“After they sang a hymn, they went out to the mount of olives.”
Perhaps the alcohol had gone to their heads. Perhaps the perplexing anxiety of Yeshua’s strange demeanour and dismaying statements about death had made them skip over the details of the ceremony. But the Passover meal wasn’t finished. They had sung the ‘great halal’, the hymn of praise before the lamb was meant to be served, but then went straight outside for a walk. Maybe they were coming back later? But there was still one cup to go – the fourth – and they hadn’t eaten the lamb. It was a strange night in every way. Just go with it. He knows what he’s doing.
And so the liturgy moves from an upper room in Jerusalem to an olive garden on the outskirts of the city. Gnarled trees provide shadow for fugitives seeking protection in the darkness. As of this night, Yeshua of Nazareth and his disciples had just become wanted men.
Yeshua throws himself to the ground, pleading with an unseen presence among the trees. “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” What ‘cup’ was he talking about? A poetic reference to suffering, or something more?
There’s no time to find out. Torches, voices, guards and clubs arrive in the garden of darkness. A kiss is planted. Chaos breaks out. Swords flash. Jesus speaks; “I am the one you are looking for.” Eleven friends flee, abandoning their master to his fate, the taste of his bread and wine still warm in their mouths. The Passover continues. Soon it will be complete.
15 hours of agony and trial ensue. Whips with metal shards. Mocking and torture. A crown of thorns. A frenzied mob. A gruesome procession through the streets to a rocky hill.
There, nails are driven into the flesh that gives life to the world; bread torn by his own hands the night before. Blood flows – the blood with the life in it – “shed for you and for all”he had said. On a wooden cross the Passover Lamb is lifted high, drawing all people to himself; “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” his cousin the baptizer had said.
Lightbulbs go on.
Yeshua himself was the lamb of the supper! Incredibly, he knew all along that he himself was to be the sacrifice – sinless and unblemished – so that this would be the final ‘passing-over of death’, for all time and for all people. Unbelievable.
Six hours the fate of the universe hangs suspended in the balance. A Mother waits in agonising vigil below her son. “Behold your mother.”
The time arrives. “I thirst” he prompts. Bitter wine is lifted on a stick. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy sips the wine. His next words at face value seem matter of fact; “It is finished” he says.
Wait… what is finished? What does he mean; that his suffering is finally over? Yes, but much more than that. This was the fourth cup. The one he wrestled to accept in the garden – ‘the Last Cup of the Last Supper’. The Passover ceremony was finally complete – “a new covenant in my blood” he had said. For millennia the followers of Yeshua would enact those same words, those same actions, “in memory of me”. Breaking bread together they would ‘eat the Lamb’. Sharing wine they would ‘drink the Blood with the Life in it’. They would never be the same. And they would never forget.
Commending his spirit to God, Yeshua breathed his last, and we inhaled our first.
“Behold, I make all things new” he had said.
It was a new day.
“Blessed are those called to the supper of the lamb” the priest says at every Mass, lifting up the Lord of the universe in his hands.
Next time you hear those words, remember this story. Place yourself at the foot of the cross, beside Mary. Look up – ‘behold’ – the Lamb of God with your own eyes, and give thanks.