He looked around at the men who were reclining at the table. A sad smile pulled at his lips as he watched them laughing, joking, jostling with one another. They were so comfortable in their companionship. I have been waiting for this night, this precious time to be here with them, he thought, holding the bread in his hands. I want to be with these dear friends, one last time. It’s precious, for I know what comes next. I need to be here. I want to hold this moment, this last sweet moment. Let me see their faces like this just once more – so innocent in what will happen. From this night on… nothing will ever be the same.
When he woke up that morning, he knew. He opened his eyes and immediately remembered what day it was. Every moment of that day, he was aware of what was coming that night. He knew the intensity of the imminent pain. He knew the despair of abandonment he would feel. He knew. So now, here it was, The Night. The Night was finally here. He treasured these last moments with the ones who had been with him, lived with him, eaten with him, journeyed with him. They had left their jobs, their families, their security, for him. But he also knew – tonight he would go it alone.
He poured the wine. Every drop that went in every cup – he watched and understood that, in just moments really, - it would be his blood. It was heavy, the dread. He looked at each face, knowing each heartbeat… Oh, how my heart aches. I’m going to be in such pain for them, but they don’t know - can’t know, really. He broke the bread – and winced. It would be his own flesh in just hours. Father, do I have to do this? I know what agony I’ll experience, what unbearable pain this will be. But he looked at those around him. Yes, I must do this. I love them so.
While Jesus sat there lost in thought, Judas looked up. He followed Jesus’ gaze around the room. “What is he thinking as he looks at us?” Judas wondered. He had spent three years with this man. Three years. He knew this gentle powerful man, this man who had come alongside of him, teaching him and loving him just as he was… Just as he was. Judas thought on those words. “But would he love me if he saw what I had done?” Judas felt a twinge of regret but pushed it aside. There wasn’t room for second-guessing his decision.
At that moment, Jesus turned and looked directly at him. Judas felt the color rise in his cheeks and his pulse quicken. Jesus cocked his head to one side and seemed to stare deep into Judas’ soul. Judas looked down, unable to withstand the scrutiny. “He knows,” Judas thought. And He did. Jesus reached out and took the loaf of bread from the basket beside him. He held it in his hands and waited for the lump in his throat to lessen. He did indeed know of the plans Judas had made. He’d known all along, but there was no anger, no resentment – only sadness. He tore off a piece of the bread and held it out to Judas. Judas felt the words more than heard them. “This is my body,” Jesus whispered, “broken for you.” Even to this one – a part of his special band of friends – even to this one – the one who sold him out for a few silver coins, his dear friend – even to this one, Jesus reached out and offered the bread, the wine. When he did, Judas looked up, right into the knowing, loving, sad eyes of Jesus.
Instinctively Judas reached into his pocket, his fingers closing around the coins, cold and hard to his touch. Still, Jesus held the bread out to him, waiting, willing him to understand the ramifications his decision would have. Judas reached out and hesitated. Jesus nodded, and Judas took the piece that Jesus offered and raised it to his mouth. Suddenly the room seemed to press in on him. It was as though the air had been sucked out, leaving him gasping for breath. “I must get out of here! Now!” Judas thought. He dropped the bread to the table and stood. How could he possibly stay when the Darkness was calling? Judas knew what he had to do. After all, he was the one handing Jesus over tonight.
Jesus stood as Judas turned to him. “Do what you must do,” Jesus whispered, and Judas left. The bread lay on the table where it had been tossed. Broken, for him…
Jesus had known this morning, and he knew now, that the darkest hour in all of history was approaching. The weight of it was in his every thought and in his every action, but the words around the table broke into his thinking. “Who’s better?” They were asking. “Who’s greater? Which one of us? Which of us gets to sit by you when you rule?” The others were looking at him, waiting for his response.
He wanted to cry out, “Don’t you get it? I am the greatest. I am God, yet here I am, serving you. I’m serving my blood, my flesh. You sit at my table, but I serve you.”
But instead, he held out his hand towards them. “Who is greater?” he reiterated their question, and he slowly spread his hands out wide, palms out. He stood there… with his arms outstretched. The God of the universe stood there, arms outstretched. “The table is spread for me, don’t you see, but here I am serving.” He lowered his hands to his sides. “I am serving you.” They heard him, but he knew they didn’t understand.
He stopped for a moment and thought back over the past three years. As he sat back down, his voice, filled with emotion, dropped to almost a whisper. “My friends, you have stood by me, through everything. You’ve followed wherever I led. You left everything for me. And I give everything for you… You are my dearest, dearest friends.” He paused, getting control of the tears that threatened to spill out as blood. “My friends, my brothers, I give you my very kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table….” His eyes swept each face, lingering on Peter. Then he continued. “Who is the greatest, you ask.” He smiled then and stood back up. In one hand he picked up the loaf, and tore the pieces, handing them to each one. “Ah, friends, the greatest will serve.” As he handed each one the bread and poured the wine, they began to eat and the conversations resumed. The laughing, the joking, the jostling. Yes so comfortable in their companionship. Are they truly ready? He wondered and turned away. They didn’t see the tear.
