Today is Maundy Thursday. This is the day Christians remember the Last Supper, and the night Judas betrayed Jesus. “Maundy” is the English form of the Latin “mandatum” or “the new commandment.” It is the night Jesus institutes the last supper and exhorts his disciples to eat and drink in honor of him until he joins them again.
This piece is a longer bit of writing written by me for use in our church’s Maundy Thursday service a couple of years ago.
On The Night He Was Betrayed
On the night Jesus was betrayed he stood on the precipice, staring out into the great Darkness. It is for the purpose of confronting the darkness that he has come. His Light shines into that darkness, and the darkness will not conquer Him.
But to grasp the meaning of this night, we must go back to the beginning; to the source of the darkness. We must go back to the Creation; to the Creature made in the image of its Creator. It was to bring glory to the Creator that the Creation was made, and to receive the gift of joy given from the Creator was its reward. But the Creature wanted more than the Creator.
The darkness of the dissatisfied heart drove the Creature to lust after the power of the Creator. “To know what He knows, that is real power. The Creator is withholding something good from us.” The Creatures want to be their own gods. “It is so easy,” speaks the soft, alluring voice. “This fruit is both good for food and pleasing to the eye”. And so with this simple rebellion the Darkness entered the Creation.
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15)
To the Serpent, a curse: “You will be the lowest and most despised. You will crawl ignobly about in the dirt, and the woman you deceived will have a child. That child will, with his foot, smash your head into the very dirt that you eat, and your power will be no more.”
To the Woman, a curse: “That which I meant as the greatest of my gifts to you, instead of joy, will bring you tears. The gift of life will now become pain to you. This hostility planted here in this garden will bear its fruit, and there will always be conflict between you and the man. What was meant as a beautiful reflection of the Three who are One, is now a cracked image.
To the Man, a curse: “I told you, O man, not to eat of that tree, but you wanted more than just me. You had it all, but it wasn’t enough. You had me, you had her, you had this creation, but it wasn’t enough. Now it is in ruins, and it will no longer serve you willingly. At the end of your life, it will reclaim you. Do not forget that you were but dust until I breathed life into you, and dust you will be again.
And so the Darkness grew. In short order, a brother is slain, and the Creation grows darker still. The Creature did whatever was pleasing to it with no regard to the Creator. In the midst of his pain, the Creator destroys that which he has made save one Creature and his family. In the days that follow it seems that the Creature has at last learned fidelity the Creator, but the Darkness owns his heart. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” The Creatures want to be their own gods.
There was a Creature called Abram who found the favor of the Creator in the midst of the darkness.
2“I will make (him) into a great nation, and I will bless (him); I will make (his) name great, and (he) will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless (him), and whoever curses (him) I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through (him).”
But this Creature and his descendants were consumed by Darkness, and if not for the gracious promise of the Creator would have long since perished. Abraham falters, and a son is born to a maidservant. A wife is punished for loving the sin of earthly cities more than the Creator. Daughters bear children with their father. A promised son is born, and the father has to send the other into the wilderness. Parents play favorites among children. A Trickster deceives his father, and cheats his brother. An uncle cheats the Trickster, a husband doesn’t love his wife, and 11 brothers sell the youngest into slavery. The Creatures want to be their own gods.
Still, the Creator preserves his people. He brings them into a distant land, and when the time is right he brings them out again. The Creator gives to his people the Law. It is the gift that allows the Creature to see, perhaps for the first time, just how holy the Creator is. But it isn’t enough. They can’t and don’t follow the law. Their hearts are full of the Darkness. The Creatures want to be their own gods.
The Creator puts them in the land that he promised, but it wasn’t enough. The Creatures follow false gods, and not their Creator. They distort His image. They burn their children alive, they practice sexual acts in the name of fertile blessing, they abuse the weak and the poor, and violate the Law again and again. The Creatures want to be their own gods.
The Creatures cry out, “We want a king!” The faithful Samuel is at a loss, but the Creator reminds him,
“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” The faithful Samuel gives them warning. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” The Creatures want to be their own gods.
Despite the rejection, the gracious Creator chooses a king for the people. A young man named David. To David, the Creator makes a promise.
‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”
Even after receiving the king for which they asked, it does not take long for the Creatures to prove once again they are incapable obeying the Creator. The nation splits as bad kings follow good kings, and bad kings are followed by good kings. The northern kingdom is tortured, burned, skinned, and taken away like fish with hooks in their mouths, never to be seen again. The southern kingdom survives for just a short time longer, only to be taken away into captivity. The Creator is grieved, but in the midst of this chaos, he sends His prophets to carry forth His message. These voices offer reminders and warnings:
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
“A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the Lord their God. “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.” (Jeremiah 3:21-23)
But there are promises also:
““The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
At the last, there is a foreseeable end to the dominion of Darkness. The Creator has promised that it would be so. With this promise there is also a foretelling of a messenger; a harbinger who will usher in the Day of Salvation.
““See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:1)
““See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”” (Malachi 4:5-6)
The father of the messenger sings…
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
And at last, the Light shines into the Darkness…
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
But all of that is the past.
Tonight, Jesus stands on the precipice staring out into the darkness. It is for the purpose of confronting the darkness that he has come. His Light shines into that darkness, and the darkness will not conquer Him. The greatest darkness the world has ever known will come tomorrow. That will be the day that the Triune Creator tears himself asunder in order to save his rebellious Creation.
But that is for tomorrow.
Tonight Jesus will begin his ordeal that will, in a few days, bring all the promises of God together. He will establish once and finally that he is in fact the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
Tonight, Jesus will teach his disciples that the Kingdom of God is not for the powerful, but for the humble. He will wash their feet.
Tonight, Jesus will teach his disciples that the Kingdom of God is not establish with weapons, power, manipulation, or political influence, but only by the Gospel of his body and spilled blood.
Tonight Jesus will show his disciples what it truly means to submit to the Creator. Sweating drops of blood, he will fall with his face to the ground and pray, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39
Tonight, the disciples will be shown once again that the Creature, full of darkness, will betray his Creator.
This is the way it has always been.