Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Feast of the Passover

This is the day before the Passover Feast. The feast actually begins at sunset tonight so everyone is spending this day preparing for it. It must have seemed strange to the Apostles when Jesus told them that he wanted to celebrate this passover with them and not with family. After all he was staying with Mary, Martha and Lazarus who were just like family and I'm sure they expected him to share this feast with them.

So if they weren't going to share the passover feast with family then where were they going to have it? Jesus told two of his disciples to go into Jerusalem (there is that rough hike over the Mount of Olives again) and they would see a man carrying water. They were to follow him to a house and they were to ask the "Goodman" of that house if they could use his "guest chambers" for the "Master". To top it all off the room would be already prepared for the Passover meal. By this time the Apostles must have been used to the strange requests that the Lord made of them.

The Passover meal follows a very specific sequence of events. First of all the meal is traditionally lead by the head of the household. For this meal, Jesus obviously led the meal. The Passover meal is divided into four segments. In the first segment the person leading the meal offers a prayer and then everyone drinks the first of four glasses of wine. The family then eats celery sticks that have been soaking in salt water. This is to remind them of the tears that were shed by the Israelites while they were slaves in Egypt. Next comes the telling of the story of Exodus. This is always begun by the youngest male in the family (who can understand the question)  asking the question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?". The leader of the meal then tells the story of the Exodus. Psalms are then sung and the second cup of wine is drunk.  Next was the formal meal with the Paschal lamb, the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread. The bitter herbs (most commonly horseradish) are to remind them of the bitterness of their bondage while slaves in Egypt. Another prayer and the third cup of wine. Finally the leader of the meal sings additional psalms and the last cup of wine is drunk. 

At sunset Jesus and his apostles arrived at the upper room for their passover meal. The meal probably started normally but at some point it became very non-traditional. Jesus took the loaf of bread and broke off a piece for each of his apostles where were probably wondering what that was all about. He then told them to eat of the bread which represented his body. He then filled a cup with wine and had them all drink from it. He told them this represented his blood which was shed for them and for many others. He then told them that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until he drinks it with them new in the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus then went and got the bowl and pitcher of water that is normally used to wash the feet of guests as they enter ones home, a task that is normally done by servants. When Jesus knelt before his apostles and began to wash their feet they were horrified. So much so that when it came Peter's turn he said to Jesus, "you would wash my feet?" Jesus told him that even though he didn't understand why he was doing this, the time would come that he would understand. Peter still refused to let the Lord wash his feet. Jesus told him that if he didn't let him wash his feet then Peter would have no part of him. Of course Peter not only wanted Jesus to wash his feet but his hands and his head as well. Jesus told him that if he washed his feet then he would be clean all over.

Once he had washed all their feet he then returned to the table and admonished them to follow his example and they should be servants unto each other. He then mentioned that they weren't all clean but that there was one sitting at the table with him who would betray him. The apostles were astonished and asked one by one if it was him. 

Jesus then said that it was he to whom he gave the sop. Jesus then dipped a piece of the bread into one of the many sauces that they have with their passover meal and handed it to Judas. Since the table was large and difficult for everyone to reach the various bowls it was considered an act of deep respect to have someone dip your bread for you and then hand it to you. Jesus then told Judas to do it quickly. Judas was obviously embarrassed and left the room but most of the apostle didn't understand what was going on and they wondered where he was going.  He told them that he had one more commandment for them. To love one another. "By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

Jesus then tried to comfort his apostles and told them that his time with them was short and that they would not be able to follow where he was going, at least not at that time, but they could follow later. Peter apparently knew what he was talking about and declared that he would follow him anywhere whether it was in prison or in death. Jesus looked at him and told him that he would deny that he knew him, not once but three times before the cock would crow the very next morning.

Peter who had just promised to die for Jesus was stricken by the remark. Finally Jesus comforted him saying, "let not your heart be troubled. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself. I will do this, that where I am, there you may be also,"

Jesus then told his disciples that he would not leave them comfortless but that he would leave the Holy Ghost, The Comforter. If one is willing to listen, the Holy Spirit will teach him all things, bear witness to the truth, bring all things to your remembrance and bring peace to your heart.

Finally Jesus became much more solemn and told them how they would be persecuted, thrown out of the synagogues. He then said that whoever put them to death would think that they are doing God a service. 

Put them to death?!?! How would that make you feel?

They then closed the meal by singing a hymn and then they left. When they left out of the east gate of the Temple the Apostles must have thought they were returning to Bethany but when they got to Gethsemane they turned off the main road and stopped in the grove of Olive trees. Gethsemane in Greek means Olive Press so this must have been a place where olives were pressed into oil. In any case, Jesus often stopped and rested on the Mount of Olives when they returned to Bethany and this may have been where they usually rested. Jesus asked his apostles to wait for him while he went off on his own but he did asked Peter, James and John to go with him. He then instructed them to wait with him while he prayed. 

During all of this Judas had found the Sanhedrin and told them where they could find Jesus. Not wanting to get the wrong person they insisted that Judas remain with them and when they found them to make sure he identified exactly who Jesus was. He agreed to do this by kissing Jesus. 

Peter, James and John were probably close enough to Jesus to witness to some extent the agony that he was going through. They probably heard him cry out to the Father to "let this cup pass from me." And then moments later his resolve to endure what had to be done as he said, "Nevertheless...not as I will be as thou wilt." We can't understand just how the atonement took place or how it works but we do know that there in that Garden on this very night two millennia ago Jesus suffered for our sins and by so doing he paid the price necessary for my soul to return to my Father in Heaven. The pain of that suffering was so great that he sweat drops of blood. Some have argued that this was only figurative but I believe it was real. Sweating blood has been documented to happen in rare cases of extreme pain and the pain that our Lord suffered on this night exceeds any pain ever suffered by mortal man. The pain that Christ was to suffer during the following day was nothing compared to the pain that he suffered there in that garden for you and I.

I feel sorry for Peter, James and John. It was late, they'd just eaten a good meal and they were exhausted. I've been in that situation and no matter how hard I try I just can't keep my eyes open. I don't think I could if my life depended upon it and so it was with Peter and his brethren. Jesus returned twice and chastised them saying, "What? Could you not watch with me for one hour?" that would be me. On the third time Jesus let them sleep without disturbing them and endured his suffering alone. But he wasn't alone, Angels came to give him strength during his ordeal. 

When it was over Jesus woke his apostles and told them that "The son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up. Let us be going. He who shall betray me is at hand." As they were leaving, Judas met them and greeted his Lord by kissing him. The guards who came to take Jesus were not Romans but rather Temple guards who answered to the Sanhedrin. The guards had been standing back in the dark out of sight but as Judas identified who Christ was they came forward to arrest Jesus. The apostles were probably on the alert from the moment Jesus said he'd been betrayed and when one of them approached Jesus, Peter quickly swung his sword at the guard who came forward and cut off the guards ear. Jesus reproached Peter and said that those who take the sword shall perish by the sword. Jesus then pointed out that if he wanted he could ask Heavenly Father to send down twelve legions of Angels to save him "but how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled?" Jesus then reached forth and restored the guards ear. Can you imagine how he must have felt? I don't know if he continued with the other guards to take Jesus to Annas but if he did I'm sure it was out of duty and his heart was no longer in it. 

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