By Mark R Klopfenstein
Narrator: Three things you need to know before we begin:
First, the account I am about to read do you is, I believe, from the personal journal of Nathanial one of the unpublished disciples of Jesus. This fragment was found in the basement of an abandoned first century monastery in Garden Grove, Orange County, California. It was written in the long abandoned style of communication known as cursive writing or long-hand and as there are so few living these days who recognize and can interpret this ancient script there may be some errors in translation but I believe that we are as close to the original text as can be obtained given the current level of scholarship and understanding of this form of language.
Narrator: Second, I am about to ask you do a difficult thing. I am about to ask you to forget something you know, something you believe to be true. I need you to put yourself in the moments just after sundown on good Friday and to forget what is coming. As far as you know now there is no first day of the week resurrection. No Easter morning. Just the “now”, the present moment, Friday evening, Shabbat has begun, Passover Shabbat, and it is the evening after so much has happened that you would like to forget, forgetting this one more thing, the first day of the week, might not even cross your mind because it hasn’t happened yet.
Narrator: Third, I need you, in your imagination, to place yourself in in an upstairs room in first century Jerusalem. The room is dark, lit only by a couple of oil lamps, the shutters are closed, the door is barred, it is stuffy, and the air of solemnity and fear that have permeated the place and the people gathered there has, at last, dissipated. Nathanial sits at the table, the last one awake, he is writing. There is so much to remember…so much he wishes he could forget…
Finally, it’s the evening after,
- After Passover diner last night
- After the embarrassment of foot washing
- After talk of betrayal, if only we’d believed.
- After prayer in the garden
- Actually, after falling asleep in the garden when we were supposed to be praying (which by the way is only sleep we’ve had in the last two days)
- After the betrayal, really Judas, with a kiss?
- After the arrest
- After the joke of a trial, first with the Sanhedrin and then with Pilate, what a travesty
- After the release of Barabbas, what is with Barabbas?
- After the abuse, the beatings
- After the nails
- After the earthquake
- After dead peoples walking in the streets of Jerusalem
- After the curtain in the temple torn top to bottom, or so I hear, there was no time to check out.
- After the sky turning dark and the air growing cold
- After the Master, the teacher, is dead
- After he was laid in a borrowed tomb, thank you Joseph, you really came through, bless you
As I said it is the evening after…after it all came to an end. It’s Passover Sabbath the sun has gone down and the day has ended but the pain within, I fear it has just begun. It is the end of trips preaching the “Kingdom of God” across the countryside, the end of healings, walking on water, and feeding thousands with a kid’s lunch. It is the end of strange stories, those parables, trying to explain the unexplainable, to help us know the unknowable, it’s the end of raising the dead…He raised others, but he’s gone and there is no one to do it for Him…. The ride is over, the curtain has come down on the final act and here we are huddled together, here, behind locked doors. Each of us wondering, fearing, that we could be the next.
Sundown brought the Sabbath. Passover Sabbath, the holy days are almost over. Tonight, it is cold. With the clouds and the darkness that came in the middle of the afternoon, came the cold. We sit gathered in this room holding our breath. Each time we hear footsteps outside we hold our breath. Each time we hear voices in the street below, we hold our breath. I’m not sure if its so we can hear better or if we’re afraid that we might be heard, discovered, and arrested.
Peter is over in the corner sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. Poor Peter last night went badly for him. He keeps mumbling over and over again, “stupid servant girl, stupid servant girl” or “I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid.” Sometimes he replaces stupid with proud, or afraid… I’m afraid mornings will be hard for him for a long time to come, each time a roster crows, he’ll remember, and it will be like a dagger to his heart. Mary told us not to go easy on him. She said, “the Master never went easy on Peter, so, don’t you start, He’ll get through this and be stronger for the journey.” She’s right, of course, but oh, how I feel his pain.
John isn’t doing much better, he’s angry with himself, that he left Peter alone in the courtyard. John, he stood in the doorways, like a schoolboy, watching the travesty of a trial, transfixed by what transpired, unable to act, and yet unable to turn away. He says we have to stick together. That, especially now, we must travel in pairs at the very least. None of us should have to go it alone anymore. He’s sorry for leaving Peter alone, on his own.
