A meditation on John 13: 21-32

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Revd Linda Anchell
Good Friday, 25 March 2005

And it was night
Judas went out
To do whatever it was…
Whatever it was, was something human
something totally human.
So human it gave power to Satan.
["Satan's power arises out of human reality. It is a power transcendent to individuals and to human communities, but it is never separate from human existence and derives its power from us."]
For the others in the room (?)
perhaps it was to buy some extras for the festival
that meal, that special meal was at night
there was still time to get extras OR
time to give money to the poor
that night, that special night,
was a time to give…
to give to the poor


Did he go out to do some human thing
To force events to his way.
The priests had been scheming, they knew what to do
They knew what would benefit the people.
(better that one man die…)

They knew
They had power…
Whatever it was that Judas was thinking,
the priests and scribes knew what needed to be done.
Jesus dipped the morsel of bread And gave it to Judas

Jesus knew
He shared bread with Judas.
And it was night.
It was night.
Judas went out.
Went out to do whatever it was.
Whatever it was that he had worked out that he had to do;
For whatever reason.
perhaps he thought he could control a situation that was getting out of hand.
But he went out


Judas' reasoning betrayed him. Judas' planning betrayed him.
Judas went out And betrayed.
And Jesus fed him
With a morsel of bread, dipped in the wine.

We go out into the dark and face the abyss;
knowing our actions betray us,
knowing our humanity will fail us…

But Jesus dips a morsel of bread,
and as we take it, we know
that Jesus was to do something human
something totally human
Jesus also faced the night, the oblivion, the abyss…

As Jesus faces the cross
he dips the morsel of bread…
and all our humanity,
all our aching for perfection,
all our striving for completion
is crucified.
and God, …and Jesus
dips a morsel of bread
And it is night. —Linda Anchell

Resources used (some):

"Man never been the same since God died. He has taken it very hard. He gets along pretty well, as long as it's daylight, but it's no use. The moment it begins to get dark, as soon as it is night, he goes out and howls over the grave of God." - Edna St. Vincent Millay

When we seek God in Jesus' death on the cross, we allow ourselves to hope that our darkest moments of suffering, loss and death — even Jesus' or anyone's innocent suffering at the hands of others doing evil — may contain a meeting with the freedom, grace, creativity, new life and love by which we mark the coming of God in our lives. With different voices Good Friday and Easter both tell us that Jesus' suffering enfolds the overwhelmingly vast, seemingly endless magnitude of human sufferings in the power of God: unquenchable joy, the love stronger than death. Good Friday and Easter are not problem and solution, not poison and antidote, but each and both together are the life we live and die, the love of God seeking into life's darkest corners. In the dark joy of Good Friday I hear a stillness that just might be large enough to heal absolutely anything.


Nowadays many theologians say, quite rightly, that it is precisely at the Cross that this difference becomes clearly manifest: at this precise point the mystery of the divine Trinity is fully proclaimed. The distance is so great —for in God everything is infinite— that there is room in it for all the alienation and sin of the world; the Son can draw all this into his relationship with the Father without any danger of it harming or altering the mutual eternal love between Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. Sin is burnt up, as it were, in the fire of this love, for God, as Scripture says, is a consuming fire that will not tolerate anything impure but must burn it away.

What, then, can we do? "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour." It was as if the cosmos sensed that something decisive was going on here, as if it were participating in the darkness invading the soul of Christ. For our part, we do not need to experience this darkening, for we are already estranged and dark enough. It would suffice if we held onto our faith in a world that has become dark all around us; it would be enough for us to be convinced that all inner light, all inner joy and security, all trust in life owes its existence to the darkness of Golgotha and never to forget to give God thanks for it.

When life is hard and apparently hopeless, we can be confident that this darkness of ours can be taken up into the great darkness of redemption through which the light of Easter dawns. And when what is required of us seems too burdensome, when the pains become unbearable and the fate we are asked to accept seems simply meaningless — then we have come very close to the man nailed on the Cross at the Place of the Skull, for he has already undergone this on our behalf and, moreover, in unimaginable intensity. When surrounded by apparent meaninglessness, therefore, we cannot ask to be given a calming sense of meaning; all we can do is wait and endure, quite still, like the Crucified, not seeing anything, facing the dark abyss of death. Beyond this abyss there waits for us something that, at present, we cannot see (nor can we even manage to regard it as true), namely, a further abyss of light in which all the world's pain is treasured and cherished in the ever-open heart of God. Then we shall be allowed, like the Apostle Thomas, to put our hand into this gaping wound; feeling it, we shall realize in a very bodily way that God's love transcends all human senses, and with the disciple we shall pray: "My Lord and my God."


Tonight we come to worship in the dark. Before we're done, we will do something that's seldom done in our artificially illuminated modern world. We will sit in darkness for what seems like the longest time. We shall savor the dark on this, the darkest night of the Christian year, the dark night that Jesus was forsaken by his own people as his disciples fled into the dark, that day when darkness covered the earth from noon until three and it was is if Creation got undone by the howling grief of God over what we had done to God's only Son.

