Maundy Thursday Reflection
In our thoughts we can attempt to enter into the great darkness and despair of Jesus’ betrayal and subsequent death, and try to stay with those events, tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, before allowing ourselves to emerge into the dazzling brilliance and radiant joy of Easter.
Quite rightly, the tragic and dreadful events of Good Friday obscure the dimly lit and muffled hours in the Garden the night before. The stark, awful horror of nailing a living human being to a piece of wood, the bloodthirsty crowds, the brutish soldiers (‘Just following orders Gov’), the grieving friends (those who had not already run away) the ebbing, broken, torn life, the desolation of Jesus on the cross, the agonising death, the apparent finality and hopelessness – these are the images which haunt us, which demand our full attention.
But, it was on the night before, after Jesus and his friends had eaten supper together, when they had gone out to the Garden to pray, it was then that the events of Good Friday were actually determined and set in motion.
Jesus still faced the physical pain of his death and the emotional anguish of seeing his mother and closest friends in their grief and despair – but it was on the night before, in the Garden, that he accepted the final act of his mission and committed himself to going through with whatever lay ahead.
That night he prayed, sweating blood and crying out loud, so agonising it was for him to accept what he knew was to come – saying to God, “Yes, I will do this. If this can be taken away, please take it away, but, nevertheless, not my will, but yours.” What faith, what obedience, what submission to the Divine Will, to the God he knew intimately as Abba – but still, the sweating blood.
How much does Jesus’ faithfulness cast our difficult decisions into perspective? How much does the setting of his will to see through the events of this life-and-death-changing- week put our vacillating, weak and selfish wills to shame? What a gulf there seems to be between us and Jesus, between me and Jesus.
It is almost too painful to imagine how I would have acted. Yes, Jesus, I would have stayed awake! I would have prayed with you! I would have stuck with you, even after you were arrested. I wouldn’t have denied you!
T.S Elliot once reflected it is our sickness which is our only hope, our sin is in fact our salvation, because it is our sickness, our disease which brings us back, time and again, to God, to the sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, where we can see both the cost of our sin and the depth of God’s love.
How can we ever get away from the betrayal - the many and repeated betrayals - the cruelty, the inhumanity, the fear and the cold concern for ourselves, at times above all others.
How do we not let this night of failure – this tragic fiasco – paralyse us forever? What are we supposed to think about Judas, what are we supposed to think about the chief priests and Pharisees, what are we supposed to think about Peter and the other disciples? What are we supposed to think about ourselves, when we wonder what we would have done?
Would we really have found ourselves with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother and John at the foot of the cross, or would we have been long gone, huddled and snivelling in some safe hideaway?
The events of the night in the Garden are some of the most sobering events of the entire Gospel story. They shame us, anger us, distress us, grieve us, but they are perhaps too easy to imagine, too easy to reconstruct in the mind’s eye, with our knowledge of human nature and our knowledge of ourselves. What if Elliot is right? What if our sickness is our only hope? What if our disease is actually the way to our health?
What if it is only by forcing ourselves to face Gethsemane, to place ourselves there among Jesus’ friends that night, eager, willing, loyal, confused, terrified - that we can come to understand more of the cost of our sin and more of the depth of God’s love?
Tonight, we can hardly look Jesus in the face. We want to hide from what happened in the Garden. We want to pretend it wasn’t the way it was, that Jesus’ friends, and Jesus himself, only did what they had to do, that they could not have done otherwise, that they each had their roles to play, that they were just sticking to their scripts.
But that would be to deny the free will that God has given us, and to deny that Jesus had free will, even then. We would like to think that if we had been Jesus’ friends we would have stayed awake, prayed with him, supported him, defended him. But we know we would have betrayed Jesus. Even if we wouldn’t have betrayed him then, we have all betrayed him in one way or another now, by not standing up for him, by not trusting in him, not keeping faith with him.
In order to move out of the Garden, as we will need to do in a few days’ time, not only in our heads and hearts, but in our lives, we need to forgive what went on in the Garden. We need to accept what happened, as Jesus accepted, as the Father accepted. We need to forgive Judas, for being the man he was and for doing what he did. We need to forgive Peter and the other disciples who deserted Jesus. Perhaps we even need to forgive Jesus, for asking so much of his friends, for asking so much of us, for having been perfect where we would have failed.
We also need to forgive ourselves - for our imperfection, our weakness, our humanness, our ‘sickness’, our sin. We need to learn to accept what we are and who we are. We need to accept that God loves us, just as we are, and that Jesus chose to die for us, knowing exactly what we are like. We need to remember that, in spite of the Garden, in spite of Good Friday, in spite of all the horrors that we have ever done and will ever do, we have been made in God’s image and the Spirit of the Divine dwells in each and every one of us.
We need to forgive ourselves for doubting God’s capability, God’s commitment to us, God’s faithfulness to us. We need to forgive ourselves for resisting God’s enduring, transforming love, which is the greatest power there is.
We need to see that it is this Love which is the only way out of the Garden, the only way through Good Friday, the only Way. We need to understand that it is the power of this Love that made the first Easter possible, and that this Love is still here, still with us, still waiting to transform our lives, if we let it.