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, an upbeat staging of the Book of Matthew dramatizing parables with clever dialogue and integrated music. The most powerful scene for me was The Last Supper when the cast wiped off our decorative face paint, revealing our true selves. It was then that the character of Jesus stated that one of us would betray him. Of course, we all denied it.
Next came the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went to pray, begging his Father to remove the pain and suffering he knew was coming. He took us, his friends, along for support. He needed us to share the darkness with him. But we fell asleep, awakening to the slamming of the door. Then, Judas marched down the aisle, kissed Jesus on the cheek, and betrayed him to the Roman guards.
During the discordant music following, we … the friends who had shared years of good times together … we who ate, drank, talked and hung out together … we who only moments before declared we would never deny or abandon him … scattered.
Silence and Betrayal.
I wonder what Jesus felt right then, watching his friends bail on him moments after they promised they’d never betray him. I wonder sometimes if Jesus’ friends had just been honest with him – and themselves — about their fears, would that have changed the dynamic? Would their honesty have offered Jesus comfort when he was imprisoned and they were gone?
What if when he passed them the chalice and suggested betrayal was in the air they had said to him: “Ya know, Jesus, I like you and truly care about you. But I’m not sure I can handle all this right now. I enjoy hanging out. But it’s getting a little intense and I need to step back.”
Or did they even know in that moment an unforeseen element would shake their relationship to the very core and fragment it? Was it a shock to them too?
It’s this Silence in the dark and the Betrayal that hits me hardest. They fell away without warning. They left him to walk the Via Dolorosa all by himself without so much as a word to someone they had only seconds, hours and weeks before professed to care for deeply. They cut him off and ran. Jesus knew it was coming, sure. But that didn’t make the denial and rejection easier.
I imagine Jesus there, knowing he’s on his own. God is silent. Judas sells him out. Peter denies knowing him and their friendship not once but three times. Every one of his other friends flees, leaving him with memories of words spoken and empty declarations of love. He stands before a hostile crowd, completely alone and — I think — sad too. All that time invested in relationships and all the adventures shared, only to watch those he loved most walk away without a word. Ouch!
Silence and Betrayal.
Yet … despite it all, he forgave them. He knew in his heart they loved and cared about him. Jesus was an expert on subtext! He knew their fears and doubts — the things they struggled with. But he walked the road with them as friends anyway, knowing eventually how it all would end. He loved them still.
Silence and Betrayal. It makes today the Hardest Day of the year for me.
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, more powerful than hate and anger, offering healing.
I’m not alone when I say I’ve felt the sting of denial, silence and betrayal myself. There are friends I’d thought cared deeply about me but rejected and hurt me. I’m no saint, but I can choose to follow the example Jesus set. No matter what happens on my own personal Via Dolorosa — and no matter if people who I cared for hurt, deny or abandon me — I can choose to Forgive.
I still wonder if it would have been just a tinge gentler on Jesus if his friends had talked to him before they left. He would have understood. He would have loved them anyway and accepted their choice. But they didn’t. And I can’t help but think that betrayal cut as deeply as the nails in his hands and feet …
Maundy Thursday is about Betrayal. But Love and Forgiveness didn’t wait until the brightness of Easter Sunday. They are never delayed when truly hoped for. They were there in the darkness of Gethsemane when his friends fled. And they are still here today.