Why do we worship in the dark? "The Christian faith is a thing of unspeakable comfort," said C. S. Lewis, "but before it can be comfort, it begins in despair and it is no use to try to get to the comfort without going through the despair."

And that is why we sit in the dark, a dark as dark as the dark of the tomb. We are made by God to stare into the abyss, into the darkness, to admit to the dark places in our world where there is more chaos than creation, made by a church that is not often too truthful, made to be honest about those corners of our own souls where there is darkness too deep to mention.

Let us sit in the dark. Let us tell one another the somber story of Jesus' last hours in the land of the living. Let us stare into the darkness and tell the truth of our shadowlands.

Reflections and Questions

1. As we have cautioned in the past (see, for example, Proper 24B), one needs to be careful with the notion of ransom. It can fit too easily into the Anselmian notion of atonement, where Christ pays a ransom for our sin. Girard's anthropology helps us to avoid the pitfalls of the Anselmian atonement theory, the most basic one being that the darkness we are rescued from ends up being God's wrath. The alternative view in many of the theologies leading up to Anselm was that of being ransomed from Satan's power of darkness, not God's wrath. But this view risks the pitfall of Manichaeism, giving too much power to Satan, i.e., seeing him as a power of evil akin to God's power of good. The offshoot is that we end up having, as Anthony Bartlett calls it, an Imitatio Diaboli. We might allow God and Satan to be become enemy twins of one another. Even if we have God as the winner of the contest, tricking Satan at the cross, we need to be careful that God remains truly transcendent, showing Satan's transcendence to be a false one, not worthy of the elevation to the power of deity. Bartlett brilliantly traces the pitfalls of walking this fine line through the first fifteen hundred years of Christian theology in the second chapter, "Imitatio Diaboli," of his book Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement.

How do we avoid according too much power to Satan? By learning to understand Satan's power anthropologically. In other words, Satan's power arises out of human reality. It is a power transcendent to individuals and to human communities, but it is never separate from human existence and derives its power from us. Understanding ourselves through the Gospel, then, with a gospel anthropology, is coming to learn to separate God's true transcendence from Satan's limited, less-than-divine transcendence. Satan loses his transcendence altogether — it falls from heaven like lightning — if we learn to see the nature of God's true transcendence in Jesus Christ. We are rescued from the power of our own darkness and transferred into the Culture of God in Jesus Christ, where we are ransomed from Satan's power through the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). Sharpening such a gospel anthropology has been Girard's mission, one most recently and poignantly titled (from last week's gospel, Luke 10:18) I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. See also the webpage "The Anthropology of RenĂ© Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement."

This is just too good to leave out…

2. Charles Mabee, "Text as Peacemaker: Deuteronomic Innovations in Violence Detoxification," from Violence Renounced, edited by Willard Swartley. As the title indicates, he wants to present Deuteronomy as a text that can lead us into peacemaking. He begins by noting the prominence of the Decalogue and its movement from the exclusive sovereignty of Yahweh to stipulations concerning coveting and desiring in human community.

…In other words, the Deuteronomic prescription for social solidarity and peaceful coexistence begins at this crucial point of redirecting desire toward Yawweh rather than (things of) the other (personified as the neighbor's wife) and the property of the other (house, field, slave, ox, donkey, and the like).

Presupposed here is the anthropological perspective that human beings have the capacity to "choose" Yahweh, and that this choice breaks the back of misdirected human desire. In Deuteronomic theology, this capacity to choose Yahweh is based on Yahweh's prior choice of Israel…

…In other words, Yahweh's choice of Israel has theological priority over the "natural" human desire of its people, and thereby becomes the key to transform their human desire from an evil into a good, or into a choice for Yahweh… In this way, Deuteronomy can best be understood as a catechetical handbook designed to instruct the community of faith in the fundamentals of life liberated from the drive of destructive coveting and desiring which always lies embedded in the soul of human society. (pp. 73-74)

The key movement which Mabee points to is the observation at the end of Deuteronomy about Moses' death that: "no one knows his burial place to this day" (Deut. 34:6b). What an extraordinary contrast to the prominence of the tomb in primitive religion of the Sacred! It signals in Yahwistic religion the replacement of the tomb with the text as the new center of religion. The prophet and scribe replace the priest-kings as central figures. Mabee writes:

By eliminating the tomb of its "heroic" founder and opposing the mythological Anakim [Deut. 1:28], the Deuteronomic writers in effect propose the written text as a weapon of peace (replacing the weapons of war), as the new means to effect social change. The hero forces social change based on impostion; Deuteronomy relies solely on the catechetical tools of teaching and persuasion and places the fundamental motivation of war — vengeance — out of human hands and under divine control. (p. 77)

St Philip's Anglican Church,
cnr Moorhouse and Macpherson Streets, O'Connor, ACT 2602.