03 April 2010

The grave of Judas

A grave in Kerameikós, Athens, where the cemetery was named after the Potter’s Field ... but what sort of grave did Judas have in Kerameikós, the Potter’s Field, in Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

2, The grave of Judas

Patrick Comerford

Reading 2:
Matthew 27: 3-10

There are two deaths, and two burials on Good Friday, there are two graves on this Saturday, Easter Eve. The death and burial of Christ, and the tomb in which he is buried; and the death and burial of Judas, and his grave plot.

Saint Matthew’s Gospel tells us that when Judas realised the enormity of his betrayal, he repented, returned, threw the 30 pieces of silver back into the Temple, left, and went away. The chief priests did not want this blood money, and so they bought the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners, and it was in that very field that Judas hanged himself. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that Judas bought the field and that he died there (Acts 1: 18-20).

We do not know where Judas was buried. Was he buried in the Potter’s Field?

Potter’s Field or Κεραμεικός (Kerameikós) is the same name as a famous classical cemetery in Athens, close to the Acropolis. It lies in what was once the potters’ quarter in Athens – the root for its name, κέραμος (keramos, “pottery clay”) also gives us the English word “ceramic.”

Here in this cemetery, Pericles delivered his funeral oration in 431 BC, praising the great heroes, whose true burial place is in the hearts of the people. Here, in this other Potter’s Field is the most wonderful collection of graves, monuments, sculptures and sepulchres. The Street of the Tombs in Kerameikos is lined with imposing monuments from the families of rich Athenians, dating to before the late fourth century BC.

But if they left these wonderful, sculpted graves – unique pieces of classical legacy that are as beautiful, imposing and life-like as those in any great Victorian cemetery – did they really believe that they would survive in the hearts and memories of good Athenians?

A sculpted grave stone in Kerameikós, the best place to be buried in classical Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

The Potter’s Field was the best place to be buried in classical Athens. For it was here too that the Ιερά Οδός (Hierá Odós, the Sacred Way), the road to Ἐλευσίς (Eleusis), the Eleusinian Fields, began its procession. But if those who could afford to be buried here believed in the afterlife offered in the Eleusian Mysteries why did they need to leave behind such splendid memorials in this life?

Did Judas leave behind any memorial or sculpted sepulchre in his Potter’s Field?

The first and second graves of Lazarus, even though they hold no bodies, are places of pilgrimage to this day.

Who would want to visit the grave of Judas?

What did he expect in the afterlife?

All we know is that Judas repented, and that even in the end, his thirty pieces of silver were used for a good cause. It is important in Jewish ritual law to bury the dead. But it appears there was no place in Jerusalem to bury foreigners (see verse 7).

Jesus was crucified outside the city gates, on Golgotha, the place of the skulls (Matthew 27: 33) … a place just like that where the corpses of the foreigners, the aliens may have been dumped.

The aliens, the foreigners, were outsiders, both in life and in death.

By his act of betrayal, Judas moved from being an insider, one of the 12, to being an outsider. But in death he took care of those foreigners who had been rejected both in life and in death.

What happened to his grave afterwards is probably of little concern. What is more important is that after his death, Jesus descended to the very depths of hell, and brought good news to all who were, who are, and who will be dead.

In his death and resurrection, Jesus breaks down all barriers, between the insider and the outsider, between the resident and the foreigner, between the rich and the poor, between those who are forgotten and those who are remembered.

There is no depth to which his love and his mercy cannot reach. In his death and in his resurrection, he has broken, he is breaking, he continues to break, all barriers.

Our second piece of music to reflect on is: Hail thee, festival day, by Vaughan Williams, sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. The good news of the consequences of the Death and Resurrection was first brought to those who were dead.

Music 2: Hail thee, festival day, Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge (4’ 46”).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This is the second of three addresses in Whitechurch Parish, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, at a special service to mark Easter Eve on Saturday, 3 April 2010.

1 comment:

Robert said...

A story which today is not as great as it once was.