And Peter? Oh sweet, rough, big Peter! A bull of a man. But he’d never let Jesus be taken – or so Peter said. Oh, Peter, I see inside of you. You’re so headstrong, and so heart weak. Still… I love you. I hurt because you are my precious child. You’re going to feel so very bad. You’re going to know regret to the depths of your soul… “I’ve prayed for you,” Jesus said to Peter. Jesus knew what would happen. He would look right at Peter – at that awful moment when Peter would deny him. Jesus knew what would happen – but he had already prayed for Peter – that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail. He knew that Peter would fall beneath the unbearable pain of regret. “I’ve messed up so big that I might as well give up!” he’ll cry. “Unpardonable!” he’ll despair. Jesus saw all of this; he knew what would be coming. I want to tell him, Jesus thought. No more of that thinking, Peter. Get rid of that thinking, he wanted to say. But Jesus simply handed him the bread and said, “I’ve prayed for you, that your faith won’t fail.” He paused. “And even more, Peter…” Will he understand this? “Peter, even more, use this to show others.”
He knew that the Father will take Peter’s darkest, most crushing failure and turn it into help, if only Peter will allow. Yes, Peter, use it to strengthen others.
“I’m ready to go with you to prison and to death,” Peter announced with fierce bravado, but Jesus looked deep into Peter’s eyes – Peter, so confident of his own loyalty – Oh, my friend, my big bear of a friend, Jesus thought, you’ll deny me. You’ll be afraid. You’ll be weak. … You’re going to hurt tonight. Peter looked searchingly into the eyes of Jesus, waiting for his response. Jesus put a hand on Peter’s arm. That same hand would be ravaged in a few short hours. The bread – his flesh – was being chewed and swallowed. The wine – his blood – was being swallowed. Noise filled the room. Plates clinked, glasses rang. There was talking, laughing. All were oblivious to the horrors approaching. Jesus leaned in close to Peter. “I’ve prayed for you, dear friend.”
Darkness was falling. Dinner was over, and slowly the talking began to cease. One by one they stretched and stood, their stomachs satisfied. “Shall we go now, Jesus?”
“Yes, let’s go.”
They headed to the door, but stepped aside to let him lead, such comfort in routine. They all fell into step, knowing where they were headed. After all, they went there each night. It was quite a walk, but worth it. Jesus loved it there – the quiet, the calm, a great reprieve from the hectic day - his place to pray.
Finally, they arrived at the garden and began to stretch out to let sleep overtake them, but Jesus squatted down, and they leaned in to hear. He saw their drowsiness, but knew that they would need every ounce of strength. It’s soon. I can feel it. He trembled and turned to look out to the trees. They were all watching him waiting for his words. They heard him, even though his back was to them. “Pray this time… Pray.” His gaze remained on the trees before him. The trees were towering soldier standing guard, but were they friend?.... or foe? He turned back and faced them. “Don’t let temptation take you.” They nodded.
He slowly stood and walked on. each step becoming harder to take, heavy with the burden. Tears streamed down his face, unchecked. He moved further and further through the trees until he came to the clearing and fell to his knees. “Oh, Father, it’s hard knowing so much,” he sobbed. He bowed his head in despair. “If only I didn’t know.” He covered his face with his hands. “Can I do this? Must I do this?” But he already knew the answer. “I’m so tormented!” He repeated over and over, rocking with grief. His arms wrapped around himself. “Is there another way? Please, Father, another way!” The veins in his neck pulsed with his intensity. His breathing was short and ragged as he cried out again, “Can I do this?” But then he lowered his head, and his breathing steadied. He looked up, beyond the sky. “I know what you want… for your glory… for their souls.”
The Father brushed the Son – a kiss of wind, a touch of love. “Yes, Father, I know what you want…” The Father waited. “And I’ll do it.” The Father looked down at his son’s hands, touching The Place. He felt his forehead, knowing where each mark would be. He gently traced his side and ached for his son. “I’ll do this for you,” Jesus whispered. “I’ll do this for them… Yes, I know what you want… and I want what you want. Jesus pleaded for strength then, crying out to The One. The intensity of the emotions, the gravity of this moment throbbed in his veins, breaking though the capillaries, mixing with his sweat. Water and blood. Such a foreshadowing. He cried out again and again as wings whispered around him, shielding the Son. He beseeched his father, for strength for himself and for them. Oh how they’ll need it.
