The following words were written by Jeanie Gilbert 30 years ago. It was created as a play for Maundy Thursday.
It is a time for remembrance. The Last Supper. The Garden. The Betrayal. It is a time to remember, to acknowledge. But go one step farther. Take this story, this part of Jesus’ life and walk through it. Look at it with your mind’s eye, feel it within your spirit. Be present there with Jesus. Knowing what He knew. Imagine for a moment what He was feeling. Make the story come to life.
Travel in your mind back to the crowded city of Jerusalem. It is the day before Passover. Time for water to be drawn, the bread kneaded for the feast. All leavening must be put away from Jewish households.
The city is filled with faithful people weighted down with their belongings, eager to find a place to stay for the week.
Jesus and the disciples stayed in Bethany last night, just outside of Jerusalem. The disciples are worried. There has been growing anger in the city toward their Master. Because it is the custom to eat the Passover meal within the walls of the city, they wanted to know what plans Jesus had made.
Following Jesus’ instructions, Peter and John go into Jerusalem. They find a man standing beside a well, filling his pitcher. No words are spoken. The man leaves; the disciples follow. They walk through the city streets, coming to a home. The man goes up some steps to a large upper room. This is the room where Jesus will meet with them and they will have their Passover meal together.
At sundown, Jesus arrives with the other disciples. Each one is seated. Jesus speaks to them, telling them how important it is to Him that He share this meal with them.
Here the story of a meal becomes a sacrament. This is a more than a tale of sad parting. More than a man gathering his friends around him. Jesus is surrounding Himself with those He loves to share one last meal. He is holding His friends close. He is confirming the old and founding the new fellowship.
The burden of what lies ahead weighs on His shoulders. It cannot be shared or understood.
A common meal shared with friends. The disciples joined Jesus for many meals throughout His ministry. It means personal fellowship with their Master. Their world revolved around Him and every word He said.
The meal is finished. Jesus is speaking to them. He is telling them one will betray Him. What He says is not an accusation. He says it as a statement not to be denied.
The room is quiet. For one moment the awful possibility is in front of each one of them. Did each wonder, “Have I unknowingly betrayed Him?”
Each questions Jesus: “Is it I, Lord?”
Jesus looks at one and says, “Thou hast said.” He does not accuse. He merely gives back the responsibility to the one to whom it belongs.
Judas wondered how He knew. He must have wanted to say something, to explain. But looking into Jesus’ eyes, he realizes there is nothing left to say. He turns his back and walks out.
Truly this is now Jesus’ table.
Never again would He be beyond the reach of any man’s heart.
Taking the loaf of bread in His hands, He blesses it. He breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. “This is My body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Jesus picks up the cup of wine. After giving thanks, He blesses it. “Drink it, all of you. This is My blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sin.”
They leave the upper room now. Jesus and his disciples are going to Gethsemane. As they walk, Jesus talks to them. He tells them before the day is over, each will turn away from Him.
It is Peter that runs to Him. He will never turn away. He loves him. Brave words, unquestionably sincere and felt by each disciple.
When they reach the garden, eight of the disciples remain at the entrance. Jesus asks Peter, James and John to come with Him into the shadows. Jesus talks to them. The impact of all of this is crushing Him.
He reaches out to John and puts His hand on his shoulder. He tries to tell him of His great sorrow and the desperate need for them to remain close and watch.
He turns and walks into the loneliness to pray.
Few other scenes will be the source of such strength. You know the words He utters on this night. The spiritual struggle is His alone. Here as never before, you see Jesus as a man. His pain, His aloneness is so obvious — yet, the disciples have fallen asleep.
“Could you not watch with me for one hour?”
Even now with the agony of what He feels, he understands.
He rises and slowly walks back through the garden. As each disciple awakens and looks to Him, He reaches out and touches them — loving them. He cares so very much. He knows the fear they will feel, the shame and the doubt. Throughout the night, He has told them of many things to come, but no one understands.
Now, He must silently say goodbye. The hour has come and He will face it alone.