Based on the Passion narrative from Mark’s Gospel
Hymn: My song is love unknown
Reading: Mark 14:43-52
Reflection: Judas Iscariot – “The guilt won’t let me go”
I’m writing this although I know it’s too late. I wish I could turn back the clock, undo what I’ve done, but I know that there’s no going back – it’s past the point of no return, and there’s no way I can make up for what I’ve done. The guilt’s unbearable. I can’t live with myself.
Over the time we spent together you built up our hopes that you weren’t just an ordinary teacher and healer – you were so much more – I knew you were going to be the one who’d bring us freedom. The crowds loved you. They would do anything for you – just one word from you and they’d join the revolution, anoint you as king, and the new era would begin. I just knew it. And then came last Sunday, when we entered the city of Jerusalem and the crowds gathered to cheer you on. You rode in on the donkey and the message was clear – you were the long-awaited king, come to take your rightful place. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for, when change would come. We, your closest friends, your disciples, we knew it; the crowds knew it too – this was the time you would come in power and we, who’d been there from the beginning – hand-picked by you, would share in your glory.
But then you did – nothing – you went back to your base that day. I thought you were biding your time, finding the right moment – perhaps the next day. And when you made that statement by clearing the temple of all that corruption and greed, I thought that would be the time, after all. But again, you did nothing. All you did was teach and debate. You had the crowds in the palm of your hand, once again, but again you bottled it. I couldn’t understand why. I began to doubt – you couldn’t be the king after all. Why didn’t you take power? Why didn’t you set us free?
Then it dawned on me. You were never intending to become king by force. You’d had more than one opportunity to seize the moment – after the mass feeding in Galilee, on that heady day in Jerusalem, in the temple, and you’d refused each one. It suddenly became clear to me I’d been mistaken. I felt such a fool – I felt so angry – what a waste of time! All this had been for nothing. Those amazing times we had together. Those miracles, that teaching, those healings. All for nothing. I was so angry. And the problem with anger, as you yourself taught us, is that it can be deadly.
I wanted to punish you or to try and force your hand – force you to act, or do something. I’d heard the whisperings in the temple. The high priests, the authorities were out to get you – they saw what we saw, that you were a threat to their power, and the only way to deal with this threat was to get rid of you. You knew that too, and you weren’t going to stop them. You were going to walk into danger and allow them to do what they wanted to you. Suddenly, I saw my chance. Chance to get my own back. I could help them, provide a way for them to get to you away from the crowd and to make some money while I was at it. Soon it was sorted out – they gleefully accepted my help. Thirty pieces of silver. Seemed like a good deal at the time. Recompense for all the disappointment. We made our plans and waited for the right moment.
And so I led them to you at the Garden, greeted you with a kiss, so they would know who you were. I’ll never forget the way you looked at me. Reproachful. Sad. Hurt. Your gaze bore right into my soul and saw the darkness inside – the bitterness, the disappointment, the hurt. From a small spark, it raged like a fire in me, consumed me completely, and it led me to this. I betrayed you with a kiss. I wish I could go back, but I can’t. There’s no going back.
I never intended for it to end this way. I didn’t really think they’d have you killed. I didn’t really think you’d let them do it. They were like predators encircling their prey and they had no intention of letting you go once you were in their grasp. And you didn’t fight back. Why didn’t you fight back? You could have done something to show them who you really were, but instead, you let them walk over you. You let them condemn you to death. Why did you do that?
I didn’t know they were going to do that! I didn’t want them to do that. I only wanted them to teach you a lesson. I never meant for you to die. As soon as it dawned on me that they were going to have you killed, I realised I’d made a huge mistake. You’d done nothing to deserve any of this. You were innocent. You didn’t deserve to die. You’d done nothing wrong – and I’d betrayed you. The guilt won’t let me go. I will never forgive myself for what I’ve done.
I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry.
Reading: Mark 15:53-72
Peter – “I let him down”
I didn’t sleep a wink. I couldn’t. I felt so awful. Sick in the pit of my stomach. Those words he had said to me kept going round my head. “Tonight, before the cock crows, you’ll deny you’ve ever known me.” I couldn’t believe it! Me, Peter, the one he’d nicknamed Rocky, deny Jesus? I’d never deny Jesus. Never. As if I could. He was the man who had given me purpose. Life was so exciting when he was around. I’d made lots of mistakes, but he forgave every one – amazing really. How could I ever deny the man who’d turned my life upside down? Who’d allowed me to share in the greatest adventure ever? I couldn’t!
But I did. Three times. Swore I didn’t have the faintest idea who he was. And then he looked at me. He wasn’t angry; he was reproachful. Disappointed. If I’m honest, that’s worse. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe I’d let Jesus down. I’d been so full of it. So full of good words and good intentions. But I couldn’t back them up with my actions. I was so ashamed of myself, I ran out and wept. Wept like I’ve never wept before.
Friday was even worse. When Jesus needed his friends most, we deserted him – all of us, except John and some of the women in our group. It was fear that kept me away. What if they got me too and treated me the way they treated him? The one place I wanted to be was by Jesus’ side – showing him that he could still depend on me and my support, yet I was too much of a coward.
So I had to rely on others to keep me posted. And the news got worse and worse as the day wore on. First, they told me that he’d been put on trial for blasphemy, that the authorities wanted his blood; then, I heard about the beating, the insults, the scourging; and then they told me he’d been sentenced to death. Crucifixion. A death so horrible that Roman citizens are spared such awful treatment. Finally, I heard the news I thought I would never hear – he’d died.
