The Thursday was an important day in the Jewish calendar. It was the first day of the Azymes, or unleavened bread. After the sun set, the Jews would celebrate the freedom they gained from the Pharoah.
The story of how this freedom was won is well known. Nine times Moses had asked the Pharoah to set the Jews free. Nine times Pharoah had refused. And nine times a plague was visited upon the land as punishment.
God determined to force Pharoah’s hand. So He sent Moses a tenth time to ask for freedom. If Pharoah refused again, he would invite a terrible punishment; one that he could not ignore for long. But Pharoah did ignore Moses.
That is when God sent the Angel of Death to call the firstborn of every living thing in Egypt. It would only passover those who showed the sign ordained by God: the blood of an unblemished lamb painted on the doorposts.
It was a sign of the day at hand. The blood of the spotless lamb was a precursor of the blood of the perfect Son of God. And the freedom from slavery was a sign of a greater freedom to come: the freedom from the bondage of sin.
That Thursday was the last full day of slavery. But the world knew it not.
In the morning, He sent Peter and John to prepare the room for the Passover meal. And in the evening the meal began.
It started with a dispute over who would sit closest to Him. The Twelve all wanted to take first place at the table. His response came later; a gentle but startling rebuke. He took the servant’s role and began washing their feet. Peter refused to allow His Master to suffer this indignity, until he was told that it must be done if Peter was to have any part with the Master. At that point, Peter’s impetuous nature took over:
“Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
It was always one extreme to the other with Peter. And we are no different.
Then came the scandals. He told Peter that he would deny Him. And He told the Twelve that one of them would betray Him. This set tongues wagging. All wanted to know who it was. Even Judas asked if he was the culprit.
Our own questions can be lies. They seek with deception and vanity for answers to appease the conscience within.
He then carefully prepared some food for Judas and answered the question: yes, it was him. He also said that it would be better for Judas if he had never been born. God does not appease. He enforces the choices that we make.
Then came the command:
“That which thou dost, do quickly”
Judas left the room.
The climax of the ancient meal was something new.
“(He) took bread and blessed and broke and gave to His disciples and said: Take ye and eat. This is my body.
And taking the chalice, he gave thanks and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this.
For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.”
Mankind had already been raised to great dignity 33 years earlier. He had become one of us. And now each man was given the opportunity to unite themselves with Him through the Blessed Sacrament. In the final moments before He was taken, He provided the means by which He would always remain.
It was an act of great love. God can give nothing more than Himself. And that is what He gave.
Then came a great discourse. Eloquent, rich and full of meaning.
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me…
…If you love me, keep my commandments…
…He that loveth me not keepeth not my words…
…I am the true vine: and my Father is the husbandman…
…I am the vine: you are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
If anyone abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch and shall wither: and they shall gather him up and cast him into the fire: and he burneth…
…Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends…
…If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you.”
And then He went with the remaining Eleven to the Garden, under the bright light of the full moon.
He asked them to pray with Him. And taking Peter, James and John a little further, He exclaimed that He was troubled, even unto death. He again exhorted them to pray, while He proceeded further into Gethsemane.
It was here that He asked the Father to take the chalice from Him. But only if it was the Father’s will.
This is a reminder to us all that we must suffer. We are not greater than God, and He allowed His Son to suffer most of all. For from suffering comes greater good.
His was a sorrowful chalice. Luke, the doctor, records that His anguish caused Him to sweat blood. His grief was not helped when He found them sleeping. They could not watch with Him even one hour.
Suddenly, lights appeared. Armed men approached, with Judas leading the way. Judas walked right up to Him and kissed Him. It was the sign by which the mob would know who He was.
He asked a pointed question: Who do you seek?
They replied: Jesus of Nazareth.
And He said: I am He.
Immediately, they all fell to the ground. He was showing them that Jesus of Nazareth was God. He was forcing the mob to prostrate themselves before Him. Again He asked and again they answered. And again they fell to the ground.
But then He let them approach. He would be arrested, but only because He chose to allow it.
Peter completely misunderstood this: he jumped in with a wild swing, cutting off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the High Priest. He told Peter to put his sword away and then healed the bleeding wound.
This is a black and white version of James Tissot’s The Healing of Malchus.
This work is in the Brooklyn Museum and was painted in 1886.
In response, the mob bound Him and dragged him to the House of Annas. He went from king to captive in four days. The Apostles fled.
Which of us can say that in the face of humiliation, despair and the powers of the world, we would not have left Him too?
It was about midnight. That was the Thursday.
The Church of Gethsemane, as seen today.
See also in this series:
- The Sunday before
- The Monday
- The Tuesday
- The Wednesday
- The Thursday
- The Friday
- The Saturday
- The Sunday
I have relied heavily on Guiseppe Ricciotti’s book, Life of Christ, for this article. It was translated by Alba I. Zizzamia and published by the Mercier Press, Ireland in 1955. It carries the imprimatur of the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Moses Kiley, dated 6 February, 1952.