One of Rembrandt’s classic paintings is called “The Raising of the Cross” and in this painting of the people raising the Cross where Christ is already nailed, is the picture of a strange man in a blue cap. Looking closer, we see it is actually a picture of Rembrandt himself. You see, Rembrandt was a Christian and he was saying that he also was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus because the Lord goes to the Cross to destroy death because of our desperate need, all of us, to be freed from the power of death to control us and to enslave us to our passions.
It is a powerful revelation to realize that my sins contributed to the nailing of Jesus to the Cross, so the Church tells us to realize that Jesus nails our sins to the Cross to destroy the power of weakness and betrayal to make us slaves to our selfish ways. And yet, when we forget this incredible act of love on our behalf, we return to that blind and selfish living that makes it so easy to betray our faith and live too small lives. Of course, death is always the “fruit” of betrayal. Betrayal causes the “death” of relationships. Betrayal causes the “death” of reputations. Betrayal causes the “death” of hope and love!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Mark 14:10-42:
At that time, Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus 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 on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?” And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when it was evening he came with the twelve. And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Read the rest. It’s worth it!)
Our Lord Jesus begins to come to the last week of His life before He gives Himself up for the life of the world. He tells His disciples He will be betrayed; some of them will deny they even know Him, and He asks His closest disciples to help Him “watch” while He prays in the garden. In the midst of all that He says something absolutely and cosmically transforming! As they recline at the table, He takes Bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples and says “‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.'” (Mark 14:22-24)
The power of Judas’ betrayal is seen here in that he gets the same “bread” as the other disciples, but he receives it with an unbelieving heart and because of this what Christ meant to give His life to His followers becomes a death sentence for Judas who takes the Eucharist with no faith! Oh, the terror of betrayal and the poison it unleashes in our lives. It turns the “gift” into destruction. And Judas’ act of betrayal ends in his suicide and the loss of hope.
On the other side of the coin, we read today of St. Cyril, the Apostle to the Slavic people in the 9th century. Born in Thessaloniki at a time when most inhabitants of that city were Slavic, St. Cyril and his brother, St. Methodios, were raised as pious Orthodox Christians and grew to become missionaries to the Slavic people, even inventing the alphabet for the language and translating the services into Slavonic for the converts to the Faith. Their faithfulness saw them become the Apostles to the Slavs and to us remembering their faithfulness on this day when we see the opposite of faithfulness in the betrayal of Judas.
Today, the Orthodox faith offers you, yes, you, in all your educated and sophisticated and modern self, real food for your deepest hunger and real drink for your most profound thirst. In every Divine Liturgy, He takes our offerings and fills them up with Himself and then returns our gifts to us to nourish us, heal us, and make us like Himself. After all, it turns out you really are what you eat! But know that there is nothing so detrimental to the true purpose of the Eucharist as betrayal in our hearts. So, let us prepare ourselves with faithfulness and attentiveness to receive this Eucharistic Gift meant to give us His Life. This is Normal Orthodoxy!
P.S. Since you were equal in character to the Apostles, and teachers of the Slavic lands, O divinely-wise Cyril and Methodius, pray to the Lord of all to strengthen all nations in Orthodoxy and unity of thought, to convert and reconcile the world to God, and to save our souls.
Thank you, Father Barnabas, for your faithfulness and for being a wonderful vehicle through whom Christ touches many. My faith is strengthened by your lessons. Continue praying for those who truly seek.