Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Judas kiss: Speaking to the Soul, June 14, 2016

The Judas kiss: exterior detail on the Passion side of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

A few weeks ago my middle daughter and I traveled to Barcelona with very dear family friends who are her godparents and who treated her to the trip for her high school graduation. One of the highlights of our trip was several hours spent at the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, which, even though unfinished, is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Inside and out, the church is filled with and covered by breathtaking art: stained glass, sculpture, friezes, spires soaring high above the skyline of Barcelona, engaging the imagination as the entire sweep of the gospels are represented within it, from the Nativity side on the east to the Passion side on the west.

As I contemplated the terrible events that have unfolded in Orlando in the last several days, leaving 50 innocents dead in two separate, infamous shooting incidents, it was imagery from the Passion side that I recalled, largely the work of Josep Maria Subirachs. To the left of the central doors to the Passion side, Subirachs created a heart-rending depiction of the Judas kiss. At the heel of Judas, a serpent lurks, reminding the viewer of the original temptation to abuse human freedom to our downfall. 

It is the image of that kiss that arose in my mind as the terrible news of only the latest instance of mass murder continued to blare from news sources throughout the day on Sunday. And this is just the latest and most horrific attack, built upon piles of harassment and violence faced by too many of our fellow children of God day in and day out, unleashed by the simple act of loving and hoping to be loved that should be celebrated rather than ever vilified. 

It has always struck me to the heart that an act of love and friendship becomes the vehicle for handing over the Prince of Peace to judgment and death. Matthew 26:46-50 depicts Jesus’s foretelling of the terrible events to follow:

‘Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’ While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.’ At once he came up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.

One of the stories to attempt to explain the motives of the gunman in Orlando is that he was angered by seeing men kissing in the streets. Other news sources report that he had patronized the nightclub he attacked in the past. Whether this is true or not, the idea that a kiss could lead to so much hate and violence is one drawn straight from the pages of scripture—and then leaps straight to voices echoing from too many statehouses and even, most horribly, pulpits, promoting hatred of so many of our brothers and sisters based solely on whom they love. The idea that someone with such a propensity for evil could nonetheless be found worthy of being legally allowed to purchase weapons of mass murder with nary a blink of an eye by authorities at the state and national level is an appalling betrayal of its own. When will we cry, “Enough!” and act? Is this really who we are called to be as a people?

Peter grieves his betrayal of Jesus
I remembered that just to the south of the sculpture of the Judas kiss were two other sculptures. One was of Peter bowed down by grief after realizing he has denied even knowing the one he had sworn to love; in the background are scenes from Jesus's path to the cross and from his entombment, reminding us of the awful calculus of fear that destroys the very spirit of anyone who has a heart. The other is of Pilate washing his hands of any imputed guilt for the condemnation of an innocent man. I thought of a hundred families and hundreds more this week mourning the pain, suffering, and loss of their loved ones while the familiar excuses of powerlessness to stop the chain of death and destruction ooze up from every direction. And tears welled in my eyes all over again. When will we cry, "Enough!" and remember where our love is supposed to lie?

(This was originally posted at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, June 14, 2016.)

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