Maundy Thursday. Thursday, during the day, again we have no recorded activity. Jesus knew what was coming, He took His time getting back into town. Redemption was at hand, but there was no rush, He marshaled His human strength. He sent the disciples to secure a place and that night at 6 they gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate Passover together for the last time.
They celebrated a day early, Jesus being well within His authority to do so, because He knew His time was short. My heart breaks at the thought of the traditional Passover question being asked of Jesus by the youngest present, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Why indeed?
The poignancy in that question must have pierced Jesus through. The immediacy and need of that bittersweet moment must have weighed on His heart that was already so full; full of love, full of fear, full of need. There was so much still to tell these beloved students. They had so slowly grasped what He had shared with them. Early that evening, He washed their feet so they would finally understand the necessity of service and humility. During the meal, He sent Judas away to set, by betrayal, the rest of the events in motion for the next days purpose and pain. He prophesied His death and their redemption by fully explaining the symbols of the seder meal as pertaining to His broken body and spilled blood. He showed them the pathway that redemption would take, and yet, there was more.
How do I find the words in this brief setting to contain the beauty and simplicity of Jesus’ final lessons to the Eleven? I can’t. Go to John’s Gospel, chapters 13-17, read the words and be filled. To understand these passages is to understand Christ. He teaches them the depths of their sins. He tells them of the reward that is waiting for them that He is going to prepare.
Then in John 15:15 He calls them no longer “servants, but friends.” The teaching is complete. It is not servitude that God desires, it is love! It is not slaves that He requires but companions! It is not groveling that brings a smile to His heart, but daily relationship with His children! And in a few short hours, the Way would be open; God with man, Immanuel, would no longer be just a name, but the actual state of His disciples lives.
What a change! What a difference, even today, from the picture of the hating angry deity who lives to punish and rewards slavish devotion and anger and murder and hatred from his followers. Here in the last teaching of Jesus is the heart of the gospel. God loves us and desires our companionship, our friendship. Admittedly, there are days I need an Avenging God. There are moments when I am grateful for His mighty arm that moves the world to rescue me. There are battles that I need Him to fight for me and times I need Him to be the Superhero who saves the day. But mostly, I am grateful that He shares my burdens even as I learn from them; that He stands beside me and holds me up when I am too weak to stand; that He greets me like a long, lost son when I return from random acts of stupidity and evil. He is my friend.
In John 17, Jesus prays for His disciples and He says these words,
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
There lies the ultimate picture of companionship, that we be one with the Father even as Jesus is.
Why is this night different from all the other nights? This night was the beginning of the end of the Story of Redemption, Redemption that ends, not only with our salvation, but with the friendship of God