Based on Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:5-13, John 13:1-17, 31-35
Jesus had one last journey ahead of him that night as he sat at supper with his Disciples. It was a journey that would be only a total of about a mile from where he reclined with his friends, but it would be the most harrowing of his earthly life. His journey would lead him to his favorite garden, called Gethsemane, then to the High Priest and Herod, then to Pilate and then the 600 yards from sentencing to crucifixion. Truly this was a “Via Dolorosa” the “way of grief” or “way of suffering”.
Different from all the other journeys that Jesus made once his ministry began, this one would be made all alone – abandoned by his close friends. Jesus had predicted this would be true in order to fulfill the prophecies, so it made it all the more important for him to share a few last teachings. He wanted to leave them with an indelible moment in their time together on which to base their spiritual journeys. In order to continue this movement, Jesus had to get them to understand that the leadership had to be humble enough to love each other unconditionally and obedient. They had to lead from a place of true and honest servanthood which meant that they had to wash each other’s feet – from the least to those who would be the greatest in this new order. This had to happen not just once, but over and over again.
The obedience which characterized the new movement – known as “The Way”, Jesus would model for them the following day. The Gospels all record the events of Thursday night through Friday at 3 pm – each with its own unique viewpoint. Jesus went through all of the suffering and abuse to model for His disciples the fate that would befall most of them as they were martyred in their own time and in their own way. Jesus’ willingness to return to His heavenly Father in this most cruel manner shows the depth of his servanthood – of his obedience. He could have called down armies of angels, but this would have been giving in to the temptation of Satan (from his 40-day wilderness journey after his baptism by John) to use his divine powers to save himself.
He also gave His disciples the means for which they could routinely come together with him in a Holy Communion of fellowship. The meal which Jesus shared with his friends became a way for God’s grace to continue to instill in God’s Church the love, obedience and friendship that characterized the ministry of Jesus. Jesus fortified himself for his coming ordeal by sharing in the meal of Passover, to continue to connect his friends and followers with the great legacy of Moses and the deliverance from Egypt to be God’s chosen people.
Connecting the dots through bread and grape and church tradition – the staples of their lives and of the ground which God had given them (i.e., the Promised Land). By celebrating the great deliverance from the calamity of the killing of the first born of Egypt in a new manner, Jesus forever altered the way that this meal would be celebrated for all his disciples forevermore. As the bread and juice were blessed and shared equally among those gathered, all were fortified for the coming times. The Disciples still didn’t understand that they had only a precious few moments left with their Lord and Savior. Until after the resurrection when Jesus reappeared multiple times to multiple believers, they wouldn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together. Once they did, however, the meal became a Eucharist – a great thanksgiving for all that God had done and would continue to do for them.
Jesus, fortified with blessed food, drink and fellowship leaves with his friends to go and pray in the garden until his betrayer and associated ruffians would come. This is the beginning of the Via Dolorosa for me, though the one in Jerusalem does not start at this point. Yet, if you read the Gospel accounts of this time, you see Jesus doing something that always fortified his resolve – he went to pray fervently and powerfully to God. In one account, He even asks for this task to be removed from him, but when that prayer goes unanswered, He knows what it is that He will have to do. He resolves once again to endure what is to come – the mocking, scorn, humiliation, misunderstanding, lying, scourging, carrying the means of his own painful death, etc. By once again speaking with God, he has confronted what makes him fearful, and he has once again configured his resolve to walk the final steps of his journey through grief and suffering to resurrection. He has resolved to do this not for himself, but for each and every one of us who would choose to follow him.
We do choose to follow Him, through the journey of Lent of which we are almost at the shocking and mystifying end. We know what happens from here to Sunday morning, and so we too will fortify ourselves with bread, grape and prayer in order to follow where our Master leads us – where our Master needs us to go. Through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, may we follow in His obedience, humility and unconditional love. Amen!