During Holy Week, we witness Jesus’ transition from the height of human experience to the depths of human experience. On Palm Sunday, with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus experienced support, friendship, encouragement, even the adulation of his people, and beginning on Holy Thursday he experienced betrayal, abandonment, confusion, captivity, torture, and, eventually, an excruciating death, death on a cross.
Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a centuries old ritual that recalled the deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt, which followed the last of 10 plagues. The blood of a lamb identified the homes of the Israelites that night in ancient Egypt and protected them from the hand of the angel that caused the death of every first born in the land. On Holy Thursday Jesus gathered with his friends to commemorate this event, this feast.
Jesus and the disciples gathered in an upper room, gathered among them was Judas, the one who was betraying Jesus. Jesus, ever the teacher, began by washing the feet of his disciples, giving them an example of how to treat one another. He washed even Judas’ feet, giving them and us an example of how to treat one another.
The Seder meal was prepared, and during the eating of it Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it saying, “This is my body, given for you. Remember me whenever you eat it.” He took the cup of wine and said, “This is my blood, poured out for you, do this in remembrance of me.” He gave his body and blood to all of them, for all of them, even to Judas – giving them an example.
I cannot imagine Jesus’ anguish, his sadness and disappointment, in giving himself completely, knowing one at table with him, his friend, one who shared life and miracles with him, one who believed, who taught with him the message of God’s goodness and love, that this one was betraying him. Jesus gave himself in the midst of betrayal, leaving us an example.
After the meal, Jesus and his friends went out to a garden. There Jesus prayed, had his plea denied, and was ultimately given over by his friend to those who would torture, torment, and crucify him. During this time all this his friends slept and ran away, perhaps his closest friend actually denied that he even knew Jesus. Jesus gave himself in the midst of abandonment, leaving us an example.
I give you an example and so you must do. Whenever you eat my body and drink my blood, remember me. From the height of human experience to its depth, we have an example of how we must be, what we must do if we are truly to be followers of Christ.
Glenna Smith, OSB
St. Benedict Monastery