous light that we encounter the glory of God. In the deepest darkness, in betrayal and pain and loss, God is already being glorified.

The power of Christ in us is that glory, joy, hope, love are not confined to the high points of life. Through the suffering of Jesus on the cross, God has carried these gifts of grace into even the most desolate times and places.

We are called, as children of God, to seek and proclaim the love and grace and glory of God in all seasons – in the winter of life as much as the spring. We are called to respond to every disaster – from the personal to the international – not with despair, nor yet with some vague reassurance that “it will all be all right in the end”, but with the deep conviction that even in the darkest depths God is making all things new. Especially in the darkest depths, God is bringing the whole creation to new and eternal life.

That is what it means to be an Easter people. To see with resurrection eyes is not to put on rose-tinted spectacles – that is not what God calls us to – but rather to look fear, failure, destruction and death full in the face, and still to say “love wins” “love is stronger”. That is why we sing with the angels and the whole company of heaven, in praise and in plea “Hosanna – praise God! Hosanna – save us! Hosanna!”