By Stuart Powell
When we gather for Communion, we focus our thoughts on the historical account of one man’s death on a tree just outside Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon more than 2,000 years ago. The Bible tells of another man who died on a tree that very same day in a different part of the city. Two very different men whose names are both well-known to Christians.
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5).
The trees on which each man hung were different. Tradition holds that Judas died on a blossoming tree tinted with reddish flowers, a tree like the North American redbud. Jesus was nailed to the rough-sawn beam tinted crimson by his blood.
Both men chose to die that day, but their motivations were very different. Judas was driven to despair by his own sins. Jesus walked to his death as an act of love to rescue every person who follows him from the penalty of their sins.
In their deaths, Judas and Jesus purchased different destinies for the dying. Judas’ betrayal money was used to purchase a burial ground for the forgotten and poor (Matthew 27:6-10). But Jesus’ blood bought a resurrection to eternal life for his faithful followers.
Centuries later we remember both men for very different reasons. Judas’ end haunts us with the hopelessness that awaits anyone who chooses to take the reins of eternal justice into their own hands. But we regularly celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ death as we eat and drink of the bread and the cup. If you are one of his followers, Jesus invites you to eat and drink in memory of his death.
Stuart Powell lives outside of Terre Haute, Indiana, where he serves with the North Side Christian Church.