Choral Evensong Passion Sunday 2016
Readings: 2 Chronicles 35. 1-6, 10-16; Luke 22. 1-13;
We call this Sunday, falling the week before Palm Sunday and Holy Week, ‘Passion Sunday’ and we can describe the next two weeks as ‘Passiontide’. I find the phrase “Passion Sunday” helpful because it suggests to me an intense focus of intention, a focus of mind and heart. This is a priming preparation for us before we enter the strange intensity of Holy Week and the Great Three Days of Easter.
The passage from Chronicles recounts the Passover as it was celebrated by King Josiah of Judah who had resolutely turned his kingdom back to faith. He had torn down the structures associated with the pagan cults and had repaired the temple (which had fallen into disrepair badly after years of little use) and in the course of the restorations had discovered an old scroll of the Torah. This was a major discovery and quickened Josiah’s reforms. So in the repaired temple we find a Passover again being celebrated in Jerusalem and the great story of God’s covenant with his people is relived; the story of their deliverance from Egypt is again rehearsed.
This however a story of loss and rediscovery, but the thread of brokenness runs through it; even as one celebrates Josiah’s reforms and the repair of the temple, there is an unspoken question: how long will this last? A different king … human nature being what it is …
Luke’s gospel takes us to another Passover and the preparations for the meal – but here we are seeing the groundwork for a new story, a new temple and a new offering – shortly Jesus will be be understood as the true offering of the Passover and his body will replace the temple. God is doing something very new here; something unimaginably bold. The story is ironic: Jesus knows what is to happen – the disciples may be directed to make preparations but the event is moving out of their hands.
The dramatic centre of this narrative fragment is Judas.
We are told simply and without explanation “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot”. The way it is told here, the betrayal seems motiveless. Does evil need a motive? As so often happens in life, we attempt to make sense of what something that resists understanding.
What drove Judas? Were there circumstances that might make his betrayal understandable? Possibly – but then again, maybe not.
Can we understand malevolence? At times we may sense a capacity for darkness in ourselves but is that a mere shadow of something more … something more than we would ever wish to imagine or confront? Shakespeare’s King Lear raged at it, helpless; Auschwitz and the killing fields of Cambodia and the Balkans press the question.
The Christ still walks on toward the upper room and the Passover meal.