Thursday: The Passover
This was the Day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed, and Jesus sends Peter and John to make preparations for the Passover meal. When they ask where, he gives them instructions to follow a man carrying a jar of water into a house, and they will be shown the place for the meal to be prepared. With similar cryptic instructions to those which yielded a donkey colt a few days earlier, Jesus and his disciples find an upper room in which to share the Passover feast.
For a banquet, people did not sit at a table as we do in that time, but rather the table was a low one, only 12-18″ high, around which they would recline, with their feet stretched out away from the table. This will help to envision John leaning back against Jesus’ chest and Mary anointing his feet while he sat at a table. With all due respect to Leonardo Da Vinci, it didn’t look quite the way he painted it. John was to Jesus’ right, with Peter likely beside or across from him, and Judas on the other side of Jesus. That evening when the time came to eat the Passover meal, Jesus reclined at the table with them and said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16).
Jesus then got up, removed his garment, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He took a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Yes, even those of Judas. This was an extremely menial task, even a degrading one: so much so that a Hebrew could not be asked to wash feet, even if he was a slave. A pupil might wash his teacher’s feet as a sign of extreme devotion, but what Jesus was enacting was unheard of. The image was so striking that in the Greek, when John writes about it, he suddenly switches into the present tense, as though he can still see it playing out vividly before his eyes. Peter protests, but Jesus tells him that he must be washed or have no part with him, and Peter submits. When he has finished, Jesus takes up his garment and resumes his place at the table. In John’s gospel, the only place where this event is recorded, Jesus says that he has the authority to “lay down” and “take up” his life: these same Greek words are used in an unexpected way here of Jesus’ clothing (“lay down” and “take up”) to symbolize the washing (from sin via the cross) that was shortly to follow.
Likely during the meal, Jesus began to leave his disciples some final instructions, which we call the “Upper Room Discourse” in John 13-16. He talked to them about discipleship, about abiding in him, about the Father, and also about the Holy Spirit who would come when he had gone. He promised them that he would do whatever they asked in his name, and that they would do greater things than he had because he was going to his Father. He also predicted his betrayal, and indicated Judas by giving him a piece of bread. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him, and Jesus told him to do quickly what he was about to do. He also predicts that Peter would disown him three times before the rooster crows that next morning. Jesus told his disciples a great many things in that upper room, and I have thought a number of times that if I could be a “fly on the wall,” as the saying goes, at any time and place in history, this is the one conversation that I would long to overhear above all others.
Jesus also instituted the “Lord’s Supper”, communion, or the Eucharist in that upper room, using elements from the Passover meal which held deep significance to indicate how God was renewing his covenant once more, and taking it a further step toward its ultimate fulfilment. Jesus refused the fourth cup of wine in the Passover meal, saying that he would not drink it until the Kingdom of God comes. In fact, I believe he was alluding to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, which will be the fulfilment of the Passover meal when the Kingdom has fully come. The Church today continues to observe this institution — Jesus’ body broken for us, and his blood poured out for us, in which is the new covenant. (I’ve written more on this in another article.)
After the Passover meal was completed, they sung a hymn, in keeping with the observance of the Passover, and then they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives. Jesus prayed there for himself, his disciples, and for all who would follow him later, that the Father would keep us and bring us to unity. He withdrew from his disciples a little way, and prayed further concerning what lay ahead of him. In keeping with the imagery of the Passover meal, he prayed that God would take the cup from him, that he would not have to drink it — but as he fully knew his Father’s will beforehand, he surrendered himself to it. He was under such agony of soul as he prayed that he actually sweat drops of blood. When he rejoined his disciples, he found them not praying, but sleeping; he came to wake them twice to pray and then withdrew again, but each time it was the same when he returned to them.
The last time he returned to find his followers asleep, he did not bother going back to pray again. He knew his time was at hand, and he was about to be delivered into the hands of the Jews. While he was still speaking, Judas approached. The garden was a place to which Jesus would retreat often with his disciples, and Judas would have known the place well; he arrived and kissed Jesus, at which Jesus asked him, “Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” A cohort of Roman soldiers had arrived with Judas and some of the Jewish leaders, and Jesus asks them who they want, and they tell him. The NIV changes his response, which is simply “I am,” at which the entire company falls back onto the ground. Jesus has to ask and reply a second time, after which he tells them to let his disciples go. They tried to seize one of them, most likely Mark, who slipped out of his garment and ran away naked and terrified. In general, the disciples all fled.
A Roman cohort was between 200 and 600 soldiers, and they arrived with clubs and torches in addition to their swords. It would have been a full moon that night, and they were unlikely to have needed either unless they expected that Jesus would hide in the garden or lead an assault. Jesus asks them, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour — when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:52-53). When Peter realized what was about to happen, he drew his sword and struck out to protect Jesus, cutting off the right ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest. Apparently he got out of the way just enough to spare his life. Jesus rebuked Peter and healed the ear, and then surrendered himself to them.