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Judas & Jeremiah: A Holy Saturday Homily

Holy Saturday is perhaps the most vivid symbol of what it means to live between the already and the not yet. On Holy Saturday the horrors of the crucifixion (which unbeknownst to the disciples were actually the glories of God’s self giving) are past and the glories of the resurrection are still lying ahead in the unanticipated future. In the in-between time we are left with nothing but empty silence and lots of time on our hands. The great question that Holy Saturday brings to us, the followers of Christ, is that of how we are to live when everything that makes sense disappears and everything we know seems turned upside down. What do we do when sisters die of cancer, friends fall to their deaths and brothers who were once partners in the gospel run away from us?* And what do we do after those times have passed and we are left with nothing but time to sit in silence and contemplate our brokenness? How do we live as the church of Holy Saturday? How do we be a people who can listen, speak, and hope on the day of silence and confusion? I think two “Holy Saturday” experiences from the Scriptures give us a good clue.

Perhaps no one other than Jesus experienced the horrors of Holy Saturday like Judas. Matthew is careful to tell us that after betraying Jesus, Judas experienced a major change of mind, stumbling back to the place of his transgression and seeking absolution.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” (Matt. 27:3-10)

Judas repents, confesses his sin, retraces his steps and seeks to return his blood money and most of all seems to long for some kind of absolution from the leaders of the people of God, the chief priests. But in response to his confession, Judas is brushed coldly aside – “What is that to us?” and commanded to go on alone – “See to it yourself.” He is left alone, forsaken and abandoned in the depths of his transgression. And it is important to note that his going out and hanging himself were not in response to the death of Jesus, but to his rejection by the religious leaders. He is told to “see to it himself” and, being thus left alone and without recourse he goes and hangs himself.

Judas’ is the ultimate act of Holy Saturday despair. In the face of the horrors that have been unleashed and which he is complicit with and being left alone, rejected by all he is left to nothing except to take his own life. Judas is left alone without a face of love to call him out of his fixation on his own horrible failure. In his appeal to the priests he is met with the harshest words possible. Do you seek a future for your guilty, treacherous life? “See to it yourself.” Are you dwelling alone in a place of silence, despair and utter hopelessness? “What is that to us?” And as the priests use Judas’ blood money to purchase his graveyard they turn any chance for healing and hope into a nightmarish hell of Saturday despair.

But even more troubling is the fact that all the disciples seem to have totally forgotten their lost brother. They are all scattered (except for the women, who follow Jesus all the way to his grave [Mk. 15:47; Lk. 23:45]), attending to their own despair. They are too absorbed in their own failures and perhaps anger at Judas to stand between him and his noose. They may have stuck together after the death of Jesus, but did they even give a second thought to Judas? Was his sin even beyond the thought of forgiveness for them?

What we have in the story of Judas and the disciples is one of Saturday despair. The horror of the day of silence, when everything unravels is faced by Judas alone. With no brother to stand beside him and no priest to offer him forgiveness he is driven into the Field of Blood to end his life with a noose. This is a Holy Saturday possibility that we all face. Will we be the disciples, who ignored the broken, the guilty and the godforsaken on the day of silence and shame? Or worse yet, will we be the priests who callously cast off the repentant offenders?

But this is not the only story of disciples on “Holy Saturday.” It is no accident that in his account of the Field of Blood, Matthew points back to the prophet Jeremiah and the story of a different field, on a different “Holy Saturday” occasion. In Jeremiah 32 we are told the story of how Israel is on the verge of being overrun by Babylon. There is no hope for Israel on this one and Jeremiah knows this all to well. And yet, out of the blue the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah that he is to buy a field which will almost certainly be stripped from him in the near future. Jeremiah’s purchase of the “field at Anathoth” is the opposite of Judas’ Field of Blood. Jeremiah, in the face of certain destruction and death, takes a stance of hope rather than despair. His “field of hope” flies in the face of Judas’ Field of Blood. Jeremiah is like a child building a sandcastle in front of a tidal wave, a beautiful act of senseless hope in the face of overwhelming hopelessness.

It is this way of living in Holy Saturday that we are called to as the church. In the face of hopelessness and death we are called to be conduits of hope that dare to speak and listen on the day of silence. We are to dare to continue to give of ourselves, even to the point of death even when all hope seems to have vanished. When foundations dissolve, when brothers betray and God seems silent, we are called to buy fields of hope, to stand between our betrayer and his noose and to break bread together in senseless hope that we serve a God who abounds in surprises that follow the day of silence. We are bound to remember Holy Saturday and to live in it in senseless, glorious hope. Let us be a church that lives in Holy Saturday, longing to see the surprises of the self-giving God who transforms fields of blood into fields of hope. We are called this day to continue in the form of the self-giving that is the very life of God. On this day, this cold and silent yet gloriously beautiful day, let us remember the brokenness and the senselessness that we face as followers of Christ. And then let us gather up our courage in the Spirit and continue to give ourselves away without ceasing. In the deathly quiet of Holy Saturday, let us interrupt it with songs of hope, bread broken and lives poured out.

*[Side note: these are all events that did indeed happen to my church the year that I first gave this sermon]

***I owe many of the inisights of this whole discussion to Eric Severson, “Listening on the Day of Silence: Khora and Holy Saturday,” Paper presented at the Wesleyan Theological Society Conference, 2005***

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  1. [...] One Voice betrays the witness of a gifted artist with a theologically-astute nose, of one who believes that what we sing matters and whose heart joins those for whom ‘aching for the dawn’ defines the way of true being. The prayerful songs on this beautifully-produced album take up themes of hope, justice-making, and of identity – that ‘our stories might find their meaning’, rhyme and reason in God. Gordon recognises that however one chooses to express eschatological hope, the ultimate theological foundation remains a basic conviction concerning the faithfulness of the God whose relationship with this world is secured in one who – though one with God – did not consider equality with God something to be exploited, but who made himself nothing. Believers bear witness to this ground of hope every time we break bread and drink wine together – an act, of prolepsis as well as of obedience, undertaken by the Church in hope for a time when every tongue might taste the goodness of the Lord, when friends and enemies, victim and perpetrators, sit at the same table and find their healing in its host who has borne the pain, shame, isolation and fear of all. It is to this that the Church’s songs, including Gordon’s, bear witness. I recall words from one of Halden Doerge’s sermons on ‘Holy Saturday‘: [...]

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