HOLY WEDNESDAY

April 4, 2012

 

“Getting Ready”

John 13:21-35

 

At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples– the one whom Jesus loved– was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little 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.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

 

This text from John’s gospel is chosen for this day because it records Jesus getting ready.  It is John’s account of Holy Wednesday.  Here we receive more information about this night than we might want to know. 

 

This preparation seems to begin with the words, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

 

If we were somehow unable to remember John’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus we too might believe that Judas was doing what he often does, handling the books, carrying the ‘kitty’, purchasing what is needed for this band of brothers who are getting ready for the single most important religious festival: Passover.

 

Most religious festivals require a certain amount of preparation.  I, for instance, have to remember to pick up our ham from the butcher on Friday.  You can tell that I am not celebrating Passover because we are having ham.  I had considered getting a nice leg of lamb.  But as I thought about it I realized that there would be those around the table looking for the ham.  I am aware that when we gather to worship on Sunday morning, my sense of the day will be that all my preparations are complete; If they are not complete, it is just too bad, there is nothing to do at that point but to sing God’s praises.

 

For St. John, it is clear that this will not be any ‘normal’ Passover festival.  Jesus has washed the disciples feet, he has gathered them together, extended to Judas a piece of bread (a sign of hospitality).  John does not mention the money the religious establishment gave Judas to turn his master in.  John only tells us that Satan ‘entered into him.’  Then, he says, Judas went out into the night.

 

In this gospel we are familiar with these opposing forces: light and darkness.  Jesus is the light of the world.  Disciples are urged to be vigilant and to watch, for it is night.  This metaphor is not lost on any of us; if you want to personify the darkness in the world and call it Satan, well and good, but let us remember that there are shadows that extend into the deepest recesses of each of us.

 

Our preparations accelerate tonight.  We are using a rite of the church that most congregations have abandoned.  If you are new to this, let me tell you that this service was often held in German Reformed churches on a Saturday evening before the Eucharist was celebrated the following morning.  This is an extended confession and a short assurance.  It is, to some I suppose, almost depressing.  It is tempting to want to focus on how we are making steps in the direction of Christ, rather than acknowledging the ways we turn away.  In the RCA preparatory service of 1968, at one point the minister says this:

 

“…according to the command of Christ and the Apostle Paul, we admonish all those who are continuing in unrepented sin to keep themselves from the Lord’s Table.  This admonition is not intended, dearly beloved, to distress the contrite hearts of God’s people, as if none might come to his Table but those who are without sin. For we do not come to this Supper to testify that we are righteous in ourselves, but rather that we are conscious of our sinfulness and trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation.”[1]

 

Our preparations for Easter would be incomplete without recognizing that act or think in ways that are the opposite of what we consider good.  None of us can claim to be free of all forms of this, let us say, darkness.  No person, no community, no nation can rightfully claim to be pure and free of evil.  What is that saying?  People do the wrong thing for the right reason all the time.

 

If we are to speak of faith formation, of spiritual preparations, we must speak of a process, a journey, something that is now but ongoing.  In reality, time is always short.  There is very little we can do to be ready for Easter; So we come to this special night, not claiming that we are perfect, but forcing ourselves to spend some time remembering that we are not; so that we will might also recognize the need for redemption, and that in our redeemer we can find a grace that is sufficient for each of us.  Let us do this together, for truly it is night.

 

 


[1] Reformed Church in America, The Preparatory Service, p. 1

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