“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8
Dear Members, Companions, and Friends,
The stories of these three days when we enter deeply into the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus give us so much to contemplate. For example, there are times in our lives when we hear the echoes of Isaiah’s servant in our deep sighs and sleepless nights: “I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength.” This seems to be the mood of Jesus that night after breaking bread and sharing the cup of blessing with his disciples. After washing their feet and celebrating Passover, “Jesus was deeply troubled” because he knew that one of those with whom he had shared this meal of memory and hope would betray him.
The disciples were “at a loss as to whom he meant,” so Peter, the leader of the pack, the one whose words often set in motion some kind of action (for better or for worse) nods to “the one whom Jesus loved.” John “leaned back against Jesus’ chest” and whispers, “Who is it?”
The gospel doesn’t say how Jesus responded to John though it must have been barely audible, no louder than a breathless whisper. The tenderness here between John and Jesus evokes a deep intimacy and trust. Jesus tells his beloved disciple a secret: “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” According to the gospel, after Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him. The devil made him do it. Jesus is in a hurry wanting him to get it over with as quickly as possible. Judas obliges. “It was night.”
This scene from John’s gospel has so many emotions—the tender, intimate bond between Jesus and John; the evil intentions of Judas; the leadership leanings of Peter to direct John to find out the identity of the betrayer and later bravely telling Jesus, “I will lie down my life for you,” only to be exposed as a fraud as Jesus tells him, “The cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”
“It is night.” Which means before dawn the bravery will turn to bluster, the courage to cowardice. How quickly it all changes. From breaking bread one minute to the breaking of his heart because of betrayal the next; from resting on the chest of the beloved, listening to his breathing, his heartbeat, to wondering if you will ever see your beloved alive again. He would, of course, but his beloved would be naked and bloodied, hanging from a tree, a victim of the betrayal set in motion that night.
In Paul’s telling of the story, we hear “that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” The phrase, “handed over,” sounds easier to swallow than “betray.” In the same way that “passed away” doesn’t quite capture the reality of death. The experience of betrayal rips the heart open, tears, shatters, and destroys. It is more than painful; it is horrific. No words can capture the experience but “handed over” doesn’t come close.
Dr. James McConnell wrote a book, Stories from the Shadows, about his experiences of providing medical care for the poor and homeless in Boston. The book is filled with stories of the people Dr. McConnell met on the street and what they taught him about life and death. His encounters with the homeless, many of whom are mentally ill, are powerful stories of compassion, of people living on the edges and margins of life, and what Dr. McConnell learned from them about being a medical missionary of mercy.
This book evolved out of his practice of journaling late at night and reflecting on the people he met that day. “I have come to cherish the dark and peaceful hours after midnight, when details of daily routine succumb to musings about life’s meanings,” he writes. “Sporadic attempts to write some notes have been all too feeble, with stories more dangling than complete. Yet the yearning and the need to write reflects an attempt to make some sense of these days and years that are given to us.”
This is why we write, why we pray, why we tell the stories of these next three days: to make some sense out of this life we have been given.
May we meet in prayer across the miles these next three days, at the table, in the garden, at the cross, and at the empty tomb. And no matter how steep or deep the darkness of our world is, may we always lean toward the light. Remember what Howard Thurman wrote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.”
On Easter Sunday, may the world find in us people who are very much alive with the energy of a new creation!
With peace in the Blood of Christ,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.