Today, Maundy or Holy Thursday, plunges us into the climax of redemption history. Roman Catholics speak of the Paschal Mystery that encompasses God’s great drama enacted in these days and finishing at Jesus’ Ascension. Walk with me these next few days and ponder with me the steps of Jesus and our own tentative steps as we follow behind.
Tonight we remember. Like the Jews of then and now, we remember God’s mighty acts. For us, it is not the deliverance of a people and the birth of a nation but rather God’s mighty acts in a person. No way through the waters. No armies destroyed. But a man, alone and tired. In agony of spirit before the physical trial begins. Alone long before he cries out to God from the cross his abandonment. Against the backdrop of the Passover, the curtain opens for the final act of the cosmic yet personal drama of his life and approaching death.
What strikes me every year is how alone, utterly, Jesus is. You see it in the Upper Room as Jesus begins to move toward his destiny. He moves not just physically toward the cross but away from his friends and followers. He turns his back on them. Not to abandon them – far from it. But because they cannot go where he is going. They are unable to fathom what he is doing – let alone the Father’s will. Only the God-man can go where Jesus’ feet are about travel. He leaves the room with his followers knowing they will drop away much sooner than their denials.
In the garden, Christ becomes the savior who knows the agony of human existence. Many of us cannot grasp the horror of the crucifixion and the torture that precedes it. All of us know the agony of spirit that this man feels alone while his disciples sleep. All of us know what it is to see what’s coming and to pray – desperately, fervently, hopelessly – that it would not come. But it will.
And to know the solitude not of prayer, but of abandonment. Not the soul refreshing moment apart from the world but to stand in the crowded ways of life and feel nevertheless as if the world is empty. More to the point, to be on the outside of every group, relationship, community. We’ve felt it and will feel it again.
Jesus prays knowing the answer is “no.” Knowing that God will not, can not, do anything about what is to come.
Some time with that Jesus today is a thing we all need even with its pain and grief. Friday will come soon enough and not before Thursday’s beginning.