A Backdrop of Graves (Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020)
Mark 14: 10-25 and Mark 14: 32-50 A Backdrop of Graves We arrive now on Maundy Thursday. It would be impossible to put everything that happens on these two days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday into one sermon, or even a couple of sermons over the next two days. So tomorrow we will be having a longer scripture reading trying to fit through everything this happened, but we still won’t get to everything. But for today I want to focus in on this small period of time between Jesus sitting down to dine with his disciples, and really focused in on Jesus going to the Garden of Gethsemane and his prayer that he engages in when there. But in order to really experience this we must begin a little bit earlier. The high priests have been looking for a chance to kill Jesus, a chance to corner him without the crowd and arrest him hopefully to get rid of him. And one day Judas, one of Jesus’s inner 12, shows up at their doorstep and offers to betray him to them. In exchange they give him money: 30 pieces of silver; which is not an insignificant amount, but also it’s not a fortune. I want to point out that we do not know Judas’s motivation for doing this. We have theories, plenty of theories go around, but we don’t really know what Judas was thinking. He doesn't survive the week to tell us what he was thinking. And all the accounts that we have, even including this concept that he received 30 pieces of silver for doing this, are the reports of the jilted disciples later on. We all like to think that we would never do this. That’s certainly what the disciples think just a few verses later when Jesus tells them while they are gathered at the table that one of them would betray him. They all reply “Surely not I, Lord!” We like to think that we cannot, indeed would not, do this. And so throughout history many people, including pastors, have attempted to shift the blame from the people to specifically the Jews, as if we are immune. This is a natural human thing to do in the face of tragedy and atrocity: to try to convince ourselves it couldn’t happen to us or to convince ourselves that it is someone else’s fault; that we would never do that. By the way I’m seeing a lot of both of those happening with this virus right now. But let us remember that we could. We are not immune. What Judas is showing here is a very human thing. It's not a Jewish thing, it’s not a Judas thing, it’s a human thing. We are not immune. We must be on our guard to do better. Now the next thing that Jesus does is to gather his disciples in the Upper Room. We will talk a little bit more about that in a few moments, but I really want to focus today on what happens in the Garden, and what happens on the way to the Garden. Because this is something that struck me, something that was pointed out to me in these past 12 months since the last time we celebrated this service. Jesus walks from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane. The Upper Room would’ve been somewhere in Jerusalem, somewhere around the Temple; so he would’ve been walking from Jerusalem, behind the temple, onto the Mount of Olives, where the Garden of Gethsemane is near the bottom. And something that was pointed out to me that I hadn’t thought of before was that as Jesus is making this walk from where he experiences what he knew was going to be his last meal as a free man to the place where he knew he was going to be arrested, what he was looking at was this. A backdrop of graves. This is a picture of what Jesus and the disciples would’ve been looking at. Some of these tombs are tombs of the prophets; prophets Jerusalem had killed before. But these are all graves. At the time it would’ve been just Jews; now Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all buried along this valley. Thus as Jesus is walking from the place where he has predicted his death; predicted his body would be broken and his blood would be poured out, to the place where he knows he’s going to be betrayed; he’s staring at the graves of the prophets. I want you to imagine the mindset that Jesus was in. And I want you to hear these verses again with the backdrop what Jesus may have been looking at. “Take; this is my body...Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Jesus enters the Garden of Gethsemane, one of the few green places on a mountain of gray, and he walks in and he begins to pray. He prays that God, if possible, would take this cup away from him. Jesus does not want to die. It is a sacrifice for him. Yet if we believe God answers prayers, which we do, we must agree that there is no other way; that it was not possible for God to take this cup from him. In order to save his children, Jesus must go through with the cross; whatever the definition for how that works out, Jesus must die for us to be saved. The fact that Jesus would not want to do this, would not want to go through with it, is unsettling for us. It was unsettling for every Christian. As you go through history from the earliest to the latest gospel that was written, the time given to Jesus in the garden shrinks. The Gospel of Mark, the first one written, is the longest we have with Jesus in the garden; the Gospel of John barely even mentions it. Perhaps because it was uncomfortable, even for the disciples. Certainly, we who place a prominence upon the cross, we place it all over our sanctuary, we put it on the very altar here at Springhill; we who place the cross at the center of our theology, the understanding that Jesus must die on the cross in order to save us; the thought that he doesn’t want to do this is unsettling. And so often we try to skip over it. But it is here that Jesus is most human. This