Maundy Thursday

Nathanael had decided he didn’t like Jerusalem.

Whatever he has expected when they had entered into this city, this wasn’t it. First there had been a burst of adoration, with crowds cheering and hopes flying. Everyone seemed to be waiting for “it.” Even though no one quite knew what “it” was. The Teacher had always been rather cryptic about “it,” but had made it plain that “it” was going to happen, that it would happen in Jerusalem, and that it would be glorious.

By midweek, there was no sign of “it.” No angels. No armies miraculously sweeping away the omnipresent Roman soldiers. No poor being made high. Nothing. The crowds melted away as quickly as they came, replaced by warnings that “Men are looking for you. Important men. You better watch your back.”

The worst change was with the Teacher. No more laughter, no more bold declarations. The failure of “it” to happen weighed on him the worst. At his best now he seemed resigned, at his worst petulant. “This is how it must be,” he kept saying. Nathanael had once thought giving up his family and livelihood to follow the Teacher had been the best move he’d ever made. Now he was reconsidering.

Thank heaven Judas was there. Judas, his cousin, who had brought him to the Teacher and preceded him into the Twelve. Judas, the wisest, most pious person he had ever known.

“What do we do, Jude?” he asked his cousin.

“We stay with him. For as long as he deserves.”

It was Passover. A man they had met on Sunday had then offered them a room for the Seder. Now he seemed distinctly nervous to have them under his roof, but he wasn’t rude enough to rescind the gesture.

The Teacher took his place at their head. He seemed to be in a daze. He stared at the elements of the Seder. He picked up a matzoh.

Snap! The crusty bread fractured in his hands, hard enough to send splinters around the room.

The Teacher looked at them and said “This is my body. As this is broken, I will be broken.”

No one said anything.

He beat on the matzoh with his fist, smashing it. He gave each of them a fragment. “Eat this. This is my flesh. Eat it.”

Peter spoke up, in a soothing tone: “Teacher, do you–”

“Eat!” Jesus screamed. “If you do not eat this, you are not my disciples!”

So they ate.

The Teacher picked up the cup and said “This is blood. This cup is filled with blood. Drink it, or you are not my disciples.”

They passed the cup around in silence.

“The end has come. All of you will abandon me. One of you will encompass my destruction. And it has to be this way. It can be no other way.”

It was clear now: the lovely Teacher had gone mad. The weight of the week had broken him. Nathanael wanted to cry out and tear his clothes, but it might only anger him more. They had sacrificed everything for this madman. Next to him he could see Judas’s face red with unspoken anger.

The teacher stood.

“I am going to pray at Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. Do what you must.”

He left. A few baffled minutes later, the owner of the house appeared. “Why are you still here? I can’t have you found here! Get out!”

So Nathanael and the others stumbled into the lightless street, trying to decide what to do. Peter, James, and John went off to find the Teacher. Phillip wanted to return to Galilee in the morning. Matthew spoke of going to the Essenes.

Nathanael had never felt more unsure in his life. He turned to his oldest friend:

“Judas, what do you think we should do? Jude? Jude?”

Next to him, the street was empty. The darkness had swallowed Judas.

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