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)
Wednesday 28 March 2018, Wednesday in Holy Week:
Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.
Wednesday 28 March 2018,
8 p.m.: Compline,
Reading: John 13: 21-32.
Hymn: 247, ‘When I survey the wondrous cross.’
May I speak in the name of + God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Throughout this week, as we journey together through Holy Week, we continue the gradual build-up from Palm Sunday, with services each evening in this group of parishes. We were in Saint Mary’s, Askeaton on Monday evening [26 March 2018], in Saint Brendan’s, Tarbert, last night [27 March], this evening we continue this journey here in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, travel on to Castletown for the Maundy Eucharist tomorrow evening [29 March], so that we can mark Good Friday prayerfully and appropriately from 12 to 3 in Askeaton.
All this is to prepare us to celebrate the Resurrection, on Easter Eve here in Rathkeale and in Castletown on Saturday evening and in Askeaton and Tarbert on Easter Day.
During Holy Week, we have a series of readings from Saint John’s Gospel, in which Jesus has a very different set of encounters or exchanges each evening.
Today is popularly known in Ireland and in other countries as Spy Wednesday because this evening, we recall the final encounter Jesus has with Judas.
We were prepared for this encounter in our reading on Monday evening. On the eve of Palm Sunday, in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, Judas objected to the amount of money Mary had spent on the perfumes she used to anoint Jesus.
Now Judas is going to betray Jesus for a far lesser sum of money, for 30 pieces of silver.
Why 30 pieces of silver, you may ask.
In Hebrew culture, 30 pieces of silver was not a lot of money. In fact, it was the exact price paid to the master of a slave if his slave was gored by an ox (Exodus 21: 32). The slave at death was valued at 30 pieces of silver. There are two other places in the Bible that specifically mention this amount of 30 pieces of silver, and they are directly linked.
The first passage is in the Book of the Prophet Zechariah, who plays the part of a shepherd and has the care of ‘the flock doomed to slaughter’ (Zechariah 11: 4-14). Zechariah takes the 30 shekels or pieces of silver he has been given for his work as a shepherd. Sarcastically, he says speaks of ‘this lordly price’ – the value of a dead slave – and throws the coins into the treasury of the Temple, or to the potter.
The second mention of 30 pieces of silver is in Saint Matthew’s Gospel when the religious leaders pay Judas ‘thirty pieces of silver’ for betraying Jesus (Matthew 26: 15). That is all they consider Jesus to be worth – the price of a dead slave, a shepherd’s day’s wage.
Later, Judas is overcome with guilt, and like Zechariah he throws the 30 pieces of silver into the temple (Matthew 27: 3-5).
The religious leaders use these 30 pieces of silver to buy a field from a potter (Matthew 27: 6-10) as a place to bury foreigners – it is also the field in which Judas hangs himself (Acts 1: 18-20).
The 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 of rich Athenian families, dating to before the late fourth century BC.
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 there 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?
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 30 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 Matthew 27: 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 before the Potter’s Field was bought.
The aliens, the foreigners, were outsiders, both in life and in death.
By his act of betrayal, Judas moves from being an insider, one of the 12, to being an outsider. But in death, he takes care of the 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, Christ 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.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
A sculpted grave stone in Kerameikós, the best place to be buried in classical Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
John 13: 21-32:
21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26 Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.’
The Collect of the Day (Wednesday in Holy Week):
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters,
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings
of this present time,
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
The Lenten Collect:
Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:
Tomorrow: John 13 1-17, 31b-35, Jesus washes the Disciples’ Feet.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This Holy Week reflection was prepared for Compline in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on 28 March 2018.
Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.