“On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of the disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guestroom where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I?’ …. While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’” –Mark 14:12-22
“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves…I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” John 17: 11b-15
Spring has long been my favorite season. When I was little it meant flowers would grow around the creek in my backyard; all the better for playing out Secret Garden scenarios. A little later and spring meant softball practices would run through family dinnertimes (yes!), and I’d spend the evenings with friends on my team, practicing our throws, chewing sour apple gum. In high school, the beginning of spring brought tennis practice, the stress of lurking AP exams, finding a dress for prom, Easter thrown somewhere in the mix, and ultimately graduation with all of the dinners, pool parties, and “goodbye, we’ll always be friends, I’ll see you at Thanksgiving-es” that it entailed.
Yep, I’ve always loved Spring. While the activities ramp up in Spring, heading into their championship games and final performances, Spring means celebrations, the time we recognize the resurrection of our Risen Lord, and a race toward summer where many of our obligations grind to a halt.
But not this year. Not this spring. I don’t have to detail for you how this unprecedented global pandemic has disrupted our lives lately because if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re at home (not school), with your family (not your friends), looking for something–anything–to do. Instead of harping on the disruption of our present historic moment, I’d like to look back to an even more disruptive, historic moment because I think, at least for me, it will re-focus why Spring is so sacred anyway.
Some two thousand years ago, it was likely Spring when Jesus and his disciples made their triumphal entry into Jerusalem and prepared for Passover. Passover, the celebration of when God passed over the Israelites’ homes in His final plague and then delivered them from Egypt, was a sacred, familiar, Spring-time festival for Jewish people, including Jesus and his disciples. To be a disciple of Christ meant leaving behind one’s former lifestyle for one of obedience and unexpected adventures with miracles and mobs of people, so I’m willing to bet that the thought of the Passover festival was not only sacred to the disciples, but I think it was probably a little bit comforting to them too—it represented the Lord’s sovereignty, but also customs, songs, and prayers that were familiar. When your day as a disciple might consist of feeding thousands of people from a few fish and pieces of bread, as thrilling as that’d be, I’m sure it’d also be pretty nice to just sit down to dinner with your friends and sing the same song you sang every year at that time.
Similar to how our Spring and Holy Week have been tremendously disrupted this year, the disciples’ Passover was mightily disrupted in Mark’s text. They knew that they were already on the verge of something unusual—the crowds around them were unmanageable, the religious leaders’ anger with them was growing, Jesus had foretold his death to them. You can hear the disciples’ desire for familiarity in their conversation with Jesus when they ask him where they should make preparations for their Passover meal. It reminds me of how I would ask my parents about my own graduation if I were a senior in high school this Spring—”will graduation exist? Where will it be?”
Jesus answers their question. They have their Passover supper, but before it’s over, literally “when they’re eating,” according to Matthew’s telling, Jesus tells his dearest friends that one of them will betray Him. And just like that, their moment of familiarity is disrupted; it becomes distressing and dark and mysterious.
Jesus then re-defines the Passover ritual by creating a new one—the first communion—but if I were one of the disciples, I’d probably only have heard two things: I might be the one to betray my leader whom I love more than anyone, and that this is the last time I’d dine with him before he dines “new in the kingdom of God”—whatever that meant, Jesus probably wouldn’t eat with me normally again.
Surely the disciples were distraught and frightened by Jesus’s words, and while I don’t want to equate our current crisis and time of uncertainty with the Last Supper and Jesus’s walk to the cross, there is comfort in their parallels.
According to Matthew and Mark’s telling of the Passover meal, it ends with a song and then Jesus foretells that they will all desert him, and, in particular, Peter will deny him. Their Passover meal has taken a dark turn indeed, and it’ll get darker still before it’s all over. Yet, before they leave the meal and go to the garden where Jesus is arrested, at least according to its placement in John’s gospel, Jesus prays a prayer of protection over his disciples. According to John’s text, after speaking with his disciples, Jesus turns his face to Heaven and pleads, “Holy Father, protect them in your name…I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete” and that they “would not be taken out of the world” but instead “protected from the evil one” (John 17:11-15).
Christ knew His disciples and He knew the believers who would come from them and He knew the fear that they were facing then and He knew what we would continue to face throughout history. So He prayed for our protection, too, saying, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (John 17:20).
This Holy Week is certainly different for us. And as difficult as it is to restructure my Spring rituals this year, I’ve been humbled to see how I’ve idolized a season’s fun more than its holiness. Still, we don’t know what the rest of our Spring will look like. We don’t know what our summer will look like or if we’ll be with our friends much before fall, and these are heartbreaking realities which don’t even touch the truths of how people are falling ill across our country, healthcare workers remain unprotected, and our economy is in crisis.
What we do know, though, is that when Christ looked on to His lonely, final hours, He prayed that His Father would safeguard His disciples. He prayed that God’s love would be in them, that they wouldn’t be taken out of this world, and that His prayer would cover every believer to come, which includes you and me in 2020 during this Coronavirus crisis (John 17:26). Then—and here’s the real joy—after a few days, God answered Christ’s prayer in a way that He has every day since: with a vacant grave and a permanent hope.
Let’s remember Christ’s protective prayer as we walk through this Holy Week and this pandemic because, despite the darkness, Sunday is Coming.