Judas had gone out.
If this were a stage play, we would see on center stage the table, surrounded by Jesus and his anxious friends, one lonely spotlight trained on them. Beyond a wall, stage left, Judas is … “out,” dimly lit, going about his task, which is to assist the forces of darkness now arrayed lethally around and against Jesus.
Stage right, beyond the other wall, only darkness. Darkness in a starring role.
Our playwright, John the evangelist, wrote a stage direction just before the “Judas had gone out” bit. The playwright wrote, in superb simplicity, just this:
“And it was night.”
A bit later, some time after today’s scene, after promising his friends the Holy Spirit and praying for the life of the whole world, Jesus himself goes out into this night.
He is met in the garden by the posse sent to arrest him. They are carrying lanterns and torches, the supplies you would need if you were the force of darkness. You would need artificial light to guide your path.
Plunged into all this darkness, Jesus rises in glory.
Betrayed by a friend, Jesus gives us the New Commandment of love.
Surrounded by enemies, Jesus triumphs over the forces of sin and death.
Here, and perhaps only here, in the “valley of the shadow of death,” here is where we are commanded to love one another.
It is night. We share the stage with Jesus and his friends, that place where night is deepening, crisis is spiraling, and fears, even terrors, are being unleashed. We live in a time of immense environmental crisis and catastrophe. We live in a time of violent discord, driven by ignorance and bigotry. We live in a time of existential despair.
It really is that bad. It really is night.
Only here, in this honest place of awareness of just how much trouble we are in, each of us alone and all of us together, only here do we finally grasp the full truth of the Good News: here, in all this darkness, Jesus calls us “little children” and shows us how to live, and even thrive, by building a community of love.
A community of love engulfed by the darkness of hatred and ignorance, but not defeated by it.
A community of love recoiling in fear of separation and the oblivion of death, but not overcome by it.
A community of love that does not deny the growing darkness, but gets up and goes out into the dreadful garden to meet it.
A community of love that sings the blues, cries out to God in lamentation, knows in its bones that love only deepens and strengthens when those we love begin to slip away.
Glory, triumph, love: this is the Good News for the “little children” of God, here and everywhere. And this is our vocation. Love—love is our vocation. Vocation: an English word from the Latin vocare, a verb that means “to call.” Our calling, our vocation, is to proclaim love inside all this darkness, as the posse approaches with lanterns and torches and weapons. Our calling is to proclaim love to those who ache with wrenching heartbreak, those who are stung by betrayal, those who sense the growing darkness around all of us and look anxiously for someone to embrace, for someone to hold.
Our song of alleluia is sung faithfully not just in these golden mornings of Eastertide, around this Table of Thanksgiving, but also out there in the gray graveyard, in all its forms. If you know the depths of sadness and fear, hear this song of alleluia, and add your voice to it, if you can. Hear God call all of us “little children.”
Join us in our vocation of love.
Photo by Lee Hamilton.
Preached on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, for their 7:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. masses.