March 2, 2018

Friday after the Second Sunday in Lent

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard. So when he came, he went up to him at once and said “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. Mark 14:43-46


At the center of Bologna in Italy, there is a complex of 4 (once 7) churches, known as “Little Jerusalem” because copies have been built there of what is believed to be Christ’s tomb, a miniature Gethsemane and even Pilate’s Courtyard at Santo Stefano. Daily, this “little Jerusalem” teaches, through the narrative of its architecture, the story of betrayal and suffering unto death to worshippers, pilgrims and the most casual tourist. This struck me as powerful, having our tradition of only annual, Holy Week connection to the stories of Judas’ and Simon Peter’s betrayal of Jesus. For this to be a constant in people’s lives took me a little aback.

20170312_venice_264Standing in Pilate’s Courtyard, admiring the plump cockerel in its perfect niche, the sunny courtyard with its pretty stone well, I wondered that these symbols of life could be perverted to mean betrayal. Then, one kiss, given to betray instead of to express love and devotion, resulting in the worst perfidy. Isn’t this how betrayal happens: casual, barely noticed, bit by bit? Then the unspeakable consequences: the grey lifeless, tortured figure of Jesus sculpted above the nearby crypt.

Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark invokes the crowd of temple military with their swords and clubs eager to pick up whomever Judas identifies – but evidently unable to identify him themselves. Unleashed by the religious authorities, they act without questioning the veracity of the claims made against the man they have been sent to arrest and bring before Pilate. They carry out decisions that have been made in all their names by fearful chief priests, scribes and elders, colluding with the Roman state.

The experience of standing in Pilate’s Courtyard in Bologna’s “little Jerusalem” left me conscious of the quotidian nature of betrayal. It is part of the difficult truth of our humanity. We can each be degraded, whether we betray ourselves or one another, or when betrayal occurs in our names. We betray the God we love.

I believe we are living in a time of betrayal of many of our deepest commitments as people of God. Whether it’s the environment, international assistance, respect for treaties, our treatment of the alien among us, protection of long-respected immigration goals, health-care as a human right…much of who we are as people of faith is compromised daily.

Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, prepares the sleepy disciples for Judas’ approach : “Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Would that we could live more consciously, recognizing our complicity in his betrayal, and that God grant us the will to object, and the strength to resist evil; that is my prayer.


The Rev. Barbara Abbott
Saint George’s, Ardmore


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This is the official website of the Merion Deanery, a group of 13 Episcopal churches and communities located just outside of Philadelphia.

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