Here it is, Holy Week already, and I’m still mentally behind the curve, having barely entered into Lent. We’ll see if I can manage to catch up a little, as this evening we’re taking the kids to do the stations of the cross at St. Ben’s, this evening being geared particularly toward children and families. Thursday evening we’re gathering together for a meal with our little band of ecclesiastical vagrants — we’ve done this every year on Maundy Thursday for the past number of years, and it generally promises to be a good time. Hopefully I’ll come up with some thematic things to say around here for the balance of the week too, as I’ve done in past years (see last year’s list of past Holy Week posts), including a detailed retelling of the events of Holy Week both for adults and for kids.
For now, it came to my attention today that Paraclete Press is promoting Peter Rollins’ forthcoming book, The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales, and I’ve decided to play along. As I have a recent appreciation for Rollins, I’m looking forward to this title. In the meantime, I’m republishing one of his reflections, particularly for Holy Week.
It is evening, and you are gathered together with the other disciples in a small room for Passover. All the time you are watching Jesus, while he sits quietly in the shadows listening to the idle chatter, watching over those who sit around him, and, from time to time, telling stories about the kingdom of God.
As night descends, a meal of bread and wine is brought into the room. It is only at this moment that Jesus sits forward so that the shadows no longer cover his face. He quietly brings the conversation to an end by capturing each one with his intense gaze. Then he begins to speak:
“My friends, take this bread, for it is my very body, broken for you.”
Every eye is fixed on the bread that is laid on the table. While these words seem obscure and unintelligible, everyone picks up on their gravity.
Then Jesus carefully pours wine into the cup of each disciple until it overflows onto the table.
“Take this wine and drink of it, for it is my very blood, shed for you.”
With these words an ominous shadow seems to descend upon the room – a chilling darkness that makes everyone shudder uneasily. Jesus continues:
“As you do this, remember me.”
Most of the gathered disciples begin to slowly eat the bread and drink the wine, lost in their thoughts. You, however, cannot bring yourself to lift your hand at all, for his words have cut into your soul like a knife.
Jesus does not fail to notice your hesitation and approaches, lifting up your head with his hand so that your eyes are level with his. Your eyes meet for only a moment, but before you are able to turn away, you are caught up in a terrifying revelation. At that instant you experience the loneliness, the pain, and sorrow that Jesus is carrying. You see nails being driven through skin and bone; you hear the crowds jeering and the cries of pain as iron cuts against flesh. At that moment you see the sweat that flows from Jesus like blood, and experience the suffocation, madness, and pain that will soon envelop him. More than all of this, however, you feel a trace of the separation he will soon feel in his own being.
In that little room, which occupies no significant space in the universe, you have caught a glimpse of a divine vision that should never have been disclosed. Yet it is indelibly etched into the eyes of Christ for anyone brave enough to look.
You turn to leave – to run from that place. You long for death to wrap around you. But Jesus grips you with his gaze and smiles compassionately. Then he holds you tight in his arms like no one has held you before. He understands that the weight you now carry is so great that it would have been better had you never been born. After a few moments, he releases his embrace and lifts the wine that sits before you, whispering,
“Take this wine, my dear friend, and drink it up, for it is my very blood, and it is shed for you.”
All this makes you feel painfully uncomfortable, and so you shift in your chair and fumble in your pocket, all the time distracted by the silver that weights heavy in your pouch.
Commentary from Peter Rollins:
This reflection was on outworking of my first interaction with the enigmatic figure of Judas. Here I wanted to play with our tendency to identify with the favorable characters in the Bible. For instance, when reading about the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector, we find it all too easy to condemn the first and praise the second without asking whether our own actions are closer to the one we have rejected than the one we praise.
Judas is here a symbol of all our failures, and Christ’s action to demonstrate his unconditional acceptance. Judas helps to remind us of Christ’s message that he came for the sick rather than the healthy, and that he loves and accepts us as we are.