Jesus. The miracle maker. My hero. My captain. My leader. The one who was going to save us all from oppression. Dead.
I was numb. Devastated. Didn’t believe it. My hopes were snuffed out with him. What was I going to do now? Where would I go?
Did you hear that I actually cut a man’s ear off on Thursday night? One of the party who came to arrest Jesus. The man had it coming, if you asked me, but still, it wasn’t a very clever thing to do. But Jesus healed him there and then. That’s the kind of guy he was. That’s why I couldn’t believe that he’d died. You see, a man who could heal people in the blink of an eye. A man who could stop a storm. A man who could raise the dead. Well, that sort of man could save himself couldn’t he? He couldn’t be dead? So, why did he let them do that to him? Why did he let them kill him?
Reading: Mark 15:1-15
Reflection: Barabbas – “Jesus took my place”
Right now I should be dead, or dying, at least. I was involved in the uprising. The Romans call me a terrorist. I’d say I was more of a freedom fighter. The Romans deserve everything that’s coming for them. Anyway, that’s beside the point … the point is, I got caught and sentenced to death. I knew what that meant – the crosses are everywhere – a message to everyone that there’s no messing with Rome, and soon I’d be on one. I was resigned to my fate. Nothing I could do about it.
But then, early in the morning, I was dragged out bound in front of the governor, Pilate, and the crowd. I heard something about a Jewish custom that meant a prisoner would be pardoned at Passover, and the crowd was given a choice – either I or another man, Jesus of Nazareth, could be freed. I looked over at this other man – first time I’d seen him. He certainly didn’t look like your typical criminal. He was a political prisoner, apparently. Stitched up by the authorities, I reckon. Anyway, Pilate the Governor was trying to find out whose execution would be more popular – mine or his – so, here I was at the mercy of the crowd. “Who do you want me to release?” he asked, “Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Amazingly, the crowd cried out, “Barabbas” – my name. “And what do you want me to do with Jesus?” he asked once again. The crowd cried out, “Crucify him!” Pilate obviously smelt a rat, so he tried again. “But he’s done nothing wrong.” But the crowd got louder and angrier, crying out again, “Crucify him!” So Pilate washed his hands of Jesus – “his blood is on your hands,” he said – and I found myself free.
I’ve been given my life back. Jesus took my place. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s done nothing wrong, that he’s an innocent man, and he took my place. I, the guilty one, have walked free. Life will be different from now on. It has to be different – I’ve been given a second chance. Better make the most of it.
Hymn: Come and see
Reading: Mark 15:16-47
Technically we should end there, with the pallor of sadness, with betrayal, sadness, hopelessness and guilt. Some of us may be in that place now – weighed down by our sin. But it wasn’t the end of the story. While Judas couldn’t forgive himself and thought there was no hope of redemption and forgiveness for him, Peter was given a second chance, because of what happened just two days later. Let’s hear from him now …
Reflection – Peter – “A brand new start”
Saturday dragged on. I was exhausted, but couldn’t sleep; hungry, but couldn’t stomach anything. A small number of Jesus’ followers gathered together in secret. We cried on each other’s shoulders, basically. I found out from Mary Magdalene where he’d been buried. A man called Joseph of Arimathea gave up his tomb for Jesus’ body to rest. I wanted to go there, to be with Jesus one last time, but it was the Sabbath, so we couldn’t go anywhere. I would have to wait until today to pay my last respects to Jesus.
But then, this morning, something extraordinary happened. Mary Magdalene came and told me that the stone blocking the entrance had been rolled away. The tomb was empty. What? Empty? How was that possible? She told me to go and see for myself. So that’s what I did.
I ran to the tomb with John to check it out. To make sure that the extreme emotion we’d all experienced hadn’t got to Mary’s head too much. I could not believe it. She was right – the tomb was empty. I went straight into the tomb and there were the grave clothes. But no body. It had gone. Where was Jesus? Why was the tomb empty? Who moved the stone?
Could the impossible have happened? Could Jesus be alive? I could scarcely believe it. It was simply too good to be true. After all, dead men don’t rise from the dead. Do they?
Later, things got even more incredible! Mary told me that she’d met with Jesus face to face – that she’d mistaken him for the gardener at first, but then she knew it was him once he’d called her by name. Perhaps it was true after all. Maybe Jesus was alive! Maybe he had defeated death!
You’re not going to believe the next thing that happened! I met with him face to face! He appeared right in front of me. Out of nowhere. It was really him. I could see the scars and everything. At first, all the feelings of shame and guilt came flooding back. I couldn’t look him straight in the eye – how could I – I’d let him down so badly. But then he spoke to me. He reassured me that he forgave me. That I could start over again. He told me that I was still Rocky, that I still had a part to play in the great adventure he’s planned for me. In fact, he told me that there were even more incredible days ahead. He said that the adventure was only just beginning and that he would walk with me and show me the way!
Suddenly I feel more excited than ever. I can’t believe that so much has happened in so little time. I can’t wait to tell the other disciples that I’ve seen Jesus and that he’s alive! Back from the dead. God is truly at work in amazing ways. Jesus is alive! He has risen! And I’ve been given a second chance. I can’t believe it. All that guilt is gone. I’m free!