Hi Friends, this is Pastor Kathy. Find a recorded video of this sermon here.
First, a Content Warning: Please be advised that this message contains references to depression and death by suicide. So, if you need to take a break, know that this will still be here when you are ready.
You are loved.
If you hear nothing else in this sermon. Hear this. You. Are. Loved.
This is a Good Friday Message. You might be reading this on the calendar date of Good Friday, or you might be in your own Good Friday season. I hope this message finds you when you need it.
On Good Friday we mark Jesus’s death by crucifixion on the cross. Jesus hung to death on a tree by the state. We grieve Christ’s death, we wait this evening and all tomorrow and into the late watches of Saturday night, waiting for Christ to break the chains of death, emerge from his borrowed tomb, and call his friends by name in the garden.
But we are not there yet. Today, we sit in lament.
Today we hear Christ call from the cross,
“‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is,
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46/Psalm 22:1)
As Christ calls out, quoting the words of a Psalm as he is about to die, we hear the human despair that even God can hold.
And so Jesus dies, crucified with bandits, left in agony and suspended under the sky.
Jesus descends to death.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is not the only one who dies on Good Friday.
So does Judas.
Judas, who betrays Jesus with a kiss.
Judas, who sells out his friend for a bag of 30 silver pieces.
Judas, who sits and eats at the table that becomes the institution of the Lord’s Supper, only to leave into the falling night to deliver his friend into death.
We read, in Matthew:
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.
He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”
Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.Matthew 27:3-5 NRSV
The Word of the Lord.
Ok. There have been a bunch of different ways of interpreting Judas’s death by suicide.
For that matter, there are a lot of different ways of seeing death by suicide. And I want to tread carefully here. Because across church history, especially, we’ve had multiple different ways of understanding death, grace, forgiveness, repentance, punishment, and atonement. Each of these ideas alone are huge in themselves. And so I want to tenderly hold this conversation, and put forth some questions, some ideas, and some hope.
I don’t offer definitive statements, only wonder.
And for that, I think I need to step back to speak to the looming issue of death by suicide itself, and the underlying despair that surrounds it.
Because if we’re talking about a particular death by suicide, one that is recounted in the Gospel, then where is that good news?
And if we are talking about death by suicide, we need to talk about depression, because we don’t talk about it enough.
So, I wanna talk about depression.
Depression is an illness. It’s a mental illness. But using the word mental does not mean that it is just in one’s head. It’s an illness that can affect the whole body. It’s not something one can just “happy” their way out of. It’s not a sin, and it’s not a moral failure. It’s a condition. And it’s treatable like many medical conditions with medication, with addressing underlying causes, and counseling or therapy.
But something that makes depression so difficult to deal with is it’s elusive nature.
High blood pressure or an elevated A1C count are markable conditions that have evidence based treatments, that can be monitored with looking at numbers. Not that treating an elevated A1C count is simple, or easy, but at least it is measurable.
Depression is… not.
Not in the same way.
Depression, even though it is not something that is not just in your head, is still often incredibly subjective.
Often dependent on the ability of the person who is suffering to adequately name their needs, in a condition that often leads the individual suffering to deny that their needs are relevant.
This is one of the lies that depression loves to perpetuate. Depression often lies about the person’s worth, validity, or purpose.
It’s why the downward spiral is so dangerous, because as the person who suffers falls deeper into the unbearable weight of nothingness, the nothingness weighs ever more heavy.
Depression can be different for many different people, and if you or someone you care about is spiraling down into the depths, where one feels forsaken, even by God, please get help. There is information about how to access help in the video description.
Depression lies. Depression can tell the lie that the hurt will never end. That the depths are inescapable. That the downward spiral has no way up.
Depression can lead to despair.
And despair, in the context of depression and other forms of mental illness, can lead to considerations of how to end the unfathomable pain.
Which can lead to death by suicide.
Which is a tragedy. A loss.
But is not the fault of the one who dies.
Or of the family of the one who dies. Or the friends.
Death by suicide is a symptom
of the brokenness of the world.
