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    painting of Jesus having the Last Supper with his disciples

    Waiting for Judas

    Jesus offers a love that is too strong for many of us to accept.

    By Madeleine L’Engle

    March 24, 2024
    • Sheila Petre

      The story Mrs. L'Engle shares here reminds me of the poem, “Judas Iscariot” by Robert Williams Buchanan. That such a concept offends people also grieves me deeply. I love when you share stories which celebrate and anticipate the final restoration of all things. Particularly at Easter time, it seems appropriate to share this good news as gladly and often as we can. "And I, if I am lifted up, will draw all men to Myself," said Christ. And He was lifted up! My heart lifts in response.

    John says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

    When the world rejected that love and crucified it, Jesus did not lash back; he cried out in love and forgiveness.

    Things are never quite the way they seem: things do not look the way we think they ought to look. Isaiah’s description of Christ as the Suffering Servant bears little resemblance to the pretty young man with the beautifully combed beard and melancholy eyes we so often see depicted. But Isaiah’s description rings much more true. In his own day, Jesus was a monster to many, disconcerting them with his unpredictability and the company he kept, vanishing to go apart to pray and to be alone with his Father just when people thought they needed him.

    Perhaps if we are brave enough to accept our monsters, to love them, to kiss them, we will find that we are touching not the terrible dragon that we feared, but the loving Lord of all creation.

    And when we meet our Creator, we will be judged for all our turnings away, all our inhumanity to each other, but it will be the judgment of inexorable love, and in the end we will know the mercy of God which is beyond all comprehension. And we will know, as Hosea knew, that the heavenly Spouse says, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.”

    It is too good to believe; it is too strong, so we turn away, and the church leaves the Song of Songs out of the lectionary. But we can put it back in.

    To the ancient Hebrew the love of God for his chosen people transcended the erotic love of man and woman. For the early Christian, it was the love of Christ for the church. For all of us it is the longing love of God for his creation, a love which is too strong for many of us to accept.

    painting of Jesus having the Last Supper with his disciples

    Giorgio Vasari, The Last Supper, circa 1545, oil and tempera on panel.

    There is an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table.  “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”

    I heard my son-in-law, Alan, tell this story at a clergy conference. The story moved me deeply. I was even more deeply struck when I discovered that it was a story that offended many of the priests and ministers there. I was horrified at their offense. Would they find me, too, unforgivable?

    But God, the Good Book tells us, is no respecter of persons, and the happy ending isn’t promised to an exclusive club. It isn’t – face it – only for Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Episcopalians. What God began, God will not abandon. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. God loves everyone, sings the psalmist. What God has named will live forever, Alleluia!

    The happy ending has never been easy to believe in. After the Crucifixion the defeated little band of disciples had no hope, no expectation of Resurrection. Everything they believed in had died on the cross with Jesus. The world was right, and they had been wrong. Even when the women told the disciples that Jesus had left the stone-sealed tomb, the disciples found it nearly impossible to believe that it was not all over. The truth was, it was just beginning.

    Contributed By MadeleineLengle Madeleine L’Engle

    Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) was an American author, essayist, and poet who wrote about Christianity, science, and art.

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