At the Passover meal before his death, Jesus said to his disciples, “One of you is going to betray me.”
And along with all the others, Judas said, “Surely it is not I, Lord?”
My Lenten examination of speech and silence leaves me convicted, at times almost helplessly so, of the many ways I have betrayed Christ with my speech.
Yet I am not without hope.
Today the the prophet Isaiah comes to mind (Isaiah 6:1-7) as I continue examining my words. Isaiah was a holy man, set apart and living for God when he recounts that “in the year King Uzziah died,” he saw the Lord “seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.”
He’s quite specific about the details: “Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered.”
Then the seraphim, in the unfiltered Presence of the Most High, cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” And the frame of the door shook. The house was filled with smoke.
And Isaiah said this: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Examining the negativity, gossip, complaining and all the other sins I commit with my tongue, I say with the ancient prophet, “Woe is me. I am a woman of unclean lips.” Examining the culture I live in, I say again with Isaiah, “I live among a people of unclean lips!”
I’m reminded of Peter when he’s called by Christ. The rugged fisherman recognized the holiness of Christ with humility and awe. “Depart from me, I am a sinner.”
But by the time he’s become one of Christ’s closest friends, he’s more than a little overconfident: “I will never betray you!” And Christ, with those eyes of perfect love, says, (more or less) “Really? Under the crushing challenge you cannot foresee, you will deny me not once, but three times tonight.”
I’m reminded of Mary of Bethany, weeping in the Presence of such holiness, weeping enough tears to bathe the feet of the One who’d forgiven her sin.
What happened next to the prophet in the presence of the Holy was this: one of the seraphim flew to him with an ember he’d taken with tongs from the altar. He touched Isaiah’s mouth with it, saying “See,now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
Your sin is purged.
My sin is purged when I realize I’m a sinner. To the extent that I can say “Woe is me” in the presence of holiness and weep with loving sorrow for the damage I’ve done. When, with heartfelt sorrow and holy awe I come back to the Lord with all my heart, the one thing Judas failed to do. But Peter did, with weeping.
I enter the next few days in the spirit of penitence and gratitude. I know more than ever that the Cross is for me. Let a coal of holy fire touch my unclean lips. Let heart, the source of all the sins of my tongue, be purified.