It’s Thursday of Holy Week/Passion Week. It’s a day filled with last things, wrapping up, goodbyes, ultimates. Last opportunities for teaching in the temple (after the preceding few days, the Passover-attending crowds would have been enormous, eager, crowding in to listen to every word Jesus spoke). Oh! To know what Jesus chose to teach about on that day of days! To know the responses of the people gathered from far and wide. I can almost catch Jesus’ aroma wafting through the air, that divine perfume of which Paul will later write, speaking to the people of life, but speaking to the religious leaders of death. And what about the spreading of this clinging aroma and radical message when the faithful return to their homes, transformed by a love so otherworldly they can’t describe it?

After another full day at the temple, there’s the pre-arranged room where they share the Passover meal. The disciples are wearied from days of high anxiety, of scanning the crowds for danger, of listening for any hint of a plot to harm Jesus. The very atmosphere in the city, despite the festival, is malevolent. They sense it. Everywhere. But this traditional evening together relieves some of the tension, bringing some normalcy back into their lives. Yet they all arrive and take their places around the table without a thought (in the absence of a servant to do it) to first washing their feet as custom required. I picture, following a moment of awkward silence, Jesus standing up (what’s he doing?), taking off his robe (all holding their breath now), tying a servant’s towel around his waist (Oh, no!), pouring water into a basin (please, not this!), and silently, oh so deliberately, oh so lovingly, proceeding to wash the unwashed feet of his dearest friends (all attempting to fight back tears of humiliation. Well, all but Peter!). And this, mere minutes after he’s expressed his passion and desire, as their Lord, to share this meal with them!

When Jesus is again dressed and seated, he goes off-script, detailing the significance of the Passover, making it intensely personal, weightily ‘now.’ The minutes spool out, the words blur, and then – it is time. Hearts leaden, heads spinning, stomachs churning, the group files wordlessly into the street, and away from the city to the foreboding night shadows of Gethsemane. Grief and a nameless terror combine to make prayer impossible for the disciples. Sleep overwhelms. Is this the end of their story? PD

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