Betrayal & Restoration
I have long been a viewer of the voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise. One of the features on board the Starship is the Holodeck. This room did not exist in the time of Captain Kirk, but by the time Captain Picard came to his post, this room was a favorite place for crewmembers to spend time in. This room is capable of simulating any place that a crewmember can imagine. The characters can invent places that have never existed, and they can visit such imaginary locations. But there are times when the characters will transform that room into a place from their past where an event took place that added great significance to their lives.
In your imaginations once more, I would like to have you transport yourself into that Upper Room where Jesus spend that Thursday evening prior to his crucifixion
A Place of Intimacy – a new family
That room began that night as a place of intimacy. Jesus and the twelve have met together to share a meal. These twelve men were his closest friends as well as his followers. They had traveled with him over the past several months and they had shared so much together.
This night is Passover. This is family time when all over Judaism families were gathering for the most important meal of the year. But Jesus is away from his parental home in the North. But these 12 men are his new family. And on this night, he says to these men, “With great longing I have desired to eat this Passover with you.” He has been looking forward to sharing this meal in their company.
When we read the Gospel of John, we are aware of the intimacy of that night. There are those wonderful conversations going on, which John has allowed us to eavesdrop on. What a wonderful time away from the dinning crowd. They recite together the great acts of God at that first Passover when God rescued Israel from slavery. They sang psalms and hymns together from the great Passover service.
A Place of Betrayal – a flaw in the family
The upper room may have begun as a place of intimacy, but in the course of that meal something dramatic happens and the atmosphere of intimacy is shattered.
For during one of the lulls in conversation Jesus drops a thunderbolt.
“I am telling you the truth, one of you is going to betray me!”
What kind of a charge is that! In the middle of a celebration he stops the conversation dead with an accusation, “One of you will betray me!”
There had been many times when Jesus had chastised and corrected them.
He had rebuked them for their lack of faith, their failure to understand.
He had gotten after them because of their attitude towards children and towards Samaritans.
BUT, never before had he accused them of treachery, of treason.
Never before had he accused them of disloyalty to Him.
Yet here he is saying “One of you eating at this table with me, will betray me.” If his words are strange in the context of a family feast, the responses that these men make upon hearing him, is even more strange.
They were filled with sorrow
Mark says (14:19) they began to be sorrowful.
Matthew says (26:22) they were exceedingly sorrowful.
What a strange response!
Indignation would have been a normal reaction.
Anger would have been normal.
Protestation that He must be mistaken would have been normal.
Laughing it off might have been normal:”You’ve got to be kidding!?”
But they knew their master. Whenever he introduced his words with the phrase “verily, verily” which is really “Amen! Amen!” they knew that these were words that were of prime importance. This was no joke. When his accusation fell on their ears, they knew it must be true, and sorrow is their first reaction.
They know what betrayal means.
It is not what an enemy does to another enemy.
Betrayal is a dastardly act of a friend against a friend.
It is taking someone we have claimed to love,
and turning him over to his enemies.
And those disciples are saddened at the news.
But their second response is even more strange.
They ask the question, “Is It I?”
After their initial shock,
and after they have recovered their ability to speak,
they ask a question, “Is it I?”
Again, the normal response would have been to turn to each other with pointed finger and begin to ask in anger, “Is it him? Is it Peter? Is it James? Is it Matthew that old traitor? Or is it Simon the Zealot? Maybe he’s the one!” No one asked those questions.
No one turned to Judas that night and asked, “Is it Judas?” Judas did not look evil. He looked like any other disciple. That night, no one turned to look at Judas with accusation and anger.
When Jesus told of betrayal, those disciples did not draw away from each other in horror as though his neighbor were diseased. But they spoke and asked their question.
Mark says, “and they said to him one by one, ‘Is it I?‘
Matthew says, “They began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I?’
Self-righteous Peter who would say, “I will never deny you,” asked that question.
James who felt himself qualified to be co-ruler with Jesus asked that question.
Even John who a few moments before had lain his head on his Master in affection found himself asking the same question. “Is it I?”
And round that white-faced circle the question was the same. “Is it I?”
Why the Sad Question?
Why did the disciples ask that question? I think we can surmise the answer.
Those disciples had followed their Lord for months. They had surrendered to his leadership, but even so they knew that there was something within themselves that was not like their master.
There was a hatred of anything Samaritan, and that was unlike Jesus.
There was a high impatience with children, with each other,
and with people who did not quite do it their way.
And they knew that was not like their master.
They had come to the upper room that evening squabbling all the way. They had taken their seats in irritability and anger.
So, when the charge came from Jesus, these men did not look around, but looked within, and I believe they saw there the capacity for betrayal.
- They knew of the fear that resided in their hearts that would cause them that very night to flee and forsake their leader.
- They knew of angry passion that could surface so easily under the slightest provocation.
- They knew of the smoldering volcano within that might erupt into angry words, curses or blasphemy.
- They were aware of dark things within that had never been conquered.
- And because they knew themselves so well, they asked the question, “It isn’t me, is it?”
They did not want to betray their lord.
They loved him and wanted to serve him.
They wanted to be true,
and sensing their capacity for unfaithfulness, abhorred it.
And I presume that 11 of the 12 asked the question because they wanted to know the truth about themselves so that the betrayal could be stopped.
The story is told of Nathan the prophet challenging King David after his terrible betrayal of his friend Uriah the Hittite. David had seduced his wife and murdered her husband to cover up his part in the pregnancy. Then Nathan the prophet tells a story, David is angry, and then the prophet lowers the boom. “You are that man!” And perhaps the disciples sensed through the mists o time that Nathan’s bony finger was pointing straight at them. “You are that man!”
But this experience is not unique to David or to 11 disciples. Because through the mists of time I see that same finger pointing right at me, and I hear his declaration, “You too are that man!” He is right.
I too have looked within myself to see the ambivalence of my own heart.
I love him, and yet always the capacity for defection is there.
I follow him, but too often afar off. Wretched man that I am!
And I am overcome with sadness too.
A place of Restoration – a healing of the fracture
But if that upper room was a place of intimacy betrayed, we remember that upper room because it was also a place of forgiveness. Something marvelous took place that same night, that causes me to move through sadness to jubilation.
On the night of the betrayal, He took bread,
and blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said
“take, eat; this is my body.”
And he took a cup. and when he had given thanks
he gave it to them, saying,
“drink of it. All of you,
for this is the blood of the new covenant
which is poured out for many
for the forgiveness of sins.”
On the night of our betrayal, he took bread
On the night of our denial, he took a cup
On the night of our cowardice. he took a towel
On the night of our petty squabbling, he took a basin
On the night of our sin, he took a cross into his hands,
and in doing so provided for us forgiveness for our sins.
That upper room was a place where flawed disciples found hope and restoration.
It is of interest to note that this upper room would become the scene of the very first appearance of the Resurrected Christ to his disciples, and in that upper room he would meet once more in intimate fellowship with his friends.
A few weeks later, at the feast of Pentecost, that same upper room became the place where the Holy Spirit was given to these feeble men to empower them for life and their work.
We have access to no holodeck. But our imaginations are capable of transforming the place where we sit right now. This sanctuary can become an upper room for any of us.
In this place we can re-encounter Jesus Christ and share life with him.
In this place we can face head on the matter of our sins and stupidities, without condemnation, and receive his offer of renewal.
In this room we can meet the resurrected Christ and experience the power of the Holy Spirit so that life takes on a new intimacy. Let it be so!
So, let us share in these moments by taking bread and wine and re-entering into communion with our Lord.