I missed Maundy Thursday services this year, which is a shame because of how the events of one day run right into the next in the life of Christ. For Jesus of Nazareth, there was no going to sleep that night. It was all one long ordeal, ending in death.
Late Thursday night found Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of Mount Olivet, just outside of Jerusalem. His closest disciples nodded off while their leader prayed fervently. He dreaded what was coming so much that the Gospel of Luke tells us he was sweating blood.
With good reason. A detachment of Romans soldiers in the service of the Jewish temple authorities showed up. Turncoat disciple Judas, whose feet Jesus had stooped to wash only hours earlier, singled the rabbi out with a kiss on the cheek.
Simon Peter has been damned for his cowardice in the events that followed. He denied knowing Jesus again and again before a rooster brought in the morning and is thus called craven. Confused beyond belief is probably a better way of putting it.
Any time Romans laid hands on a would-be messiah, there tended to be buckets of blood shed. In this case, the only bloodletting was comical.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that one of the disciples drew a sword and tried to fight the Romans, lopping off someone’s ear in the process. The writers are too sheepish to name that disciple. It falls to John to inform us: it was Peter. The person whose ear he lopped off was named Malchus, a servant of the high priest.
Jesus made Peter sheathe his sword and talked the mob into letting the disciples walk if he would go peacefully. The wonder working rabbi healed the man’s ear, which could have made for a Monty Pythonesque scene they had leveled charges against Peter as well. (“Then he cut off my ear!” “Your ear?” “Well, I got better!”)
Still, you can’t blame Peter for denying that he knew Jesus as the Sanhedrin deliberated Jesus’s fate. Things were uncertain and dangerous, and everything he thought he knew had been called into question.
Inside the temple and before the Roman governor Pilate, it was Jesus’s stubborn attachment to his message that damned him. Temple authorities couldn’t find enough witnesses who agreed to hang the charge on him. So the high priest asked him, point blank: Are you the messiah?
The Gospel of Mark gives Jesus’s answer: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
But that’s not what Jesus’s enemies saw that Friday. They saw Jesus convicted, beaten, mocked, vilified before the masses, broken down from exhaustion on the way to his own scheduled execution.
They saw his followers confused, demoralized, scared, scattered to the winds. They saw the machinery of the Roman empire hoist yet another victim upon a cross. They watched him suffer up there, cry out and, finally, die. They saw a spear pierce his side, giving proof.
Folks who had felt threatened by Jesus saw the corpse taken down off the cross and carried away for burial. For them, it had been a particularly good Friday. They must have thought that was the end of the story.