At church this morning (Rayne Memorial) senior pastor Callie Crawford’s message was to be “Loving Judas” apt for Palm Sunday.
(For those not familiar, in the Christian Gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus causing him to be handed over to the Romans for ultimate crucifixion. Judas got thirty pieces of silver for the deed. Other of Jesus’ followers did not do much better. Peter denied/betrayed Jesus three times – and apparently the other disciples left Jesus on his own after his capture and execution.)
Callie is an exceptional preacher and storyteller and as always, I looked forward to hearing her preach. A sermon with this title could have included how we are all broken, in need of forgiveness, and loved, regardless.
But the sermon took a twist that caught me completely by surprise. Callie asked us to consider the difference between the role of Peter and Judas – each who had betrayed Jesus. Was either betrayal worse than the other? What was the difference between the two? She suggested a big difference was that Peter came back and continued to be in community with Jesus, to follow him, to discover the empty tomb. Judas at first tried to undo his betrayal, but ultimately committed suicide instead.
As a recovering alcoholic, the story had considerable meaning. I always equated my drinking to a slow form of suicide. My grief over betrayal, dysfunction, pain – I completely relate to being the Judas and just wanting to make it go away. I am eternally blessed that by grace, ultimately, I followed Peter’s example, toward recovery, to travel the road, to experience a personal resurrection.
But the end of Callie’s sermon caught me short. She talked about a mythical Second Coming where all the folks are walking into heaven and Peter is there to close the gates after everyone is in for the party. But Jesus stands outside the gate and Peter tells him to come on in because the party is going to start. But Jesus stays outside the gate looking into the distance. When Peter asks Jesus what he is waiting for he replies “I am waiting for Judas to come on up.”
And I could so relate to being that Judas when steeped in my addiction. The self-hate and loathing – only wanting to be anesthetized with alcohol and drugs so I had to feel nothing – so that I lived only in a perpetual coma. Unable or unwilling to just surrender to my powerlessness and walk through the liberating gates of recovery.
I am forever blessed that on August 4, 1984 just before midnight when I got off work from the paper bag factory, I chose to check myself into a detox unit instead of getting drunk, my norm. I was finally able to walk through the gates and join the party. Today’s sermon left me with a profound gratitude for that event and a sadness for those still wallowing in the muck. I walked home from church with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, and a renewed commitment to life.
By the time I got home, my wife had already packed our picnic lunch and along with our reasonably insane rescue dog, we went up to the Fly along the Mississippi River, spread a blanket and had lunch. I felt at home.