Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness. ~Anne Frank
For the last few years, I’ve been charged with co-reading scriptures and prayers at my church’s Stations of the Cross service on Good Friday. It is an extremely sobering service, one that left me in tears the first year I participated. Essentially, the entire congregation walks, one by one, along a series of 14 paintings of moments during Jesus’ Passion. At each Station a part of the scripture and a prayer is read. This year, something new stood out to me. Easter, arguably the happiest of all Christian holidays, is altogether meaningless without the context of what lead up to it. Resurrection is meaningless and unnecessary without the death that preceded it.
Of all the philosophical baggage that comes along with believing in a higher power, reconciling the existence of good and evil has got to be among the most difficult to carry. Examining Jesus’ Passion story beyond face value, one might quickly notice the seeming necessity of evil and darkness in the story. In order for Jesus to complete the work He claimed He was sent for, bad things literally had to happen to Him. I personally find the role of Judas the most perplexing.
From Mark 14 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him… And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him.
Matthew 27:3-5 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
If God is in complete control of everything, by action (or inaction) did He force Judas to betray Him and subsequently hang himself in shame? Did Judas have a choice in the matter? There are many schools of thought on this and I’m probably far less-than-qualified to comment on much of it. That said, I still think it’s worth asking questions and trying hard to answer them. Here’s where I currently am with it:
I think God leaves us here in a fallen and broken world with heartache, sorrow, pain, guilt, hate, malice, greed, and death because, in such a world, love matters maximally. Love & grace are bridges between the worst parts of life and the very best. We were given the opportunity for peace at the beginning of all things, but chose (and continue to choose) not to accept it. The very fact that we have the freedom to to make poor and great decisions means that it matters infinitely more when we make the right choices.
As such, I don’t really think about Judas the same way anymore. At one point, I thought he was kind of a special case – a poor soul seemingly condemned to play a sad part in the Passion story. Now, I think that Judas was one of any of us. Freedom of choice (with all the horrible things that come along with it) set the stage perfectly for God to complete His redeeming work on Easter. Redemption is extraneous without the choice of sin. Peace would be unrecognizable without the context of war. The power of light is only visible against shadows of dark.
I invite you to join me in thinking harder about the dark side of Easter this year. Something tells me that, given the opportunity to be a part of the Passion narrative two thousand years ago, that’s where most of us would find ourselves.