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"Not like this..."

It's been a few years since I last watched The Matrix but Switch's quietly horrified "Not like this" is a long-running household meme for reasons which I have entirely forgotten. The line is from the scene where Cypher exposes himself as a traitor to the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar and, having liaised with the Agents to set up a trap, and shot Tank and Dozer on the ship, begins to pull the plugs on those who are still inside the Matrix. Trinity, on the other end of the phone line, watches helplessly as her friends drop down in front of her... "By the way, if you have something terribly important to say to Switch, I'd suggest you say it now," he taunts. All this, in exchange for the promise of a life of blissful ignorance inside the Matrix. As it does many other aspects of the Christian 'story', the film captures the gut-wrenching bleakness of betrayal pretty poignantly: one of their with whom they have lived and eaten and bravely contended, and to whom they have entrusted their lives and personal safety, has nurtured and finally actioned a secret, selfish, and hate-filled agenda.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. It marks "the night when Jesus was betrayed" (cf. 1Cor11:23) -- by "one of the twelve", with a kiss, of all things, in the Garden of Gethsemene -- into the hands of the Jewish authorities (Matt26:47-56). But Judas, greedy for gain (and, like Cypher perhaps, disillusioned that following Jesus was not turning out quite as he'd expected) (Matt26:6-16) was not the only person to betray him that night. The disciples -- tired, emotional, and struggling, maybe, to engage with the seriousness of the situation -- had fallen asleep as he'd prayed in anguish in the garden, unable to "watch with [him] one hour" in the depths of his sorrow (Matt26:36-46). And Peter later, fearful for his safety and his reputation, would deny his relationship with Jesus no less than three times (Matt26:69-75), in spite of his fervent protests to Jesus' earlier predictions (Matt26:30-35). "And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.' And he went out and wept bitterly." (Matt26:75)

The next day he was betrayed by popular opinion: the crowds who, not so long before, had welcomed him into Jerusalem with reverence and jubilance (Matt21:1-11) now shouted just as loudly for his death (Matt27:15-23). He was also, in a sense, betrayed by the legal system -- the governor Pilate, responsible for his trial, himself believed the punishment unjust, yet bowed to the crowd's insistence and delivered Jesus to be crucified (Matt27:24-26).

But now, and me, and all of the desires, disappointments, wearinesses, anxieties, and longings for acceptance which I allow to shape my life and attitude and actions, and I wonder ... how many times in a day, or an hour, or a minute am I guilty of betraying Jesus? "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle," goes the Brennan Manning quote made famous (in certain very specific circles) by the old dc Talk song. Hmm. I don't have the data to comment on the veracity of the causal claim, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of correlation...

I guess I don't even recognise most of my personal treacheries, but it's gutting when you do realise, like Peter...that crushing sense that you've "done it again"...and you play it back with dismay and watch yourself and hold your head in your hands..."not like this...not like this". And you want to make amends, or run away, or give up altogether in despair that nothing you do now can make it any better, or any worse. And yet...and yet...

Right back at the start of the shameful, event-filled "night on which he was betrayed", Jesus had shared a meal with his disciples, during which he had indicated to them all that was ahead -- including their various failures. And incorporated in that meal was a profound act which they were to repeat by way of remembering him later -- the breaking of bread together, and the pouring out of wine, which spoke of his body broken for them and his blood poured out for forgiveness and the establishment of a new covenant (Matt26:26-29). Even as they were about to let him down, he was preparing the means of reconciliation and restoration -- not just for them, but for "many" (v28). I am ill-qualified to go into the mechanisms of how his death and resurrection accomplishes this -- I am over-awed by the size and the weight and the mystery of it all. But I am confident that it does, and that it answers to my sorrowing, despairing "not like this", and says "like this instead".

N.B. Mr. W gave what I found to be a very thought-provoking talk, the other day, on the meal that Jesus ate with his disciples and on what it means for us to "remember him" through the strange and particular action of sharing communion and in the day-to-day realities of life. It's not just wifely bias speaking when I say it's well worth a listen... (MP3 link here, or find it under 13th April 2014 on our church's sermon page).

[Thumbnail image CC by Abdulla Al Muhairi on flickr].