Innocent Reflections (9/2021): Yes and No, or finding a poem for Judas
Happy Feast! Today is the Annunciation, exactly nine months before Christmas, when we celebrate the coming of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary to tell her she would give birth to Jesus, and when we particularly celebrate her response 'let it be unto me according to thy will' - her yes to God and our salvation. In mediaeval tradition, the 25th March was also the day of creation, and the day when Jesus was crucified (the date of Good Friday changes each year in relation to Passover, which is determined by the moon, but apparently that year it feel on the 25th March) - so a weighty and momentous day.
I spent much of yesterday putting together a booklet to send out over holy week, with the gospel passage, a work of art, a poem and an imaginative contemplation for each day. Those of you on the electoral roll should receive one, but do let me know if you would like one. Tuesday and Wednesday are taken up, in different ways with the story of Judas, and I spent a good bit of yesterday searching for a poem that would do him justice.
As you can imagine a fair few poems are steeped in judgement and relish in the bitterness and pain of his end, much as Dante rather enjoys his final image in the Inferno of Judas being eternally munched by Satan alongside the great betrayers of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius. The Gospel narrative gives us no reason as to why Judas decided to betray Jesus. There is even a hint that it wasn't a choice: the Gospel of John tells us that Satan entered him. But, behind the mystery of his 'no', I like to think there was a human process, one that we could understand and sympathise with. Even as we struggle to say yes to God ourselves, we are aware of the large part that wants to say no and walk away into the night as Judas did. His pain and despair are certainly real and all too human, and to react with unfeeling condemnation feels a bit judgmental. After all, every one of us is capable of getting it seriously wrong and hurting other people.
At the other extreme, there was this poem - the Judas tree:
The Ballad of the Judas Tree by Ruth Etchells
In Hell there grew a Judas Tree
Where Judas hanged and died
Because he could not bear to see
His master crucified
Our Lord descended into Hell
And found his Judas there
For ever hanging on the tree
Grown from his own despair
So Jesus cut his Judas down
And took him in his arms
‘It was for this I came’ he said ‘
And not to do you harm
My Father gave me twelve good men
And all of them I kept
Though one betrayed and one denied
Some fled and others slept
In three days’ time I must return
To make the others glad
But first I had to come to Hell
And share the death you had
My tree will grow in place of yours
Its roots lie here as well
There is no final victory
Without this soul from Hell ‘
So when we all condemn him
As of every traitor worst
Remember that of all his men
Our Lord forgave him first.
It is, in many ways a beautiful poem, and has something to tell us about the power of redemption worked on the cross - "my tree will grow in place of yours" - how all human pain is assumed and redeemed by Jesus on the cross, even Judas'. And, don't get me wrong, I love the idea and hope it is true that in the end Judas, faced with the love and forgiveness of God, allowed himself to be redeemed and healed. But we cannot know the answer to this question, and I found myself thinking, what would Judas think of all this? We know that in this life, even despite our best efforts, sometimes reconciliation eludes us. And if we celebrate the freedom of Mary's yes to God, surely that allows for the possibility of a no, or to put it another way, does God force us to be saved, or do we have a choice? And if we have a choice, could somebody face the love of God and turn away from it? If love is free, then we have to at least allow for that possibility.
So I guess I was looking for something quite hard to find, a poem which retained something of Judas' humanity, but which also retained a sense of not knowing what his end might be. After a few captivating possibilities - I loved this poem about Judas drinking in the pub - Iscariot at the Tavern by Aodhan Corr - but even with my liberalism, wasn't quite ready for swearing in a parish booklet - I settled on this one by Andreas Kevington about Jesus washing Judas feet:
Jesus washes Judas’ feet.
That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up? Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?
As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.
And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:
as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.
In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew, what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.
With love and prayers,
For our Lent Course this week, Sister Elizabeth comes to talk to us from the Society of the Sacred Cross Convent in Tymawr, Wales. They are a contemplative anglican community. Sister Elizabeth came to the convent having first had children and worked full time, so she should have an interesting perspective on her own calling and what that might mean for us.
Do join us at 7.30pm tonight
Meeting ID: 875 2518 7229
Sally Quashie R.I.P.
We continue to pray for the soul of our beloved Sally. Her funeral will be next Tuesday at 11.30pm at church. Do join us either at church or on line.
Join us for our Mass on Easter Day at 10.00am. If you would like to come please reserve a ticket. If the 10.00am mass fills up, we will consider doing another one at 11.30, so it would be really helpful if you could book, so we know how many people would like to come. You can reserve a space here
If you have any news you’d like to share with the congregation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or phone Brenda on 02083405382
Holy Week and Easter
Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week. We will be celebrating the Triduum on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week, and would encourage you to join us (online or virtually!) for as many of the services as you like, as well as for the Easter Sunday mass.
This Sunday we are having a collection in church for our Easter Flowers. If you are unable to get to church at present but would like to give to the collection, please put your donation in an envelope with the words 'Easter Flowers' on it and deliver to either the Vicarage or to 41 Elder Avenue.
The church is open!
The church is now open for public services. You are welcome to attend church for mass each day. Please think carefully about coming, especially if you are in a vulnerable group or need to use public transport to get here.
Thank you to everyone who attended our Lent Courses this year!
The funeral for Sally Quashi will be at 11:30 on Tuesday 30th
March. Please keep her and her family in your prayers this week.
Matilda is making a short video for kids every Sunday. Please do share it with any young people who may be interested!
Keeping in touch
Even though we can’t meet physically right now, we’re still working to keep in touch. We’ll be phoning round and continuing to send our newsletter. We’re happy to give communion over the phone, please just ask!
Hornsey Food Bank
Hornsey Food Bank operates from 11-1 every Thursday at Middle Lane Methodist Church, and donations can be left there from 10-11 or 1-2 on the same day. This week we particularly need cooking oil, cereal, UHT milk, tinned vegetables, hot chocolate and shaving cream. We also take financial donations and welcome new volunteers – please contact email@example.com
for more information!
COVID-19 vaccinations for over 50s
Are you 50 years or over and/or clinically extremely vulnerable? Vaccine eligibility has been extended to over 50s!
The NHS will soon invite you to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines have gone through stringent safety, quality, and effectiveness testing, so when you get your letter, please make sure you accept and attend your appointment. It will help protect you, and your loved ones from COVID-19.
Thousands of over 50s, care home residents and NHS and social care staff across Haringey have already received their first dose at one of the centres in the borough offering the COVID-19 vaccine. Fr Ben, Brenda and Matilda have all received their first dose of the vaccine and are happy to talk about it if you have any worries.
Remember, two doses are needed for maximum protection, and as it is not yet known whether the virus is still transmittable after vaccination, you must continue to follow government guidelines – wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands.
Together, we will slowly be able to return to the normal life we miss so much.
In addition to services, the Church is open for private prayer from 10-6 every day. You can also watch all our services live on our website or our facebook page.
The Annunciation of the Lord
19.30 Lent Course
||11:30 Funeral of Sally Quashi
19.30 Mass for Holy Week (Holy Trinity)
20:00 Mass of the Last Supper with watch till Midnight
10:00 Station of the Cross
12:00 Liturgy of the Day
From 10:00 Church Cleaning
20:00 Easter Vigil