Holy Week

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

There is a venomous snake in the garden. While the great Messiah and his disciples enter the garden, a certain snake-like figure named Judas knows precisely where the faithful are. He enters the garden knowing that this was a place of constant fellowship and peace. But Judas is not a man of peace and his fellowship with the Messiah has been broken. He is now a man at war and his loyalty is with the darkness.

In the Garden of Eden, the Great Serpent entered the garden to bring about chaos; to tempt the first Adam. Indeed he was successful. The first Adam failed in his loyalty to Yahweh, being deceived by the serpent in the garden, and thus, thrusting all mankind into a state of sin and misery. Now in John 18, the New Serpent enters the garden. He is possessed by the same devil that possessed the serpent in Genesis. It is this precise battle that is unfolding before us in this text. The question is: “Who owns the garden?”

Does Judas with his new found commitment to darkness and evil own the garden or does Jesus own the garden? As the text reveals to us we see that Judas, the son of perdition, seems to have the upper hand in this sacred dispute. In verse 12 we read:

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.

Jesus is arrested and bound. They take him out of the garden bound like a defeated enemy. Now, in every conceivable scenario, this would be the historical determination that Jesus has lost. But if the Messiah is to bring this unshakable and unmovable kingdom with his coming, then how does this binding, this apparent defeat in the garden connect with this glorious kingdom? The answer to this question is: paradoxically. The coming of the kingdom is paradoxical. The kingdom does not come in the way and in the expression that many expected.

Now if the kingdom of God comes paradoxically, in a way unknown to the first century, then there may be a different way of understanding this garden scene. In this text, Jesus is not being bound because of defeat; he is being bound because of victory. Jesus’ arrest is his release. His arrest is not his binding, it may appear to be, but it is ultimately the binding of the evil one, the father of lies, Satan himself. This is why the gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus is the One who bound the strong man. He is the One who arrested the Serpent and dragged him out of the garden. Jesus owns the garden, not Judas or His master, Satan.

This arrest and this binding of Jesus in the garden is not a plan gone awry, it is exactly what has been planned. In one sense, this arrest is the cosmic Trinitarian conspiracy against the kingdoms of this world. When evil leaders and governments think they have the Son of Man trapped, he fools them. As Psalm 2 says, “God laughs at their plans.” The conspiracy of the cross is that the cross is Christ’s sword to defeat evil. But the serpent does not know this. He is virtually blinded to the Messianic plan and nothing will stop Jesus from conquering evil and bringing in a new world, a new creation. The garden belongs to him, because the garden is where his people gather, and eat, and fellowship. The garden is the sacred space, the place of peace. Make no mistake, we are a warring people, but we war against the enemies of Messiah. In the garden, the King, Master, and Messiah says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail. Death dies once and for all and victory will come and we will celebrate it this Sunday. Today, though we fast, it is only a prelude to our coming feast. Jesus’ death marks the end of the serpent’s sting of death.

Maundy Thursday Homily

People of God, this is Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin mandatum which refers to the “commandment” that our Lord gave to His disciples“to love one another.”

This short section in John’s Gospel is right in between some gigantic events in the life of Jesus, but ultimately there is truth to the idea that this short narrative is perhaps one of the most important of Jesus’ discourses.

Maundy Thursday takes us to that Last Supper our Lord had with the disciples. This Supper was marked by this profound sense that our Lord was only hours from his death at the cross.

The great traitor of history, Judas, had traded his soul for a few coins, and as Judas sat with the other disciples at that last Supper, our Lord described precisely the nature of Judas’ character. Judas was corrupted and unclean, and instead of finding in Jesus the source of his healing, Judas sought to betray the Son of Man with a kiss. Augustine once wrote that once the apostate and unclean one had departed, all that remained …continued with their cleanser.

Of course, this theme of cleansing is a very powerful one in John. Jesus is the priest, and the priest cleanses the temple, and the world of corruption. It was important that as they gathered to feast on this last supper before the New World would come after the resurrection of Jesus, that the disciples, the representatives of God, were clean in body and spirit; in motive and loyalty. Jesus did not want his representatives to betray or corrupt the Kingdom mission.

This is why when Judas departed the Son of Man was glorified. He was glorified so that He was prepared to undergo what was ahead of him in the cruel tree, because the last seed of corruption was gone. Of course the disciples were not perfect, but apart from Judas, they all remained faithful to their Lord until the end. They were cleansed by the Cleanser. And as Judas departs, as corruption departs in human flesh, Jesus now addresses His faithful and loyal servants.

We see tenderness of Jesus displayed as He addresses His disciples as Little Children. For Jesus, they were His own. They belonged in His kingdom. And because they were His He had to protect them from what was ahead. What was ahead was something only He could undergo. “Where I am going, you cannot come,” Jesus said.

But though you cannot go with me, I will give you this new commandment that you are to cling to in life, and as you continue to spread my message: that you love one another. But if know your Pentateuch well, you will note that in Leviticus 19:18 our Lord had already said that you are “to love your neighbor as yourself.” So why is this a new commandment? This is a new commandment because unlike Leviticus, here Jesus says “love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The difference is God became flesh and literally loved His disciples in word and deed. And the disciples now have the example of God in the flesh of what love truly looks like. Yes, it is a new commandment: Love one another. But when Jesus says Do this, it is because He has already demonstrated for us what it looks like.

Love is the center of Christian discipleship. How will the world know who we are? It should not be because of our intellectual expertise, or our professional accomplishments, but rather by the love we have for one another at our tables, living rooms, workplaces, and in the place of worship.

The Christian history has only triumphed because God has loved us in His Son, and Christians have reacted to that love by loving one another. Without love there is no Christian faith; without love we are noise-makers, clanging cymbals, self-delusional religionists, but when we obey this new commandment, the world sees us and they will know that we are disciples of the Crucified King, Jesus Christ.

In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Collect of the Day: Monday in Holy Week

Andrea Mategna, c. 1460: Agony in the GardenAlmighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.