Judas Iscariot (2) – Loss

The Story of Judas IscariotSo what else can we learn from the life of Judas? More specifically, what can we learn from the death of Judas? (Please be aware this entry deals with the sensitive topic of suicide.)

Please read Matthew 27:3-5

When someone takes their own life, the impact on those left behind is devastating. When it’s a terminally ill 92 year-old care home resident who takes her life a few weeks after her husband died, one can to an extent understand why she might have chosen to do so. But all the same it is devastating for family and the care home staff alike. When a 32 year-old’s life is turning around after years of depression does so, it shatters parents, siblings, friends and healthcare professionals who supported them alike. Everyone is left drowning in a pool of despair asking ‘Why did they do it?’ ‘What else could we have done?’ ‘What did we do wrong?’

Coming as it did just hours before Christ himself was crucified, for the remaining eleven disciples and the others who followed Jesus, Judas’ death would have been devastating. Yes, he had his fingers in the purse. Yes, he walked in to the garden at Gethsemane and handed over the Messiah. Yes, he had betrayed not just Jesus but that whole group who had gone through so much together in the previous three years. After all, he’d witnessed healings and miracles. He’d listened to the teaching. He’d walked and prayed. He was given the same authority to minister to others as the rest of the disciples. He’d had his feet washed. He received that first communion. Judas had become a friend. A close friend. And then he did that.

Although we do not know the full facts, Judas took his own life out of remorse for the sheer magnitude of what he had done. He condemned an innocent man to death. His suicide was perhaps as impulsive as the act of betrayal. In the end, Judas betrayed himself completely.

Although there is often a link between suicide and mental ill health, three-quarters of those who end their own lives are not in contact with mental health services. Despite the ‘protective factors’ someone may have in place (e.g. a partner or children; receiving and accepting support) the desire to end their own suffering (whatever that may mean for the person concerned) and the burden they believe themselves to be for others, it all becomes too much and they make a decision to end their life.

In that most poignant of paradoxes, the making of that decision often results in the person feeling calmer than they did before. The end is now in sight. And for those of us left behind, there is, in most cases, probably nothing more we could have done.

For those bereaved by suicide, the loss is great. A loss as great as any other death, arguably more so in some circumstances. Those left behind may feel betrayed. They may feel angry with the person who has taken their own life. All the love they gave them. All the time and effort they spent. All the worry and suffering they went through… and then they did that.

Such feelings are natural and normal.

Many deaths leave unanswered questions. When the loss is through suicide, especially if is there is no note or explanation, the unanswered questions may always remain just that, unanswered. That is a heavy cross to bear.

The pain will last and the healing may take a long time. The good memories remain but the loss is deeply felt. Everybody’s journey through grief is different – we all react in different ways and the way one person deals with it is different from another. The methods one uses to deal with such loss will be different and what works for one person doesn’t mean to say that it will work for (or needs to be used by) another person. Grief impacts people in different ways but that too will be different and is not necessarily the same for each. Within all of that, each journey is a valid one and to be respected.

Help for those who have been bereaved by suicide is available at Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide

Help for those experiencing suicidal thoughts is available through The Samaritans or by contacting emergency medical services.

Mary Magdalene (2) – Fact

Mary Magdalene at the Garden TombWhile not named, Mary was probably among other women who gathered for the Last Supper and then moved on to the Garden at Gethsemane – and she was certainly involved in what followed.

Please read Matt 27:55-57,61 and John 20:1, 11-18

Like many of us after a death, Mary Magdalene visited the place where her loved one was laid. It was night. She knew she could go there in peace to pay her respects, to mourn, to talk to the one she had lost, to be in that person’s presence even though they are dead: there is something reassuring about being able to do so, isn’t there – it keeps that deep emotional connection.

But on that first Easter morning, as the sun was rising upon the darkened land, Mary didn’t find what she expecting. The stone carefully placed over the entrance to the tomb by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, whom she had watched, had been moved. The body had gone. What loss – and then this.

No doubt, as she sat weeping, Mary recalled Jesus’ teaching about his death and resurrection. And yet the body had gone. Even the appearance of angels did not bring consolation. A gardener came and she poured out her distress to him. What on earth was going on?

And then one word changed everything. A word charged with emotion. A word which encapsulated all she was, covered all her confusion and distress, and brought together all her faith and hope.

‘Mary.’

In this one word, the simple utterance of her name, Mary has found the Lord. And her Lord has found her. In the deep heartfelt calling of her name, Mary had found the true fulfilment of who God had made her to be. She hears her name and says his in reply.

The 16th Century Italian artist, Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (1480-1548) captures the moment beautifully in his painting, Mary Magdalene. Mary is turning and understanding.

When someone calls our name, it attracts our attention. We turn to face them. We respond to the voice. We recognise the person who says it. Hearing our name spoken makes us turn in the right direction. And if we are looking for someone we’ve lost, we might call out their name. And such is the joy when we find them – and such is the joy of the person who has been found.

Through the resurrection, Jesus calls each one of us by name.

Through the resurrection, each one of us has found what we are looking for.

Take a few minutes to listen to the voice of Jesus calling your name.

Write down what you feel when you turn and understand.

Nicodemus (2) – Light

Nicodemus at the Garden TombFrom going to Jesus for spiritual direction to defending him in front of his fellow Pharisees (see John 7:43-52), Nicodemus had discerned that this man, this Jesus, is the Messiah the Jews have been expecting. Now, in part 2 of his story, we find him in another garden:

Please read John 19: 38-42

This is a garden that is all set for a burial. A royal burial. The burial of a King – the King of the Jews, as Pilate had decreed (John 19:19-22). Pilate’s is another story we can learn from as well.

Here we have Nicodemus together with Joseph, from Arimathea in Judea. Two rich and well-respected Jewish leaders. Joseph was also a member of the Sanhedrin – and one who had not voted for Jesus’ death (Luke 23:50). Both in their own ways, were ‘secret disciples’ of Jesus although there is some (albeit disputable) evidence that Joseph had been following Christ as he preached around Judea and Galilee.

In an echo of the anointment of Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume by Mary of Bethany just six days previously (John 12: 3) the gifts of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are enormous. This is no simple bunch of flowers to lay at the grave. Nicodemus brings an huge amount of spices (probably in excess of around 30kg [70lbs] in modern terms). Joseph makes his own tomb available (Matthew 27:57-60) and provides the linen in which to wrap Jesus’ body (Mark 15:46). Then with a stone that rolls they seal the tomb which holds the body of their beloved Messiah.

Joseph and Nicodemus had emerged from the shadows to undertake a task for God. The bruised reed that was Nicodemus, the learned, yet confused, man who visited Jesus, has become a strong cedar. In this generous act of devotion, which his beloved Jewish law dictated had to be completed before sunset on that first Good Friday, Nicodemus stepped from secrecy and darkness in to openness and light. Previously unable to publicly show his devotion to the Messiah, he does so now. Unashamed. Unafraid. Unlimited in his generosity. Nicodemus had been born again.

What do you learn from Nicodemus?

In what ways has Jesus led you from darkness in to light?

Thomas (2) – Believing

From doubting to believingAfter the resurrection, Thomas wanted to be sure. He wanted to see the evidence.

Please read John 20:26-29

Poor Thomas. It must have been a difficult week. The other ten disciples and followers, including the Marys, would have been full of the fact that Jesus, their beloved Lord was not dead but was alive (and no doubt also a bit confused by it for themselves, one expects, although they may not have admitted that to Thomas).

In the high emotion of the situation, Thomas could have easily left the rest of the group. But he didn’t. He stayed with them. Listening to them, eating with them and praying with them.

Even so, Thomas must have spent that week wandering around, questioning the words of his closest friends, waiting for Jesus to appear around a corner. What a very long week it must have been. A week of uncertainty. A week of hope, fearing disappointment. A week of shame because he could not bring himself to believe like the others did. A week of waiting.

There are times when we want to be absolutely sure of something aren’t there? When we want evidence to clear up the confusion and the doubt. Some people have even likened Thomas to that of a scientist.

Thomas was fortunate: he had Jesus right there in front of him. How we would all long for such an experience! Yet note Jesus’ words in John 20:29. Thomas now believed because he had seen Jesus once again – and Jesus tells him how much greater is the blessing for those who believe without seeing him.

We, with all our doubts, come to Christ in the knowledge that we have not seen him. We come to Christ in faith, trusting that, in the balance of probability, he is alive and he is with us. He takes those doubts, that faith and that trust and he blesses us.

How else can we respond but by saying ‘My Lord and my God!’

Look back at your list of doubts. What evidence might there be to challenge them?

Now write a list of those things – anything you like: faith, life, work, whatever – which cause you to respond:

‘My Lord and my God!’