Holy Wednesday: Gallows

LOOK: Portrait of Judas by Julia Stankova

Stankova, Julia_Portrait of Judas
Julia Stankova (Bulgarian, 1954–), Portrait of Judas, 2004. Tempera, gouache, watercolor, and lacquer technique on wood, 45 × 60 cm.

In this painting by Julia Stankova, Judas presses in for his infamous kiss, identifying Jesus to his captors. Stankova portrays the moment as one of double woe, leading to the death of both Jesus and Judas. To heighten the emotional impact, she tightly crops the composition, eliminating all other figures besides the two. Jesus closes his eyes to receive with grace what has been a long time coming. Judas keeps his open. With one arm, he embraces his former friend; with the other, he holds a branch that’s ornamented, forebodingly, with his own dangling corpse. The Bulgarian inscription names the painting: Portrait of Judas.

Adapted from my commentary originally published in the two-part IMB article “Journey to the Cross: Artists Visualize Christ’s Passion.”

LISTEN: “Gallows of My Desire” by Kris MacQueen, on Good Morning. Happy Easter. 3 (2014)

Tonight we ate together
Bread and the wine cooked rare
You looked so disappointed
When I took off down the stairs
We took the road together
But I just exited right
I’ll see you in a little while
And again on the other side

I stood above you
Like a conqueror
And you stood beside me like a friend
I kissed you goodbye
At the gates of hell
But you’ve always called my bluff
Yeah, you know my every tell

Tonight I’m taking matters
Into my guilty hands
Just sold the Prince of Peace out
For a little stretch of land
There’s nothing like the yoke
Of the innocent when they die
It came upon me like a stone
When I saw the deed was mine [Refrain]

Now I’m swinging in the gallows
Of my own desire
My spirit is departing to God knows where
Is there a grace sufficient
To receive this broken soul?
You bled out for the whole wide world
How ’bout your very own? [Refrain]

But I always knew I’d bow to you in the end

Kris MacQueen is a singer-songwriter and former pastor from Kitchener, Ontario. Since 2019 he has been recording music with his wife, Liv, under the name The MacQueens. It is their voices on “Gallows.” This song was released in 2014 on a little six-song compilation album of Passion-Easter-Pentecost music put out by Morning and Night Music, which is no longer available. I asked MacQueen if he’d be willing to post his contribution online so that you all can enjoy it, and he obliged!

The song is in the voice of Judas, who is feeling the full weight of his betrayal—the innocent Christ’s death a yoke or a millstone around his neck. Many Christian interpreters think that Judas gave Jesus up to the authorities as a way to force his hand; impatient with Jesus’s not seizing power from Rome, Israel’s political oppressors, he thought that an arrest would be just the inciting event Jesus needed to finally unleash the forces of heaven against the empire, obtaining vindication and freedom for God’s people. Judas, according to this theory, was genuinely shocked and horrified when Jesus submitted to the capture and then the death sentence.

By asserting his own plans and desires counter to God’s, Judas effectively builds his own death trap, as the guilt over the consequences of his betrayal leads him to suicide. But before tying that noose, maybe, we can only hope, he sought redemption for his wrongdoing. His return of the blood money seems to indicate as much. He was clearly remorseful. MacQueen’s Judas prays from the gallows, pleading the blood of Jesus. If Jesus’s blood can save even the most odious of sinners, he reasons, then surely it avails for me. But he’s not so sure; he poses it as a question, a challenge, even.

The final line of the song suggests that in the end, perhaps Judas was finally able to see the rightness of Jesus’s way and was able to bow not to the king he imagined or wanted him to be, but to the king he was—the Prince of Peace, the servant-Christ, the sacrificial Lamb.

4 thoughts on “Holy Wednesday: Gallows

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s