Thursday, April 2, 2015

Failing Jesus

Tonight is Holy Thursday, when many followers of Jesus remember the Last Supper, when Jesus bought his disciples together for a final meal together in the Upper Room prior to his arrest and crucifixion...

The meal probably began like any other Passover meal, but by the time the night was over the disciples slowly began to realize that nothing would ever be the same.   No one expects Jesus to kneel and wash his disciples feet.  Make no mistake, this is a task that even the lowest servants tried to avoid.  But Jesus voluntarily strips down, takes up towel and washbasin, and washes the feet of his followers.  He is giving them an example of the kind of Messiah he is.  They experience it firsthand… and yet, as the night plays out, it is clear they have missed the point entirely.

Jesus and his disciples at the "Last Supper"
Later, Jesus takes the bread and wine, elements that the Jewish people had used for centuries as part of their Passover ritual, and somehow in his Presence, the common becomes the Divine, and they take on new meaning. 

The New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant; it expands it.  Passover reminds the Jewish people of when God saved them from Egyptian slavery, when Moses led them to freedom across the Red Sea.  Through Jesus, the concept of salvation is no longer simply about liberation from a place, it is about liberation from a life of bondage to the powers—the domination systems—of this world.

Jesus comes declaring that the realm of God is present and available to everyone—now.  He offers access to a completely different type of “kingdom” than any that has ever been or ever will be on this Earth.  God’s Kingdom transcends all human boundaries and “travels with” individual believers, wherever they find themselves. 

Salvation is a life found through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

A time will come in the near future when the disciples (later known as the Apostles) come to embrace and recognize the theological reality embodied in the Eucharist and proclaim it boldly to all they meet—but not this night.   On Holy Thursday, even after all they have experienced with Jesus over the past three years, even after all they have heard him say and seen him do since arriving in Jerusalem on Sunday, they are still sadly oblivious to what is going on.  Despite the fact that they ought to know better by now, the events that play out on Holy Thursday show that they do not "get it".  They seem to be caught completely off guard.  There is much symbolism in the fact that the disciples are asleep in the Garden when Jesus pleads with them several times to keep watch—to be alert of what is going on. It seems that, try as they might, they simply can’t wrap their minds around the reality that their Messiah must suffer and die.

And Scripture would suggest that this is how it had to be.  For on this night the darkness had to prevail; evil had to win the battle; the Servant had to suffer—in every way a person can suffer, even unto death. 

And so Judas betrays Jesus in the garden; Peter denies him not once, not twice, but three times, in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house.  Before the night is over, every single disciple will flee and abandon him in his greatest hour of need.  Not one is willing to stand beside him as he faces his darkest hour.  As the Prophet Isaiah predicted, the Servant suffers alone. 

As this drama unfolds each year, we tend to feel sad for Jesus and the abuse and humiliation he suffers unjustly, but we also are disturbed because see ourselves in the drama, and we don’t always like what we see. 

We realize that, in a very real sense, we are Judas, we are Peter, we are the disciples. 

We all have the capacity to deny, to betray, to abandon Jesus when he needs us most—not just on Holy Thursday but any day of the year.  

  • Find yourself in the events of Holy Thursday.  Picture yourself in the Upper Room, the Garden, the Courtyard of the High Priest.  How do you respond to Jesus in those critical moments? 
  • ConsiderWhere have you have failed Jesus recently?  Where have you betrayed, denied, or abandoned him when he needed you?
  • Dwell on the darkness within you—and on the human capacity to do wrong and justify it as “right”. Stay there for a while; don’t rush to resurrection.  Easter will come in due time, but for this night, try to let the darkness linger and do its work within you.

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