is the place that Jesus most shows his incarnation: God being in carne or in flesh. If we are to truly understand Jesus, this story cannot be overlooked. Jesus knows what it is like to be human. That is displayed in full here. That is what his forgiveness toward humanity and his mercy toward all of us is built upon. But it also shows how strong a human can be: how courageous a human can be. It serves as inspiration for us as well. I’m reminded of 1 John 3: 16 - “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” We hope and pray that we never have to face that in anything but metaphorical terms, yet we see that in our world countless times. We certainly see that during this virus. I think of the priest who gave up his ventilator for a younger person in Italy and died. I think of a cancer patient that I saw just earlier today as I write this who also developed COVID and told the doctor that he had terminal cancer so use resources on someone else. We see in Jesus what the human is capable of, and we see not only why Jesus shows his mercy, but also why Jesus holds us accountable. This is one of the most important stories of our faith. But let’s not forget one other thing: Jesus is shown throughout the Gospel of Mark, really throughout all the Gospels, to be someone of immense power and immense knowledge. This is the person who went through with the towns healing everything. He fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, he healed lepers on site, he cast out demons with his mere words, he healed someone from miles away by just simply saying “your daughter will be well,” he raised Lazarus from the dead! This is not a man who was powerless. Let us remember that Jesus, the Jesus that is presented in the Gospels, could have defeated every soldier in the Roman army single-handedly with one hand tied behind his back. He chose to go through with this. He chose to die; to sacrifice himself that we might have eternal life through being a disciple of Jesus. This is a man who didn’t necessarily want to do it, but he chose to do for you. Yes, even you. You, watching this right now; he laid down his life for you. After this prayer Judas shows up with an army, a mob really, a mob who has literally grabbed the torches and pitchforks to come for Jesus. It’s often been said that the same crowd who shout “Hosanna” on Sunday shout “crucify” on Friday. And there’s some truth to that. But the more I thought about it, the longer I’ve gone in my ministry, the less I actually think that’s the case. What I think is that we as people have differing ideologies, and what we see here is that there are two crowds in Jerusalem: one of which was out on Sunday to cry “hosanna,” and a different crowd was sitting at home cowering and fearful of what they saw. On Thursday night the hosanna crowd were asleep and now it was a different crowd in charge, coming out ready to shout “crucify” tomorrow. The only thing that changed was which one was in charge and which one was in hiding. When we look at it, when we dig a little bit deeper, this isn’t a case of one being a good crowd and one being a bad crowd. They both wanted violence and death. Those who shout “hosanna” on Sunday wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans and didn’t care how many Romans died as a result of that. The crowd that wanted Jesus silenced and the status quo to continue want Jesus and however many of his followers as necessary to die. They both wanted violence and death; they just wanted different people to die. Over the years I’ve often wondered if we really learned anything or if we still have two mobs vying for control, just arguing over who gets hurt. The mob stops across the garden from the disciples, and Judas walks over and he identifies Jesus; not by pointing, not by saying he’s the one in the white, but by coming up and kissing him. An incredibly intimate gesture from a person Jesus considered family. This was not a servant who is betraying Jesus but a brother. And he betrayed him with a kiss. I want to remember that; to feel that fact for a moment. And then remember that, knowing that would happen, knowing what Judas would do in the Garden just a few hours later, Jesus still broke bread with him. He still offered communion to him, he still therefore offered forgiveness to Judas. That’s who Jesus is: he offered forgiveness is the one who would betray him, to his disciples who would abandon him, to Peter who he knew would deny him, and he offers it to us. tThat’s who Jesus is. I say it often, but I don’t think it can be said enough, and so I want to end this sermon with this note: Jesus offered communion and forgiveness to Judas; there is nothing you could do that is worse than that. There is nothing you could do that is bad enough that Jesus would not offer you forgiveness. When you next come to the table for communion, remember that. Now, this is not live. We are recorded, and so we cannot offer communion tonight. I will be offering communion on Facebook live at 12 o’clock tomorrow. I invite you to join if you have some form of carbs and some form of drink; preferably bread and grape juice, but if not saltine crackers and water would work. Come and experience communion; come and experience forgiveness then. But for now, let’s pray: All knowing God, you knew what Judas would do, and still offered him forgiveness. And when you hung on the cross for all of us, you knew what all of us would do. You knew what I would do, what each person praying this prayer would do; and yet you still offered us forgiveness. You forgave the ones who crucified you. Be with us today, comfort us in this moment, and help us as we go forward to pray with you “not my will but thine be done.” In your Holy Name, Lord, we offer this to you. Amen.