What an interesting week this has been leading up to Easter tomorrow. I am attending First Baptist Church in Edmonton, a church that has a “liturgical” format: we follow the church calendar, we stand up and sit down periodically during the service, we have a choir and sing hymns, we have prayers of confession and assurance written by congregation members and lay leaders, and we recite the Lord’s prayer together as well. There is a lot of concerted effort that goes into our services.
Now, having been “reborn” into the Pentecostal realm of faith over a decade ago, I would not claim that I naturally gravitate toward a liturgical style of worship. But I feel drawn to First Baptist in this season for a number of reasons which I will not recant here, save for one: there is an appreciation for the reflection, contemplation and other practices associated with spiritual formation.
This is my reflection having read and heard the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday scriptures this year. This bit of writing is not based on a heavily studied reading of the text, but simply a reflection of the thoughts that have come my way.
Matthew 26:17- 29
The Last Supper
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant,which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Okay, I really tried to place myself in the scene as one of Jesus’s followers. I’d been travelling around with Jesus for years, hearing his teachings, trying to understand the stories. Jesus had given little hints about what was coming up, but nothing too dramatic had happened in that regard at this point. But now, Jesus starts talking about someone betraying him. And to top it all off, he gives me a piece of bread, telling me it is his body, along with a cup of wine that is his blood. Hmmm.
I wonder if they were shooting each other glances with eyebrows raised? I could imagine that. Were they thinking, “What is he up to now?”
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.
On this reading, I immediately thought, “I bet this wasn’t the first time Jesus found his disciples sleeping as he was “working”! I’ve always had this sense that to his disciples, Jesus was kind of like a rock star, a charismatic leader. Like a driven rock star and his groupies travelling around on a bus, the star might stay up all night practicing riffs or writing songs, while the rest of the gang sleeps.
If you read the account in Luke, verse 22:39 reads, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives…” As usual. Maybe the disciples who went with him thought, “Here we go again.” In light of what we know, we read it very dramatically. But I think for the disciples, who didn’t understand most of the teachings of Jesus at the time, ever confused by various parables (some of which we do not know the meaning of even today), and coming from an interesting Last Supper experience, it could have been more of a “here we go again” moment.
These guys travelled with Jesus for years, but their faith wavered throughout that time. (This gives me comfort as my faith wavers as well.) One minute could find one walking on water, and the next minute nearly drowning in it. It seems to me that every single disciple had disbelief and/or doubt. After all, in between the accounts of The Last Supper and Gethsemane, Jesus predicts they all will fall away (Matthew 26:31).
Well, though they may have slept through all the praying, I’m sure they woke up pretty quickly as Jesus was arrested and brought before the religious and legal leaders. The scene was getting ugly quickly.
Sure enough, the disciples all fall away…but I am sure still observe the beatings, the mockery, the crucifixion. “Is he God? Or is he not?” The women observed it all as well (Matthew 267: 55-56).
How awful it must have been to see their friend crucified – killed in such a horrific fashion. “I know he was a little strange, but he was innocent. How could they humiliate and kill him like that??” But though he had told various people he would rise in three days, no one but his enemies seemed to take note of that or treat it with any seriousness. In fact, only one of the criminals and perhaps a centurion and/or some guards really seemed to believe that Jesus was who he said he was. Everyone went back to their business of living. Even the women went and prepared the spices for his burial, but not on the Sabbath – this really indicates they believed there would be a body to deal with, not an empty tomb.
Virtually everyone simply went forward with their lives.
Until he rose and appeared to them. And they still (understandably) had doubts and disbelief (Luke 24:37-40).
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45)
Will we recognize Jesus as he appears in our midst? Will we invite and allow Jesus to open our minds to understand the Scriptures? Or will we simply go forward with our daily lives? The disciples got very busy and birthed the church when they realized Jesus rose after three days as he said he would. How will the resurrection impact the church and his disciples today?