Suddenly he sat up. The hour had come. “I need them, Father. I need them to pray. For me. For themselves!” He stood and turned, weaving his way back through the trees, pushing branches from his face. Back towards his friends, his praying friends. Slowly at first, then his pace quickened. He was feeling the urgency, the vital need of their prayers. “Yes, I need them!” He called out into the night. He was nearly running now. It will be soon now – what I came here for. It’s soon. He knew it, could feel it, could taste it. The branches tore at his flesh, no longer his guards. They held a deeper secret now, a darker secret, soon to be unleashed. But when he reached the clearing, he stopped, his heart broken with sorrow. He dropped to his knees. They hadn’t prayed. They were sleeping. Sleeping! He dropped his head in despair. They hadn’t prayed.
“Wake up!” He shouted fervently. “Wake up!” His voice had a panicked edge to it. “Pray! Pray!” He was yelling as he went from one to the other, shaking them awake, willing them to be alert and ready.
Startled, they looked around. “What?! What is it, Jesus?” Fear rose in their voices. They began to get up, feeling embarrassed that they hadn’t prayed as he had asked, confused at his urgency.
The night was quickly changing. They sensed the difference. Clouds covered the moon’s light. The air had a sudden chill. In the distance – What was it? Noises. Voices. Movement. Was it their imaginations? The trees seemed to close in, and Darkness reached out for them. They looked at Jesus, following his gaze.
He was staring into the trees with an expression they couldn’t translate. He looked back at them, then turned, resolute, ready, his hands at his sides. He faced the trees expectantly. Their hearts were beating, dread rising. Unconsciously, they huddled together. As they watched, someone emerged from the shadows.
It was Judas! They hadn’t even realized he wasn’t with them. Almost collectively, they sighed in relief. Why had Jesus been so intense? they wondered.
But then they saw the others. And suddenly, they knew.
Judas stepped forward, hesitantly. With a stilted motion he greeted Jesus, a kiss to the cheek. Suddenly the night air was electrified. More and more men poured into the clearing. The disciples began moving – at first as one. “Stay together!” they yelled to each other, but as desperation took over, they began to separate.
“I have a sword!” Peter whispered hoarsely to Jesus who was standing behind him. Turmoil ensued. It was hard to distinguish good from bad. Shouting, wrestling, seizing. Guards were running, clamoring – seemingly all towards Jesus. The men pushed and fought. Fists and screams. The web of bodies became sheer chaos.
Peter reached out, shouting, “I will strike them, Lord!” The blade came down slicing into skin. Peter twisted the sword as it sunk into soft flesh. He heard the startled man scream in agony, grabbing at the side of his face. Blood oozed through his fingers. “My ear! My ear!” the man cried. More shouts and screams. Confusion ruled.
“NO MORE!” The shout echoed through the night, into the trees, and out into space. Everything stopped. Only heavy breathing and the moaning of the wounded one could be heard. “No more!”
Jesus knelt down and picked up the mangled flesh of ear lying at his feet. They all watched him. He walked over and leaned down. Gently, he pulled the man’s hand away from his face. The blood was flowing freely now, ragged flesh hung down limply with a gaping hole in the side of his face, skin dripping. “No more of this,” Jesus said quietly. He reached to touch the man’s face. The man winced and drew away, but Jesus held him firmly and placed the severed ear to the hole. He held it there, then let go. The bleeding stopped. The moaning stopped.
Jesus stood then, and the others stepped back, widening the circle. “Am I a rebel that you come with swords?” He circled around. “Every day I am at the temple. Every day, you hear me. Why this? Why now?” He walked the ring of men, as if caged, yet he questioned with authority. Peter stood behind him not sure whether he should run or stay. Jesus turned and stopped to look at Peter. He held Peter’s stare momentarily, as if trying to tell him something. Then he turned back to the others. “But this,” he said to them, “is your hour.” He paused. “Darkness reigns.”
With that, everything came unglued. They closed in on him, grabbing his arms, his hair. His friends fled then, into the cover of the trees, into the depths of the night. This is it, Father! He cried in his heart.
And they seized him.
In the distance now, the muffled shouts could still be heard, but slowly, steadily, the peaceful night sounds returned. The only remnant of the preceding turmoil was matted grass and broken branches. No one who entered the clearing would guess what had gone on before. The locusts resumed their buzz. Leaves rustled in the light breeze. Stillness settled back in.
A lone figure bent down in the shadow and touched a spot on the ground. His finger lingered over the fresh blood. He ran then. He ran through the trees. But he couldn’t run fast enough. He would never be able to run fast enough – or far enough – to forget. After all, he had just kissed Jesus with death.
When he could run no further, Judas fell to his knees in torment. “What have I done?!”