Love Bade Me Welcome

Love Bade Me Welcome
Photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Tonight is the first part of the Three Great Days and both the liturgy and lectionary waste no time plunging us into the depths of what this time holds. Jesus is revealing profound truths about the nature of the relationship he has with the disciples by washing their feet. The devil is working on Judas’s heart. Peter is enthusiastic as ever in both misunderstanding Jesus and changing course once he understands. Jesus, finally, leaves the disciples with a new commandment before the evening is done. It’s an awful lot for one meal, even if it is the Last Supper.

We could spend a week of sermons and discussions talking about just this passage, but on this occasion we only have tonight. With that in mind, there’s a note to offer about language before I get to the real meat of the homily. In the first verse, John describes Jesus as knowing that his time has come and that, being with the disciples, he “loved them to the end.” 

Greek has several words for love, each with different specific connotations. Different ways of loving. The word here—ἀγαπήσας—is a kind of love that is demonstrative. It is love shown in actions. Sharing food is love. Sharing a home is love. Teaching is love. Healing the sick is love. Washing someone else’s feet is love. This is a love that is demonstrated as well as felt or spoken about. This is important as we consider one particular person in this scene.

I want to spend most of this homily with our brother, Judas. He’s a hard one to think about, especially to name as brother. It’s simple and comfortable for us to paint Judas as a villain. A bad guy from the start, out to infiltrate and disrupt the good work of Jesus. But the Gospel isn’t quite as simple as a fairy tale when it comes to the character of the people involved. The Gospel is much more true to real life, and we humans are complicated beasts.

Jesus knows the struggle going on in Judas’s heart. And it is a struggle because even though the narrator tells us that the devil is tempting Judas, he’s never a man possessed. Judas, from beginning to end, is making his own decisions and could have chosen to do otherwise. “The devil made me do it” is one of the greatest lies ever fashioned. Just as with Jesus in the desert, the adversary can tempt and can suggest and can even prey on our weaknesses and insecurities, but cannot force our hand. God’s gift of free will in the human creature is too strong for Old Scratch to override. There is deep conflict in Judas and Jesus can see this happening. Jesus also knows how it will turn out.

I’ve had some astonishing conversations these last few weeks about Judas and why he does what he does. Maybe he really is just a weak man susceptible to the temptations of money. Maybe he hoped there would be influence or power with the Romans when he helped them capture Jesus. Maybe Judas was disappointed that Jesus was not the violent zealot he first appeared to be and wanted rid of him. Maybe Judas was holding out hope that the revolution was coming and that Jesus needed a confrontation with the authorities to throw that first brick through a window.

Judas may have honestly thought that he was doing the right thing and simply been misled. Or he may really have been a wicked man, seduced by money and overcome with political zeal. Regardless of those warring motivations in his heart—which we cannot know for certain—we do know how Jesus treated him. Remembering that the kind of love described in this passage is one made known through actions, so what Jesus does is very important.

Jesus knows Judas will betray him, but Jesus still shares the Last Supper with him. Jesus still washes his feet. Jesus does not call him out or exile him. Perhaps more than any of the other disciples, Jesus loves Judas to the end. I have heard it said that the test of Holy Week is not whether we can love Jesus, but whether we can find it in ourselves to love Judas. I think that’s a good litmus test for how we’re doing in becoming more like Christ.

I have often pondered what kind of conversation Judas and Jesus had when Judas died and he met his Lord in that great cosmic judgement. It cannot have been a moment Judas looked forward to, as wracked with guilt as he was when he took his own life. But our God is one who deals in demonstrative love and forgiveness and redemption which, if we’re honest, is probably even more uncomfortable than being cast into outer darkness. Especially when you’re so powerfully aware of your own guilt as Judas was.

I’m not sure what the great poet, George Herbert, had in mind when he wrote his poem, Love (III), but on the many occasions that I’ve read it, listened to it, and even sung it, I’ve often thought it might be the conversation between Judas and Jesus on the other side of that great veil. I leave you with it tonight:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he;
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.
Andrew Rampton

Andrew Rampton

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