Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Thursday: Bread, Wine, the Garden

Holy Thursday -- the night of the Last Supper, the night when Jesus expressed his deep love for his apostles by telling them he intended to die for them.  Very soon.  And yet he wanted to celebrate this meal, this passover, with them, so close were they to his heart.

If you're a Christian (or, like me, a very flawed "attempted Christian"), you have to put yourself in that upper room.  You have to picture yourself there, reclined at table, fifteen feet or five feet or two feet from Jesus.  With all your sinfulness, your lack of humility, your moments of unkindness and petty hostility, your selfishness and materialism, the parts of yourself you wish you could replace with The Better Version of yourself.  Even with all that within you, you owe it to yourself to picture yourself in that room.  Especially, in fact, with all of that within you.  We are taught that Christ died to save sinners, not the righteous.  Sinner means me.  I bet maybe it means you as well.

Not so sure there's room for sinners?  Think about the apostles who were in that room:  Judas, who would betray Jesus; Peter, who would in a few hours deny his friend -- the one he called "messiah" -- not once but three times.  Surely there's space in that room for you and me.

The Last Supper is -- at its core -- about God's deep, unconditional love for human beings: collectively and individually.  The Last Supper is not a theological concept, regardless of how much theology one can derive from it.  The Last Supper is an event, a bittersweet celebration in God's courtship of the human soul.  It's an intimate gathering.  We are called to attend.  We have the invitation.  There's room at the table.  Someone is offering bread, now wine.  But it is something more than food that is handed around, something more than drink that is in the cup.  The person who is calling is not just anyone, but the God who would be both creator and friend.  ("I no longer call you servants, but friends."  Of course, if you wish to grow in the friendship, you eventually realize you must learn to recognize and serve the Christ who is in your neighbor, and everyone is your neighbor.  Tough to live it out, yes.  But the selfless, unconditional love found in the Last Supper, and the next day on Calvary hill, is nourishment for the journey.)

A few hours later, you are in the garden.  Jesus is praying.  You think you might have heard him weeping.  That was a few minutes ago.  You are so very drowsy.  Maybe you just imagined he was in distress.  Yes, that's probably it.  There's some wind in the trees.  It could have been that.

When you wake up, he's saying something to you -- you and the rest.  "Can you not stay awake for just a little while longer?"  Not angry, more disappointed.  You've disappointed him, but there was love in his face (just as surely as you saw sweat on his temples), as well as distress.  He has retreated to the back of the garden again, and you are once more feeling drowsy.  If you could just take a short nap.  Jerusalem is a bustling place.  Your limbs are aching from the distances you've walked in the crowds, edging your way through. Your head hurts from the noise of the city.  It isn't so unreasonable for you to want to sleep a while, is it?

No, it's not Easter yet.  No one fully understands the concept of Easter at this point.  No one has any reason to believe in it yet.  There's no glorious resurrection yet, no matter what Jesus seemed to say about rebuilding the temple.  He said something extraordinary during the passover meal, too, and now he is weeping, and it's getting ominous; you can feel something is about to change in this city.  But you are so very sleepy.  A few minutes, that's all you're hoping for.

It's Thursday night.  You have to live through Holy Thursday.  You wonder how this whole thing is going to turn out.

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