Think back to the busiest week of your life. Maybe there were many places to go or you had to fulfill a crushing list of responsibilities. Perhaps you hosted a constant stream of visitors, or received phone calls from people wanting favors small and large. At the end of the week you were physically and mentally exhausted. This is what that final week was like for Jesus. We now refer to that week in Jesus’ life as Passion Week.
Jesus began Passion Week by riding into Jerusalem to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowds who hailed him as their Messiah-King. From Sunday onward, Jesus had taught in the Temple every day. He had tried to listen to the requests and meet the needs of dozens, maybe hundreds of people. Passion Week saw Jesus awash in a sea of humanity. Now it is Thursday—the day of Passover: time to spend time with family and friends; time to focus on Israel’s great story of deliverance from slavery and their becoming a covenant nation.
But even on this day of celebration and reflection, Jesus must teach his followers some final lessons. So taking a towel, he washed their feet as a metaphor of servant-leadership. He spoke at great length in the upper room where he and his followers were meeting, reminding them of how much they are loved by the Father, and how inseparable they are from himself. He told them that they would soon be empowered by God’s Spirit living inside them and commanded them to cling desperately to each other. On the night of Passover, Jesus broke the unleavened bread and poured the cups of wine, filling these elements with special meaning his followers would not grasp until many weeks into the future.
Then came the desperate, desolate hours of prayer in Gethsemane. In that grove of olive trees, Jesus sweat blood and cried out in agony at what he knew awaited him the next day. His suffering was enhanced by his followers’ drowsy lack of concern, and by the ultimate betrayal of a close friend. At his arrest, the very disciples who seemed so confident and fearless only hours ago promptly scattered, leaving Jesus utterly alone.
Jesus will face trial before a hostile council on this last Thursday of his earthly life. Humanly speaking, everything seemed to have gone wrong. There is no hope. Without the rest of the story, Thursday night seems to be all gloom and sorrow, much like some days we have experienced ourselves in a more limited way. But hold on: God isn’t finished. Hope is just around the corner!