Three intense interests of mine have intersected lately–literacy, religion, and U2 (I’ll be seeing them in concert Friday night). Ah, leave it to the Irish to combine literature and religion!
U2 has always been a great example of that trait of their people, and I fear that much of it is lost on us. (I just found this great site summarizing some of the many Biblical allusions in their work.)
Case in point: 1991’s “Until the End of the World,” from the Wim Wenders film of the same name, and U2’s album Achtung Baby. At first glance, it’s just another conflicted love song (as every true fan knows, even after 30 years, U2 has still never written a purely positive love song). But if you’re familiar with the Bible, it’s clear that this is Judas Iscariot confessing the betrayal of Jesus Christ. Even the title takes itself from a famous promise made by Jesus to His followers, which ends the Gospel according to Matthew: “…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Here are the lyrics, with my explanations and links to relevant Biblical text (mostly from Matthew, since that’s the reference in the title):
Haven’t seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold, just passing time.
Last time we met was a low-lit room (the “upper room” where the Last Supper was held–Luke 22:11-14)
We were as close together as bride and groom. (allusion to a popular Biblical idiom for Christ and disciples–see Matthew 9:15)
We ate the food, we drank the wine (the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper–Matthew 26:26-29)
Everybody having a good time
You were talking about the end of the world. (not a single, specific reference here, but to such passages as Matthew 24:3-51.)
I took the money (thirty pieces of silver from the Pharisees to betray Jesus–Matthew 26:14-16), I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think.
You led me on with those innocent eyes (a characteristic Judas would soon ruefully attribute to Jesus–Matthew 27:5)
And you know I love the element of surprise.
In the garden (of Gethsemane–Matthew 26:36) I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart (the betrayal itself–Matthew 26:47-50)
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world. (Bono seems to be portraying Judas as sympathetic, suggesting that Judas could betray Jesus because Judas didn’t really “get” Jesus’s message. I disagree with this interpretation, but that’s neither here nor there.)
In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
In waves of regret, waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy (no such repentance is recorded Biblically, but Judas did regret the betrayal and killed himself–Matthew 27:3-5)
You, you said you’d wait until the end of the world. (again, Matthew 28:20)
This is still a popular U2 song and sees regular appearances in concert. Here’s a video of the song performed live in Dublin, Ireland, July 24, 2009: