Were You There As Jesus Prepared to Die?

Today’s Scripture Passage:  Mark 14: 1-25

To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:

Galilee is behind us.  The parade is long over.  There are no stars overhead to light our way.  The Passion has begun.  It’s an odd term, from the Latin passionem, or suffering.  It looks similar to the word passive (Latin, passiuus), which definitely doesn’t make sense to us.  After all, we’re talking about Jesus!  But the words are indeed related.  The Passion, this time of suffering and being “handed over”, is a movement from planned and intentional action to no longer being in control.  All of Jesus’ actions are accomplished.  It is finished.  It is a time of waiting–waiting for others’ response, waiting for our response.  We are called to enter The Passion, to enter this handing over.

“Christ in the House of Simon”
Dieric Bouts, 1440’s
Staatlisch Museen, Berlin

And, so, in the first part of The Passion reading, Jesus prepares for what is to come.  First, he is anointed.  I really like the version that the Gospel writer known as John tells, but this is Mark’s year, so we’ll go with it.  You see, John names her.  John brings Mary into the story, into a relationship with Jesus.  Mary, or whoever this woman is, takes the expensive perfume and pours it onto Jesus.  Takes…and pours.  Where have we heard that before?  It is sacramental.  This simple act of holy extravagance brings her into the story, into life.  She is forever remembered not because she wasted the oil but because she was part of preparing Jesus to die.  With extravagant and self-giving love, she entered The Passion.  She poured herself out and handed herself over.  I wish I could be like that. I wish I could sit at the feet of Jesus and, without any regard to what is “appropriate” or “expected”, pour everything out. I wish I didn’t hold myself back.  I wish I could pour myself out with holy and even wasteful extravagance.

As the time for the Passover meal nears, the disciples begin to prepare and plan for the meal.  It would be Jesus’ last.  The disciples didn’t seem to know it at the time but this would be the final time that they were all together.  Don’t you wander what the conversation was that night?  We’d like to imagine that it was rich and deep and profound, that it was prayerful and contemplative, theological and steeped with rabbinical thought, that it was something they would remember.  But last words are seldom like that.  They are usually profoundly quotidian.  Rather than resembling the life that we envision, they usually resemble the life that is.  That’s probably what happened that night.  There were side conversations about family and acquaintances.  There were comments about the weather and whether it might have been unseasonably hot or unseasonably cold that evening.  And there were some speculations about the political environment and the tensions that hung in the air even that night.  They did not solve the problems of the world.  They just ate and drank and sat together. 

“The Last Supper of Christ”
Pieter Jansz.Pourbus, c. 1562-5

And then Jesus takes the bread and pours the wine.  Takes…and pours.  It is sacramental.  Yet another act of holy extravagance that brings us all into the story, into life.  But the story’s ending is far from ordinary.  And to be part of it, we have to take and pour…We have to become the body and become the blood.  We have to take the cup from Jesus, this cup that has been poured out for us.

But behind the scenes, there is darkness and betrayal swirling in our midst.  We don’t know what to do with this.  It is one of us.  It is one whom Jesus loves. It is one who has sat here this night and shared our meal and shared our lives.  Oh, please, do not let it be me.  As I dip this bread, let me become who I’m supposed to be.  Do not let it be me.

The truth is, we cannot be there with Jesus as he prepares to die unless we, too, are preparing for our own.  We cannot talk of this handing over unless we can let go of that to which we hold.  And we cannot take the bread and the wine unless we make room for it in our lives.  Were you there?  Were you there as love was poured out?  Were you there as Jesus took and poured?  Were you there in the betrayal?  It is too late to go back.  It is too late to change anything.  The Kingdom of God waits for you up ahead.  But you have to let go.  You have to die to self.  No longer can we just talk about something else and hope that death will go away.  We have to die to live.

So, on this Monday of Holy Week, how would you answer?  Were you there as Jesus prepared to die?  What part in The Passion did you play?  Are you preparing to die?  For that is the way that you will live.

Grace and Peace,


The Cenacle

The Cenacle As it Exists Today
Jerusalem, Israel

Lectionary Text:  John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…”Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Cenacle, from the Latin cenaculum, or “Upper Room”, is the place where this final gathering takes place.  We usually think of this night as the night of “The Last Supper”, when the Eucharist that we so dearly love came to be.  And yet, the writer of the version of the Gospel narrative that we call John barely mentions the dinner at all.  There seems to be much more focus on Jesus himself, on what he was feeling at this moment, and how he understood what was about to happen to him.  So, if only for a moment, let us forget about the meal…

I visited the site known as the “Upper Room” when I was in Israel last year.  Now understand that it’s more than likely not the REAL Upper Room.  No one really knows for sure where that was.  The traditional site may have been built by the Crusaders possibily into a building that was already there and had survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. under Titus.  But there was still something about going to this Upper Room.  When I entered, my first thought was, “no, this can’t be right!  It’s too big.”  I suppose all of the artistic renditions to which I’ve been exposed over the years had gotten the best of me.  I had somehow imagined this stuffy little room in someone’ attic.  This couldn’t be right.  Then I went back and read the Scripture text.  No where does it say that the disciples were alone with Jesus.  This was the Passover feast, which would have started with the traditional Seder meal including friends and extended family.  And THEN Jesus got up from the table and went to the disciples.

But rather than looking at it solely as an historical event, think about what it really meant.  Jesus knew that this was his final night.  Everything was coming down to this place and this time–his birth, his life, his ministry–and he knew that things were about to change forever.  And all he could think about in that moment was how much he loved those who had been with him.  Yes, they were a little bumbling sometimes, maybe a little too focused on what was in it for them.  And he knew that they really didn’t understand the whole thing.  But they had stuck with him.  How he loved them!  And so he gets up and kneels and washes their feet, taking each foot in both hands and caressing it like a parent caresses his or her child.  It did not matter what they thought. It did not matter that they did not understand.  And it certainly did not matter what anyone around them thought.  This was the moment.  This was the moment when he would teach them to love, would teach them to be vulnerable, would teach them to sit, to just sit there in the presence of their Lord. 

It is hard for us to understand because it is hard for us to just sit and be in the moment, to shut out the world if only for awhile.  But this moment is its own.  For in this moment, Jesus does not think about what is to come.  For just a moment, Jesus does not worry whether or not the disciples can do what needs to be done when he is gone.  And for just a moment, this moment, here in this Cenacle, nothing else in the world matters–not the betrayal, not the denial, not the time when he will die alone and despised by most of the world.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  And so in this moment, Jesus loves.

It would be his final teaching.  I think it probably is THE teaching.  Everything is swept into to this moment–this Announced, God-With-Us, Spirit-empowered, disciple-calling, teaching, healing, raising, anointing moment.  It all ends with Love.

The Garden of Gethsemane
Jerusalem, Israel
February, 2010

After this, the Matthean version of the Gospel depicts Jesus going into the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples and then going off to pray.  It was his final surrender.  As the night goes on, the events move faster, speeding through an almost surreal order–the betrayal, the handing over, the mock trial–until Jesus is supposedly imprisoned in a dark dungeon in the House of Caiaphas, the high priest.  There he would wait the dawn of Friday morning.

We enter now that Upper Room
And take the wine and bread
And sit as our Lord washes our feet
When we feel we should be washing instead
A late night walk down a winding path,
Into the garden we go
And in the cold of night, Jesus says
Something that we already know.
For on this night it all will end
With naught but a single kiss
Our friend, our teacher, and our Lord
Surely it can’t be ending like this.
Our Lord Jesus now is whisked away
In a flurry of chaotic swarm
And we are left with a helpless silence
As the clouds gather for the storm.
The sun has set in blackest night
And my Lord lies in chains
What has brought us to this place?
Which of us is full of blame?
The Ruins of the House of Caiaphas
Jerusalem, Israel, February, 2010

As we come so near to the Cross, let us not grieve yet.  Let us, just for a moment, love as Jesus loves.

Grace and Peace in this holiest of weeks,