His father was dying, he told me, and his mother and sister had had such a strong disagreement over how best to assist him that they were no longer speaking to one another.
Most people wish to die free from pain. And we can go a long way towards freeing the dying from physical pain. Emotional suffering is a somewhat harder matter. It is not unusual for the dying to feel shame, at ‘failing’ their families not through what they have done (that would cause guilt, not shame) but because in their very being they are not ‘enough’ (whatever that might be) to keep living. It is also not unusual for those who are bereaved to feel shame, over their inability to ‘get over’ their loss (though no one ever gets over loss; but learns to inhabit a differently-shaped life) or sometimes because of broken relationships among the survivors. Sometimes we are left feeling shame, that stains deeper than guilt, because of how we acted towards a loved one in their final days, or because of shaming words spoken over us by others from the place of their own grief.
Isaiah knew the life-taking ways of shame, and shaming, and shouted-back into the gale, ‘and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.’ The writer of the letter to the Hebrews (who may have been Priscilla, the only female author in the New Testament) had these words to say about shame: ‘let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame’.
Last night, I confessed to being arrested by the question, how does the way in which Jesus approaches his death help us to approach our own? Last night, we thought about something he did for himself, and tonight at something Jesus did for those closest to him. In our Gospel reading, we see Jesus put shame to shame. Did you notice how, in his dealing with Judas, the eye-witness John recalls, ‘Now no one at the table knew why he [Jesus] said this to him [Judas—or Satan, who had entered into him?]’? Jesus is concerned that none of his disciples will have to live with shame: not even his betrayer.
If the fast-working antidote to guilt is forgiveness, the life-long antidote to shame is honour, expressed through intimacy extended and freedom respected. Jesus honours us, by inviting us to his supper and by respecting our freedom to walk away. Whom might we need to honour, before it is too late, before we come to the hour of our death?