After Judas’ treacherous deal with the chief priests, the story seems to careen toward the cross. For the disciples, Thursday will be full of surprises.
Jesus and the Twelve head back into Jerusalem. Jesus has already arranged for a private place to celebrate the Passover supper. After sunset, their last meal together begins.
The disciples get their first surprise when Jesus rises from the table, then lowers himself to wash their dusty feet. Peter reacts as he did when Jesus first predicted his own death: “No way!” Jesus is Teacher and Lord: it is not his place to perform menial acts of service. But that is precisely the point. Jesus demonstrates what his lordship entails, giving them an example of humble service to follow.
They return to the table for the second surprise. Jesus predicts that one of the Twelve will betray him. They are confused, mortified, filled with doubt: Which one of us would do such a thing? Could it be me?
Judas then vanishes into the night, to complete his bargain with the chief priests. Supper over, Jesus and the remaining disciples leave the city. Somewhere on the way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus drops the third surprise: all of them will soon scatter like frightened sheep. Even headstrong Peter will fail, by denying Jesus not once, but three times. Peter and the others protest, not knowing how sorely their loyalty was about to be tested.
In Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples to keep watch while he prays to his Father in nearby solitude. But they fall asleep, no doubt emotionally exhausted by the day’s troubling revelations. Suddenly, they awake to the biggest surprise of all: Roman soldiers, hundreds of them, armed. The temple police. And at their head, Judas, their trusted comrade.
As they run from the garden, the scattering disciples discover again that Jesus was right.
No surprise there.
Lord, we remember: the night you were betrayed is the night you instituted the ritual of the bread and cup, that we might continually bring your sacrifice to mind. But I confess that I forget to examine myself first, as the disciples might have done looking back on that night. Am I overconfident of my loyalty? Am I afraid of following a God who washes feet and submits to crucifixion? What is it about discipleship that will take me by surprise? Open my eyes and ears; teach me. Amen.