The Betrayed Jesus and the Charleston Nine

As I read article after article about the shooting in Charleston this week, spoke with friends, wept alone in my apartment, tried in fits and starts to think of a sermon that could live up to Sunday, and read more articles, I felt not only anguish but hopelessness. And the hopelessness did not set in when I first heard about the shootings. That’s when the anguish happened.

No, the hopelessness set in as I started to read and listen to the public responses in the mainstream and social media. The battle for the narrative, as Lecrae pointed out, had begun. Narratives ranged from the grieving to the justifiably angry to the compassionate to the ridiculous to the offensive.

This morning, I read another narrative:

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus…. Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover. (Lk 22:1-4; 7-8)

The word that strikes me in this story is “preparations.” There are two sets of preparations being made. The disciples, on Jesus’ orders, are preparing to celebrate the Passover, that day when God delivered his people from death and slavery through the blood on the wood of their doorposts.

Judas, is preparing for something else. He is preparing to betray Jesus to his killers. He is making conscientious, premeditated plans. He is filled with evil, as Luke points out in verse three, but that certainly doesn’t mitigate his culpability or absolve him of responsibility. No. Judas is consciously preparing to destroy the life of an innocent man.

Now, Luke skillfully weaves these two stories of preparation together to make a point. Judas was unwittingly preparing a new kind of Passover. As Jesus goes on to say in the following verses, God is about to deliver his people from slavery and death in a totally unexpected way—not through the slain body of a lamb but through Christ’s slain body, and not through the blood of a lamb on a wooden doorpost but through the blood of Jesus on a wooden cross. Could it be, Luke wants us to ask, that as Judas prepared to murder the Messiah, God was actually preparing to save his people through Judas’ preparations?

I was in my hopeless state, not looking for a silver lining, when I heard that the Emmanuel AME church doors were wide open on Sunday. I was not looking for a silver lining when Rev. Norvel Goff Sr. preached at Emmanuel AME, “Some wanted to divide the race — black and white and brown — but no weapon formed against us shall prosper.” Some have reported that there has been a show of racial unity in Charleston like none has ever seen. Could it be that while Dylann Roof was preparing to start a race war, God was preparing to move toward greater unity in his church?

As I write this, I realize that some could take these words as false comfort…trying to tell the grieving it will all be for the best. No, I will not sing songs to a heavy heart.

Others could be anesthetized, especially white Christians like me who benefit from and propagate a system and culture of white supremacy whether we know it or not. (If that’s a hard thing for you to hear please read THIS article and then THIS article).

No, we cannot and must not take this glimmer of hope held out to us by the courageous and faithful people of Emmanuel AME, and turn it into cowardice and faithlessness. Instead we need to ask ourselves the question, “Could it be that while a white supremacist was preparing to start a race war, God was preparing you and me to seek reconciliation through acting toward justice?” If your answer is yes, let’s get off the sidelines of privilege and get to work.