I want to bring us back to Judas and Jesus.
Judas betrays Jesus. We are clear there.
Judas had believed the lies that the religious leaders murmured about Jesus.
But then, there’s this odd little bit in the middle of Jesus’ passion story, the story of Jesus’ death, with the focus not on Jesus and the events of his trial and crucification, but of the betrayer and what happens to him.
Something happens as Judas sees his friend condemned to death. The bag of coins grows heavy in his hands.
Judas returns to the chief priests and elders with his payment, his compensation for his betrayal.
This heaviness leads him to repent, and throw the coins to the floor of the temple.
Judas realizes he has sinned, and he turns away in despair.
And he goes, and dies hanging.
And we don’t know what happens.
But. The unknowing of what happens opens the possibilities of what could happen. [Barth CD II.2 476]
Because here’s the thing. Even in this, grace is possible.
Folks in the church throughout history have wondered if Jesus and Judas meet in death when they both die that friday afternoon.
And in dying, Jesus meets us in death.
Even in death by suicide.
Jesus holds the keys of death. (Revelation 1:18)
All is not lost.
God’s Grace is greater than death.
Even in death by suicide. Especially in Death by suicide.
God’s love stretches out across time and space, through death and into life.
And Christ, dying on the cross on Good Friday, crying out in despair, “God! Why have you forsaken me?!” holds all that we have cried out in our own despairing seasons.
Judas, in his confession of the innocence of Jesus, testifies to the truth of Christ’s identity, even in the midst of the lies of the religious leaders.
And even as Judas crashes into the depths of despair, and dies in the same afternoon as his friend, whose death he facilitated, God’s love is greater than this.
I don’t know what happened to Judas. I don’t think we can know.
But I do know that Jesus’ love is greater than death. Even death by suicide.
Jesus’ love is so deep that Jesus washed Judas’s feet on the night of the betrayal. Jesus served and shared a meal with him as friends.
I know that God’s grace pursues us through our deepest spirals of despair.
I know that Hope does not depend on what lies depression yearns to weave as it works to convince us of our own worthlessness.
You are worthy of love. Not by your own merit. We don’t earn this love. But we are loved all the same, by the one who creates us and calls us into being.
As a community, God calls us to hold each other together, so that when the lies of depression begin to ring loudly in the ears of those who despair, the call of the community sharing the love of Jesus sounds louder still. But even when the call is lost, God’s love continues.
For some of us, there will be days where it seems that hope is lost.
Where it feels like there is nothing to do but escape.
If you or someone you love has felt this lost, even to the point of considering death by suicide, know that God’s grace is deeper than the depths of your despair.
Even there, God’s grace, hope, and love are waiting, down in the depths of the valley of the shadow of death.
Death is not final.
Love holds the whole world in outstretched arms.
Love holds hope and hopelessness.
Love holds joy and despair.
Love does not shrink from our big feelings.
Even despair, depression, or death by suicide.
Love holds even those who die alone.
God is not afraid of finding us, of loving us, even if it is when we meet in death. God weeps with us.
Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross, cried out in despair, descended to death, and holds the keys of hell. Death is not the end.
Love holds the whole world in outstretched arms.
And that means, you, too. You are loved.
God loves you, I love you. We love you. Jesus loves you.
God holds you with love that reaches past all boundaries.
God’s grace extends as an invitation to us all.
You are loved.
God loves you.
Can you pray with me?
God of Grace and Mercy, your love is deeper than the depths of despair, and your grace extends into death itself. Be with those who are in the valley of the shadow of death, who despair of your presence. Be with them in the quiet watches of the night, and in the unflinching glare of the day. Make your presence known, embrace them with your love, and surround them with people who will support them and share a love louder than the lies of depression. In your wisdom, draw us close to Jesus, who died so that we might have life in the power of the Holy Spirit. All these things we pray in Jesus name, Amen.
If you or a loved one is in crisis, please call the crisis prevention hotline at 988.
Depression lies. You can get help.
We love you, God loves you, and we are glad you are here.
Peace be with y’all. Good bye.