Maundy Thursday: This Too Must Be a Part of the Story
The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its while body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.
-Mary Oliver, from Thirst
Our sanctuary is framed with many beautiful stained-glass windows that tell the story of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. But my favorite window is actually found tucked in a corner of the narthex, leading into the sanctuary. It’s on the East wall of the building and is filled with morning sun, and it’s an image of Jesus praying at Gethsemane. And he’s all alone.
On Maundy Thursday we tell the story of the final night of Jesus’ earthly life, when he gathered with his disciples around a table to share one last meal. As three of the gospels tell it, it was at that table that he told them what was about to happen to him, what it meant, and how they were to respond. As John tells it, he also modeled for them, in an excruciatingly intimate way, the love he hoped they would remember and show to one another once he was gone.
And he did all of this knowing that in just a few hours time they would abandon, deny and betray him.
But he invited them to the table anyway. He ate with them anyway. He washed their feet anyway. Is this lesson all the more important for us today?
For most of us who attend a Maundy Thursday service this evening, the story will end there until we pick it back up again tomorrow on Good Friday. But as the gospels tell it, much more happened that night. Following supper, we’re told that they sang a hymn and then retreated to the Mount of Olives and a garden called Gethsemane. It’s here where the harsh reality of our human weakness began to unravel for all to see.
For many, the failure to walk with Christ to the cross involves not verbal denial or outright betrayal, but the easy and even understandable inability to stay awake. To not pay attention. To be unaware of the gravitas of the moment. Of each moment?
…how they must have wept, so utterly human, knowing this too must be a part of the story.
This too must be a part of the story.
We need not dwell here at the garden, or relive it over and over again in our minds hoping that this time it will be different. But we must tell it with the rest of the story.
Yet even as we do, never failing to remember what happened before Christ led us to that garden. That Christ invited us to the table anyway. That Christ ate with us anyway. That Christ washed our feet anyway. This too must be a part of the story.
Finally, praise God, the story of Easter is much less about what we do or fail to do, and much more about what Christ does for us anyway.