Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” — Matthew 26:38
Stay with me.
Remain here with me.
Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.
It was a terrible day; an incomprehensible day. Just hours ago my son was in this very room with his closest friends for the Passover. It was a festive night – one of the holiest nights – and yet, it was a night like no other I have ever known. With Jesus, I have come to expect the unexpected, but nothing could prepare me for this.
It began as Passover always does, with prayers and songs, the questioning of why this is the holiest of nights, and the retelling of Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians. From memory the ancient covenant at Mount Sinai was retold; and how God brought his people into the Promised Land. But at one point, Jesus spoke of a betrayer in our midst. That one of his inner circle was ready to hand him over. How our hearts were cut to think of it. ‘Is it I, Lord?’ echoed the voices of his friends. An examination of our hearts became a burden – have we betrayed him in some way? Then Peter was told that he would deny Jesus, not once, but three times!
There was a growing sense of awe and uneasiness at the thought, suggesting that after this moment, nothing would every the same again. The mood of finality increased at the height of the Paschal feast. He spoke words at the breaking of the unleavened bread, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” And again with the Cup of Atonement, he altered the customary words, stating, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” The nuance wasn’t lost; I could tell by the faces of those gathered that they understood they were on unfamiliar ground. Questions began to form in their minds, yet, no one dared ask my son tonight. They ate the unleavened bread and drank the cup, pondering what he meant in the subtle changes words he chose to say.
Following the feast, my son and his closest friends went to the Garden of Gethsemane, as they often did, to pray. That was the last I saw of my son until this afternoon. John came rushing in the room early in the morning with news. The Chief Priests had Jesus arrested. No reason was given. It was Judas who led the soldiers to him. John took me to look for my son, and we found him on the road leading out of the city to Golgotha. Oh, the crowds! The soldiers! The yelling! My heart almost broke then, seeing my child bloody from beatings, bearing a cross too heavy. Could I have carried it for him? I wanted to protect him from his suffering, but the best I could do was to offer the pain of my own mother’s heart with the sacrifice of my son. Through the streets he stumbled and fell, got up again, but the weight was too much to bear. Somehow, he went on, every painful step resonating in my sorrowing heart. When, Son of Mine, did you ever prepare me for this moment?
Nothing could have prepared me. I have always known at some unspeakable level that Jesus would not grow old: But how am I made ready to understand that my son, who as a babe was worshiped by kings, today, treated as a dangerous criminal was hung up on a cross to die? The pain is too much to bear.
But then, from the Cross, the words of our last Passover together come back to me. “This is my body… this is my blood.” It strangely consoles the pain of my heart, and I turn to trust that God’s work continues on.
(warning: graphic crucifixion scene)
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Coming back from the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, my mind has etched in its memory one elderly couple that came forward to reverence the life-sized cross. The wife in her wheelchair, her husband pushing her towards the sanctuary. She tenderly grasped the cross in her hands and gingerly kissed the wood. Her husband struggled to get on his knees before he too, reverently kissed the wood of the cross. It was a tender moment. Both of them individually thanking the Lord of Life, and as a couple, they were witnessing the key to their long marriage – Jesus.
As the elderly husband struggled to his feet, and pushing his wife’s wheelchair, my eyes were moist with tears, as though I have walked in on a intimate moment. Yet, it is such moments that the Church is built up.