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Thursday, October 16, 2014

A fiction of Holy Thursday

I have a number of files on my hard drive that are so old and from such diverse programs (AppleWorks) and OSs and held together by such tired electrons that they would be the modern version of Dead Sea Scrolls, paragraphs of text degenerating into digital gibberish, unrecoverable. This is part of an article I wrote about Holy Thursday around 1991. I have no idea how it ends, but it began with this fiction, preceded by the word "Remember."

“What makes this night different from all other nights?”

Simon Peter lay curled on the damp, sour straw of his cell. The words of his young visitor, John Mark, invaded the tedious half-light of the Roman spring evening like a voice from another time. Pesach, he thought, remembering his wife, parents, children, and neighbors gathering around the table in Capernaum, year after circling year. New faces and old, now this one appears, that one gone since the last time. A lifetime ago it was, before we met Yeshua at the lake that day. “Jesus,” he tried again, the foreign sound of it still confounding his tongue, reminding him of his own captors, and of the events that had transpired during the spring festival so many years ago.

The night had begun like so many others, but in Jesus there was a foreboding. Every word, every gesture was a like a farewell. “Remember” was a word that had stuck with Simon from that night, and a word he had repeated a thousand times in telling the story of what had happened. Every meal that the little band had taken together was a story to be told. Sometimes the eating itself had been illegal, made him a little uneasy even, the conscience of the little Jewish boy within sternly reprimanded by the teachers of his childhood. Sometimes they had eaten with local synagogue leaders, and others who wanted to hear from the master’s mouth the words that had excited the countryside. Jesus would invite to table anyone he met, women and men, healed and healthy, sinner and saint. Evening after evening the feast went on: they had gotten a reputation of being gluttons and drunkards. Peter smiled at that, thinking about the filthy fare of his latter days. Things have changed.

He still could not think of what had happened in those hours without a wincing prayer: the master disrobing, washing their feet like a slave, telling them to remember. Always “remember.” Then the arrest, the trial. The bloody day he had watched from great distances of grief and cowardice, jealous of the women who had abandoned all self-concern to lavish their presence on his brutal isolation from whatever closeness they were allowed. The darkness, the storm. And running, running, running...

And the wonder of the days that followed. The women again, and their report of his empty tomb, a report he had verified himself. The real adventure had begun then. Every time they had reached for bread, eyes would meet and they would...remember. Reports from here and there, Emmaus, the lake shore in Galilee, right there in Jerusalem. The fire that began to blaze in us when we realized what was happening, when first the upper room and then the whole city, the whole world seemed too small to contain it. More days, more broken bread, more poured out wine—poured out blood. So much blood into the ground since then, and so many of the sisters and brothers who knew him are gone now; and now, they are saying, Jerusalem is to be sieged.

The Romans seem bloodthirsty, but their quest for power was really sprung from a yearning for the same thing Yeshua had wanted: “that they all be one.” Rome wants to make the world one by force, Peter thought. Yeshua had a different way: he wants the world to be one by surrender. Surrender to gratitude, mostly. Surrender to forgiveness. Surrender to healing. The Romans are ripe for the words of the Master, Peter muses. Already, many have come to the Way. It is really so simple. Let us sit down and eat together. Let us give thanks that we are alive in a world full of the Spirit of God, and remember who is the Creator, our light and our freedom. It is a harder message for the powerful to embrace, but to the lowly, it sings! For my ancestors in Egypt as for my little flock here in Rome, this is a day to keep festival and remember these things. What was that, John Mark?

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

In the darkness of the cell, Peter raised himself and spoke aloud to his visitor: “It is the Passover of the Lord.”