On the Christian calendar, today is Holy Thursday, the day we commemorate the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples, and the evening he spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for the strength to remain strong in the truth God had revealed to him. In honor of this holy day, I share with you an excerpt from my, as yet unreleased novel, Song of the Beloved – Jesus through the eyes of the Magdalene. I hope you find this reflection meaningful and supportive of your own Holy Week observance.
In Mary’s words:
On the evening of the third day of the week, Jesus shared the Passover meal with the Galilean men. We had already celebrated our final meal together and as Jesus had communicated to me in prayer, Jerusalem had become too dangerous for us to join them for the Passover observance. “Mary, I have called you Magdalene for a reason. As the great tower, you must remain as a beacon of truth for those who have eyes to see and hearts open to enjoying the fullness of God’s love, and a mirror for all who long for that which they cannot name. Should I perish, you will need to carry out my mission of love – one that they will never expect from a woman – and the House of Lazarus must be protected so that it may support you in this mission.” While I wanted nothing more than to be by his side, I remained in Bethany where Martha, Mother Mary, Salome, Lazarus and I gathered in prayer. Mary’s brother Joseph was expected to join us the following day. In Bethany we held prayerful vigil as the events in Jerusalem took form.
After finishing their Passover meal, Jesus sought time for his own prayer and preparation. Feeling imprisoned in the Upper Room, Jesus invited John and James to accompany him to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ favorite site within the city walls. Simon stood up in protest, “John is but a boy and James will not be enough to keep you safe. Let me go along with you.” Jesus accepted his offer in hopes that Simon, too, could join him in prayer and that in these final moments he might find the softness of heart that had, at this point, eluded him. So under the cover of darkness, Jesus, John, James and Simon stole from the Upper Room and found their way to Gethsemane.
For the first time, Jesus’ companions saw the vulnerability of the man they called Master – the kind of vulnerability that up to this time, Jesus had only shared with me. From my place of prayer, I felt within me the moment that my beloved Jesus fell to his knees in earnest supplication to God. As if sitting beside my beloved – or rather, within him, I felt his pain and saw his companions’ response. As Jesus’ heart tore open and he uttered his first plea to Abwoon, “Take this cup away from me.” Simon turned away. He could not bear the sight of his teacher in this desperate and weakened state. Confused by a mixture of revulsion and the tug of his own fears, Simon began to walk away. Just as he turned, Jesus called out to him, “Simon, you will deny me. I tell you, before the cock crows on the fifth day, three times you will deny me.” With this proclamation, my beloved looked deep into Simon’s eyes, deep into his soul and I felt Simon look away in shame as he realized the truth of Jesus’ words. Simon stumbled through the dusk and sank to his knees beneath an ancient olive tree, where he shed his own tears of grief and shame.
Jesus began to beg and plead with Our Lord, “Abwoon, I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me. This is a hard-hearted people and many refuse to see the light of truth. Must I be punished for the sake of a few? Am I a worthy sacrifice for their blindness? Are you so cruel – crueler to me than you were to Isaac? You spared Isaac, now prove your love and spare me!”
James looked on as his younger brother groveled before our Lord. A proud and haughty man, filled with vanity over his own faith and adherence to Hebrew law, he could not tolerate his brother’s lack of faith. He strode over, slapped Jesus hard across the face, “Snap out of it brother. Show some dignity. If you are as special as mother always said you were, God will rescue you from the hands of your accusers.”
Jesus looked back with fire in his eyes – the kind of fire known only between siblings. “Oh you would love for me to die on the cross – to show the world that you have always been the favored one, and to take your role as leader, wouldn’t you? I’ll tell you what James, take the role as leader, I don’t want it. It is yours!” James turned his back on his brother and walked away in a huff.
All that remained was John – soft-spoken and gentle John, with the depth of kindness in his eyes. He gingerly approached his brother Jesus, knelt down beside him and placed his hand gently on his shoulder. “I am here brother. I will not leave you alone in this. Do not despair. God will somehow work the good in all this.” With tears streaming down his face, Jesus looked deeply into John’s eyes and saw in his light-filled irises, the depth of his compassion and love.
For what seemed like hours, Jesus poured out his fear, bargaining with God, pleading and begging, screaming and ranting with God for his cruelty. Finally, just before dawn when he had emptied himself of all that lay within him, he sighed and said, “Not my will but your own. Let it be done to me as you will.” A sense of peaceful surrender, if not resignation, took over his countenance.
At the moment of Jesus’ surrender, James began shouting from somewhere near the entrance to the garden, “Soldiers – Roman soldiers and temple guards – brother.” In haste Jesus and John rose to their feet as the sound of soldiers’ boots echoed across the garden. Simon was startled out of his sleep and drew his sword. He took his place of defense in front of Jesus and was ready to strike. “Simon, put down your sword,” Jesus pleaded, “or they will kill you too.” I saw the soldiers enter the clearing dragging Judas by the nape of the neck. The soldiers held their grip on the struggling Judas, and he was no match for their weapons or their strength. The soldiers threw Judas at Jesus’ feet. “Show us the one they call King of the Jews,” they sneered.Judas slowly pulled himself up, shaking in fear and hanging his head in shame. The soldiers who had taken the bribe at the temple gates knew Judas to be one of Jesus’ followers and fingered him as one to follow if Jesus was to be found. He had been discovered at the market while procuring provisions for the disciples who remained hidden in the Upper Room. The soldiers captured him, and upon threat of death, forced him to lead them to Jesus. Judas approached Jesus, kissed him on the cheek and with tear soaked eyes whispered, “Forgive me Lord. I had no choice.” Jesus embraced him, “Judas, there is nothing to forgive. All is as it should be. Remember that you are love.” Without ceremony, the soldiers wrenched Jesus from Judas’ embrace, quickly bound his hands behind him and marched him out of the garden to the streets of Jerusalem.