They really shouldn’t be so hard on themselves; I mean after the arrest we all scattered. We ran like scare rats in all directions, in fact, one young man only got away by leaving his tunic behind and running into the night buff naked. He’s back with us now but he’s not telling where he got the cloths he currently wearing. One by one we all made it back here to this rented upper room. That is, everyone with the exception of the betrayer. I understand it turned out badly for him. I think that he too often traveled alone, kept to himself. We never got to truly know him. The master knew him. The Master knew what he was about to do and love him all the same. John’s right though, from here on out nobody goes it alone.
As I said, we all made our way back here tonight. It was too risky to travel the roads in the open today. Besides where could we go? The priests knew about Mary and Martha’s house in Bethany. It’s sure to be watched. I pray that they’ll be alright. We couldn’t go back there, not tonight, maybe not ever.
No, tonight it’s better to come back here to this borrowed upper room. Simon, our resident zealot called it a defendable position. “The stairway limits the access.” I don’t know about that. We’ve still got the two swords, but I doubt that we have the will or the skill to use them. We made a pretty poor showing in the garden with the temple guards. I don’t think anyone is eager to try that again.
Besides, there’s a back window in this place that gives us an escape route across the roofs of Jerusalem. In fact, that’s how Thomas got back here, just before dark. He was afraid that the stairs and the door were being watched. So, he took to the roofs and snuck in through the window. He gave us all a terrible fright and then, a really good laugh. The laugh we needed, oh so desperately. Matthew then asked if running across the rooftops after sunset would be considered a violation of the Sabbath? We laughed again. If it comes to taking to the roofs of Jerusalem tonight, Sabbath breaking will be the least of our worries.
Thanks be to God, blessed be He, for the woman. They have lit a lamp and said the Sabbath prayers. If not for them, we men would be still sitting in the dark trying to cope with our fears, cold, hungry, tired, and confused. We’re still tired and confused but the lamp has brought the illusion of warmth, to this place, with its amber glow and shadows dancing on the walls. The women have passed out the leftovers from last night’s Passover feast. A bit of cold lamb, some bread, and the taste of wine have blessed our hearts. In fact, we have begun to share our favorite remembrances of the master. Andrew suggested that perhaps that’s what the Master meant when he told us to remember him as often as we break bread and drink wine. Ah, and remember him we did, we told stories of walking on water and calming storms on the sea with just a word. We shared memories of him making lame men dance, of demons being cast out with just a word, and all those puzzling stories he told, such memories filled our time long into the night. In spite of our exhaustion, and grief, the more we shared the farther the despair and fear seemed to move from us, and our hearts were warmed as though Master was still with us. One by one we have dropped off to sleep comforted and unafraid.
Soon it will be the morning after the, evening after. When the sun sets again Sabbath will be over. I do not know what the first day of the week will bring but we will find a way, with the grace of God, blessed be He, to face the day, with hope.
Narrator: And there the fragment ends…what to do we with this?
Here are some suggestions & thoughts & questions for these times of isolation and social distancing:
- Do you have a favorite Jesus story? It could be from Scripture or from you own life experience again, meditate on it, imagine it, be present to this story and Jesus, call someone and share.
- Are you facing a loss, pain, (emotional, physical, or spiritual) this is not a time to be alone despite our tendency to withdraw in times of vulnerability? We need others around us, not to fix us, but simply to be present. Be the one to reach out first, don’t wait. By being a blessing to others, you will be blessed (It just somehow works that way).
- Jesus is present and knows your pain. Be honest with Him. (It’s called prayer)
- Count your blessings, not your losses.
- A little food, wine, and companionship (even at a distance) can improve even our spiritual attitude. (have you tried e-communion)
- Have you tried laughter and music in times of trial, suffering, and confusion to bring peace and joy into your isolation? Give it a try, sing like no one is listening (because they shouldn’t be).