by Matt LeFevers
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday, or, according to Wikipedia, "Thursday of Mysteries", which is definitely the name I want to bring back!). Nobody I have ever met can define the word "Maundy", and even after reading Wikipedia's etymology paragraph three times I still don't know what it means. Whatever it's called, the Thursday before Easter commemorates the Last Supper, the tipping point in the gospel narrative where excitement and expectation start sliding into horror. That dinner, with its cryptic instructions for communion and its heavy foreshadowing (Jesus already knows, in all four gospels, that he will be betrayed) is a last spot of warmth before things fall apart. Immediately after, the action moves to the garden of Gethsemane.
The events of this evening, as written in the gospels, are a stunning example of dramatic irony - Christ knows what is coming, as does the reader, but the apostles have no idea, so everything he says to them reads as bittersweet, a secret farewell that they don't pick up on. Jesus withdraws in order to pray his wrenching prayer that he be spared what is coming, pleading for a way out of this, and while he is experiencing one of the worst nights of his life, his closest friends keep falling asleep. You want to shout at them, like movie characters making poor decisions on screen, but of course they don't know this is their last night together. When Jesus returns and rebukes them - "Why are you sleeping?" - I don't imagine it as angry. I imagine it as the frustration of someone who needs support, needs comfort, and has to ask for it without really explaining why.
When Jackie and I sat down to write about the Garden, six years ago, one thought we kept coming back to was: how do we know this story? Jesus goes through his agony off to the side, while the men who would one day bring us the gospel stories (whether directly or through retelling them to their own disciples) are fighting sleep. Did someone overhear their Lord's desperate prayer? Did one of the apostles witness some of this, and only later come to understand what it had meant?
We decided to take a bit of creative liberty and use Peter as our viewpoint character. The blustery, fiercely loyal man who had, a few hours ago, been told he would betray his Savior, and refused to believe it. Was he laying there, struggling with this idea, as Jesus cried? Did he witness an angel comforting the Son of Man and wish that he was strong enough to have done likewise? And when Jesus asked why they were sleeping, did Peter do as many of us have done at one time or another and lay still, letting the question pass without answering?
There are many human moments in the "Thursday of Mysteries" - Peter's insistence he would stand by Jesus no matter what, only to fail when the chips are down; Christ's heartfelt prayer to be spared this fate but humble willingness to accept it if needed - but I think the quiet, accidental failure of Jesus's friends to stay awake with him is moving because I know I have done the same. How often does someone reach out and we miss the significance until later, until after we've dismissed it as another ordinary night in a series of ordinary nights? You and I know how the story ends, and so the apostles seem kind of dim-witted and infuriating to us at times, but living this tale without the benefit of 2,000 year old spoilers, would we do any better?
Listen to "In The Garden" below!