Judas wasn’t the first, but he’s probably the best known in our culture. The archetypal betrayer. He waited outside Gethsemane, in knowledge of his guilt, and for the inevitable outcome. As a human, he’d have examined what he was doing, and why he was doing it. Taking the reading of the scripture, there was no one else to be relied upon do the deed, that was why he’d been sent. To hand a friend, brother, and mentor into the jaws of certain death.
A few years ago, I sat that vigil, knowing that I’d done what I thought was right, when every fiber told me it was wrong. I had signed papers that allowed medication to be administered by ‘any means required’. I lied pretty lies of a ‘cure’ when I knew there was none. I made promises of homecomings I knew could never be fulfilled. I signed the paper saying ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ and withdrew feeding. I sentenced my father to a lonely and terrible death among strangers. And under the fat Passover moon, for what seemed a lifetime, I learned the pain of judgment, guilt, regret, and the things one does for love and to honor a promise given. However, there is a balm of sorts… Understanding. A dawning ineffable knowing of what others go through, have been through, will go through, when they take the road to the garden, back to Judas, sitting at the gate, in that frozen moment before the Romans come.
You see the pain of others; the ones lost, the ones who, in the name of love, in the name of desperation, in the name of anger, in the name of common humanity, have done things that they can not forgive themselves for. They too have sat in the darkness outside Gethsemane.
So what do we do with that insight, so painfully won?
Sit with others outside the garden. Listen to their tale. Don’t judge. Don’t hand out what you think is right, just listen. Listen to their memories. Rejoice with them in happy ones. If moved to weep by their sad ones, weep with them. If they laugh, don’t be afraid to laugh with them, or at least smile. Nervous laughter is often the way of pain. If a hand or a hug is appropriate, don’t be afraid to give it, but be sensitive to those for whom physical contact would be as the sting of a whip. If they want to pray, then pray.
Be present. Don’t think of pious things to say, or be composing replies. You are not there to talk, to judge, or forgive, nor to add to their pain. You are there to sit and watch the moon over the olive trees of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, as the ‘betrayer’ tells the story of what brought them here. If there comes a time to speak, you shall know it, but there is never a time to judge. Ever. Any judgment you make will not be harsher than that they inflict on themselves, so it is immaterial how you judge them. It’s also the easy option, and “easy” is not why we are here, on this night before the Passover.
Above all, do not be afraid of silence. Pray if you wish, but discreetly. Or just sit. If they wish to be alone, they’ll move away. Don’t follow immediately. Give them space to grieve. Just be a presence. You are a companion, not a guide, since the path to Gethsemane is unique to each of us, and the only map is in the heart.
It’s not an easy place, Gethsemane’s Gate. Unless one has sat there, it is hard to fathom. It is equally hard to explain to one who has not sat there and mourned pulling the plug, withdrawing feeding, ordering morphine levels increased, terminating an unborn, suffering that finally outweighs the letter of the law, or any of the one thousand and one things that are judged harshly by those who think the decision is taken lightly, or even gleefully, when it is neither. The choice is made, and acted upon, in pain, and guilt, and mourning, and fear. Never, ever, with joy.
Under moonlight, the world is black and white, but the choices made that place you there, in the fellowship of Judas, are always gray.