The Thursday of Holy Week is the darkest day of the year for me. It symbolizes isolation and abandonment. It epitomizes betrayal …
In high school I performed in the musical Godspell. Our director was particularly creative with this summer production, the cast connected in a unique way and the experience was powerful, perhaps that is why it remains such a special memory for me even years later.
Godspell is a clever retelling of the Biblical Book of Matthew, dramatizing parables and relationships and integrating music to bring key stories to life.
The most memorable scene for me remains the Last Supper and the moments following, when the cast wiped off our decorative face painting, coming clean and showing our true selves. It was then that the character of Jesus declared that one of us would betray him. Of course we all denied it. We loved him. We would never abandon him.
Then came the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went to pray … begging his Father to remove the burden he knew was coming. And we … his followers … fell asleep, deserting him in the darkness.
We awoke to the slamming of the door — which always made me jump and still gives me chills as I remember Judas marching down the aisle, kissing Jesus on the cheek, and betraying him to the Roman guards.
In the discordant music following, we … the friends who had shared years of laughter, joy and fun together … we who ate, drank, talked and told stories together … we who only moments before had declared our love and genuine feeling … scattered.
I’ve always approached acting in a “Method” kind of way, getting deeply into the mind and embodiment of the character I sought to play. To prepare for Godspell each night, I played the Pilate/Jesus scene from the album Jesus Christ Superstar. It is an intense musical number where Jesus is whipped by Pilate. It’s the scene where Jesus stands alone, betrayed by everyone who said they loved him and promised to stand by him.
I imagine him there, knowing he’s on his own. God is silent. Judas has sold him out. Peter has denied knowing him and being his friend not once but three times. Every one of his friends has fled, leaving him with memories of words spoken and empty declarations of love. He stands before the crowd, completely alone and — I think — sad too. All that time invested in friendships and all the experiences shared, only to watch those he loved most walk away without a word.
And this Silent Betrayal led to a Trial and scourging, to a bloody walk carrying the heavy cross down the Via Dolorosa, to the crucifixion where Jesus died not with his friends to support him but between two thieves.
Yet … and this gives me hope. In the midst of that Silent Betrayal, he forgave them. He knew in his heart that they loved him and cared about him. All along he knew that when things got tough, they would desert him. But he stayed with them. He loved them still.
Silent Betrayal. It makes today the Hardest Day of the year for me. It makes me sad.
But in Godspell, I was the Day by Day girl. And, in the scene prior to my song, I learned that we must each “each forgive our brothers, from our hearts.” So even in the darkest of darks 2000 years after that awful betrayal (and 35 years after my final performance of Godspell), Forgiveness is there. Love is more powerful than hate and anger. Oh, I’m not alone when I say that I’ve felt the sting of Silent Betrayal myself. I’ve been hurt by people I cared deeply for who walked out of my life without a glance back. But, I can choose that no matter what happens to me on my own personal Via Dolorosa — and no matter if people hurt, abandon or even betray me — to follow Jesus’ example. I can choose to Love and Forgive too …
Maundy Thursday is about Betrayal. But Love and Forgiveness didn’t wait until the brightness of Easter Sunday to save the day. They were there in the darkness of Gethsemane when his friends betrayed him and fled. And they are still here today.