The topic tonight was on how reflecting on Jesus' certain of death the next day increases the poignance of what he says and does with every minute before that consummation.
Holy Thursday 2018
Last Jan 30, about 4:00 PM, I was sitting with Curt Bromm and Karen Bohac, signing my will and my medical power of attorney papers.
It was a kind of surreal feeling.
In 12 hours I’d be getting in the shower to start my prep for open heart surgery.
(Yes, this confirms I’ve never done anything ahead of time, even if my life depends on it.)
It was surreal because on the short drive home, and on the longer drive I took with Pat and Angie Burke who drove me to Lincoln that night to stay overnight with friends, I felt I was thinking with an utterly different brain than I had had even at noon that same day. I felt and thought so differently.
This was especially interesting since ever since college I had been fascinated by the psychology of “final nights”: How a person acts and thinks when they know or think it could be their last night on earth.
Obviously the first and foremost in my head was Jesus in his agony in the garden.
But I had noticed in books and movies and memoirs, that there were variants on this theme.
I even have a note in my phone keeping a list of them as I come across them. The last addition was made in 2011 apparently.
C.S. Lewis clearly reflected on idea of "final nights" a lot.
Most famous is Aslan, and what he goes through the night he’s handed over to the Witch. This is especially poignant since we don’t se him as a Christ figure yet.
But even more connectable for us humans is his telling of the last night of the girl, Psyche, in his updated myth, Till We Have Faces.
The key trait that is shared: This sudden, incredible sharpness of focus.
Field of vision is narrower, but clearer.
Everything else disappears.
A tunnel vision on only what really matters.
In the final Harry Potter book, the mental workings as Harry walk into the forest to confront Voldemort.
In the movie Dead Man Walking the man’s demeanor totally changes after his last appeal is rejected and he knows he’ll die.
William Wallace in Braveheart in the prison.
The author, Dostoyevsky, tells of his being just about to be executed and suddenly pardoned and his thoughts through it.
John Proctor in the play The Crucible, and his last minute obsession with only one thing, his name.
I, of course, was not facing imminent doom.
Only a 1% chance of death.
A 1% chance of a stroke or other that would permanently affect my brain.
Small. But still enough to make you think: “I am here, but I might not be I in 24 hours.”
I wouldn’t get on a plane that had a 1 in 50 chance of crashing. And neither would you probably, unless they said if you don’t, in next year you have a 100% chance of your car exploding.
But still it changes how you think.
Why am I bringing this all up on Holy Thursday?
Because Jesus is about to die.
If he didn’t know that from the human signals he knew that from divine knowledge.
Gospels tells us he knew that tomorrow was the the day.
And fiction and non-fiction, literature and human testimony, tell us a certain change of thinking happens when people know their hours or minutes are numbered.
And so we should put that right up front, as our lens to read the words and events at the Last Supper, in the garden, to Pilate, on the way to the cross, and on the cross.
The mind narrows to things of maximum importance: leaving these things behind; highlighting those cannot-live-without thoughts.
I did Totus Tuus in 2002 with Aaron Keller. We taught in both Wahoo and Weston. Those 1st graders are graduating college this May.
Aaron had a cool reflection about Jesus’ seven “words” on the cross. He pointed out that because it was so hard to breathe, a person would attempt to speak it must be incredibly important.
e.g. If he tells John, “Mary is your mother,” that must be a huge deal.
Years have gone by but it always stuck with me.
Last year though, that point was heightened for me. It’s not just a question of having enough breath, but psychologically, a dying person’s mind is narrowed down to a pin hole. They are covering their most essential bases.
Back to the Last Supper
This was his last act as a free man:
A Meal with friends
A Passover meal
He gives what must be the crucial lesson on charity and on humility and servanthood.
He told them about the kingdom.
John’s Gospel he tell them intimate stuff about the Father—on a level he’s never done before—as they walk to the garden
And he gave them the Eucharist.
When there’s no room for any messing around and only one could be on thing on his mind, he give them the Sacrament of his body and blood
We could debate: Was it that 1) it was his last chance to do this for them or 2) that he had purposely saved if for now
(St. Peter Julian Eymard: he chose “The last hour of His life He could freely dispose of.”)
It could be either... or both. It doesn’t matter.
Either way it’s charged and packed with meaning.
When we look at it this way. the Eucharist isn’t just floating.
You ask kids:
“What happened at...
Easter? —‘Jesus rose!’
Good Friday? —‘Jesus died!’
Thursday? —‘He gave us his body!’”
As if it’s all just very handy that just did these three events on three consecutive days!
But no. All the Last Supper’s meaning come from the knowledge of him going to his death.
And he knows that will mean Roman execution. —and all that entails.
He says: “This is my body, given up for you.”
But not here. He’s safe here.
Where is it given up then?
When its hauled from garden, punched in the praetorium, nailed on the cross.
“This is my blood, which will poured out for you.”
Again, not here. Not in the upper room.
Where’s it poured out?
In his sweat in the garden, when he’s scourged in the city, when it’s dropping from the wounds the nails make.
So, let us allow this concept then—the concept of Jesus’ singular vision—in those last 20 hours—to speak.
To speak to us in his passion.
Speak to us in his words in the garden.
Speak to us when we read what he told the disciples.
And speak when we realize the very last thing he did, the very last thing he chose to say, was “This is my gift to you; this is my body given for you; this is me—so I can be with you forever; this is the gift of myself.”