Note: On Palm Sunday, I preached from Christ’s triumphal entry to his arrest in the garden this Thursday night (audio here). Having spent time studying the Gospel accounts and reading The Final Days of Jesus by Kostenberger and Taylor, I tried to lay out the narrative for our congregation’s eyes – hoping we could see more of Jesus together in the text. Below is the portion of my manuscript for Thursday, where we find Jesus and his disciples celebrating the Passover feast, and we end the night watching from the shadows of olive trees as Jesus is betrayed and arrested like a common thief. May it serve you as you look to enter into Christ’s grief this week, and as we approach tomorrow, Good Friday -the tomb filled- then Easter Sunday, when it was found empty.

It’s Thursday: Passover. This is the day, and by Old Testament law, the meal has to be eaten inside the city walls. Everyone is making plans, homes are full of relatives and the lines at the checkout are full of last minute shoppers.

Jesus knows that it’s going to be a long night, and his heart is heavy with what is ahead. You can’t separate his deity and humanity, it’s wrong to think he enters into this evening without emotion, fear, or the call for courage in the face of grief and pain.

Jesus is not a victim of circumstance or of power outside his control. He has been, is and will be in control at each turn of this week – regardless of what worldly power and demonic minds think is at play.

But tonight is his last meal to eat before he dies.

Tonight is his final chance to sit with his friends before their last three years are changed forever. It is their last supper together.

And tonight is a different kind of Passover, it is the last Passover of Old Covenant.

The blood of the lamb of God brings in a different and stronger word – the New Covenant is coming.

Given that this past week has made him a bit of a celebrity – where Jesus spends Passover is a big deal. It seems like he arranged dinner ahead time, and maybe with some secrecy.

I say this because when the disciples asked about dinner plans – he sent them find a man who was looking for them. It was already taken care of. Dinner that night was in a house at end the street, in a large upstairs room with high windows. There were a couple of columns spread wide across the room, a low table in the middle and cushions set out in a U shape to lean on while they ate. Jesus is sitting in the middle of the center table, and everyone is laying on their side, leaning on their left arms, feet out from the table, eating and drinking with their right hand.

The gospels all give nuanced accounts of dinner that night. It’s not that they saw or heard different things – they’re writing a narrative and include what hits their target audience best. That’s part of why I made that hybrid out of Mark.

John includes the most robust description of the night, detailed chapters about dinner and what Christ taught over the meal – but he doesn’t address what we call The Last Supper, what we know as communion. The synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke cover this in a pretty tight fashion. Like earlier, I mashed together their versions to help us today.

As we read this text, know that we’re standing together against the inside wall of the upper room. You can see the sun fading outside the windows, as stars will soon begin to show. The candles and lamps are lit inside, and the table is set for a  feast. Where it has been a triumphant week for many, the air in the room has turned sober. Jesus is talking about being betrayed, about suffering, about his body breaking, his blood spilling, about leaving – and a Helper coming.

We pick up in Mark 14:

[Mark 14:17] And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. [18] And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” [19] They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” [20] He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. [21] For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”   

[Matthew 26: 25] Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

[Luke 22: 15] And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. [16] For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” [17] And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. [18] For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” [19] And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” [20] And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

As there had been at many points that week, I’m sure a couple glances were shared between the disciples. They didn’t quite get what he was saying, but Jesus knew. Like I said, purposeful little anchors in memory. John says that Jesus does this so that when the disciples are sifted, they can remember he told them ahead of time. Jesus does this that their faith might be strengthened in their persecution. Jesus loved them, and looked out for them to the end.

We can tell from where we’re standing that the plates are empty – the meal is done, and there is one less of them at the table. Judas left early, some think to buy forgotten food or run an errand, we saw Jesus tell him something and then he was gone.

Throughout the meal we’ve heard them sing several times, but now, before the table is cleared and things are done – tradition calls for the final song: Psalm 118.

As we stand in the shadows of the room, the sun is long gone, the moonlight hits the rooftops around us, and the faces inside are lit only by flickers of lamplight. Their voices begin to echo off the stone walls.

And as we watch this circle of friends, of disciples and their Lord singing, we hear these words come from their mouths. One wonders Christ’s own thoughts as he sang, both text and subtext, together in his voice:

Psalm 118

[1] Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

[5] Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
[6] The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
[7] The LORD is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

[14] The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.

[17] I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
[18] The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.

[19] Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
[20] This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
[21] I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.

[22] The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.

[23] This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

[24] This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

[28] You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
[29] Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

After they sing, they leave through a door in the far corner off to our right, and head down the stairs, into the street. The Bible tells us they are headed to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prays and wrestles his will to the ground with his own blood. He prays for his disciples, his friends. He prays for those who would come to believe in him – for you and me.

On the last night of his life, Jesus prays that God would let us see his Glory, be one with him, and that God would keep us from evil. Jesus asks his Father that we might be a sign to the world, in unity and love, that He, Jesus, our King, is the true son, sent by the Father.

As we stand now in the darkness of the garden, we’re again hidden in the shadows, this time by thick olive trees, squatty trunks as round as tires and heavy with branches.

Jesus is walking toward us. Exhausted from prayer, he comes back to find his three friends, Peter, James, and John sleeping just off to our left. Their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak.

If there is any time to be awake – you would think it is now. These three have already been woken up twice by Jesus – but it’s late, the meal was long, the wine is heavy, and their bodies are tired. Jesus rouses them once more, saying something about it being time.

Wait, what are they looking at? Do you hear it? The footsteps? Do you see the torchlight? There is a mob coming quickly in the darkness.

There’s an awkward greeting, the hug of a friend, a kiss of betrayal, and a night of injustice ahead.

His is a heart full of grief, like no one has ever known.

Righteous, victorious and humble.

This is our King, and this is his hour.

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