Tonight, I hope I remember to sit and think about John 13-17. Probably my favorite section of scripture, these four chapters seem to me to sum up Jesus’ life and work. Back when I was performing The Jesus Monologue, when I came to this part of the play, I was inevitiably moved by the dramatic nature of the moment. It’s impossible to conceive of Jesus’ mindset in the moments before he stood up and wrapped the towel around his waist in order to wash his disciples’ feet. He knew he was returning to God, the text says. He knew he was about to be killed and raised, and he knew these good men, these good friends of his, would soon suffer deep despair, then elation, then a life like his own, full of joy and suffering and glory and martyrdom. What would he say in this last chance to teach, to inspire, and to warn, before the gauntlet of his death began?
Here’s my take: he was trying to tell them that they would now live the life he had lived. He was trying to tell them that without power that was not their own, it couldn’t be done. My own theology intuits that he was telling them something about his own process. That he, too, having emptied his Godhood (Philippians 2), had chosen to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power and had listened to the Spirit’s leading in order to know his Father’s desires, just as the disciples would. In other words, Jesus not only modeled behavior, he also modeled process. And even though he faced death, there must have been some part of him that trembled with excitement because of what it would mean for the world and for history not only that he was going to die and be raised, but that these good friends of his would soon know the intimacy and power that he had known all his life. How amazingly joyful he must have been knowing these men would soon have the energy of God, the Holy Spirit–how well he knew it–surging through their bodies and psyche’s in a new way.
“Trust in God, trust also in me.” How dark the next few days would be. Watch The Passion of the Christ a hundred times, and I doubt we can understand. A man who walked on water, a man who told the wind to stop and it did–how could he be dead? What does it mean that he is dead? The despair must have been crushing. Judas killed himself. Peter didn’t even have the comfort of knowing he’d stood by Jesus to the end. Coward. I can’t even imagine the horror Peter must have felt. Shame is ugly, and for all he knew, it was his legacy. Like we name no child Judas, left as it was, no child would be named Peter either.
But the night before, Jesus tries to explain what’s coming. How do you explain the inexplicable? The rooms he’s going to prepare, all the talk of vine and branches and love and obedience and a Comforter. The world will hate you, he says. Great, they’re thinking. That’s just great. But, Jesus says, my Father and I will make our homes with You. You won’t be alone. Don’t be afraid. I have overcome the world.
War. Racism. Crime. Ethical confusion. Injustice. Political Corruption. Spin. Illiteracy. The crumbling family. Abuse. Evil.
“I have overcome the world.” We’re still not sure what he meant. Not exactly. Especially on Thursday night, when we trundle off into the night, following him to a dark garden where he asks us to pray with him. We can’t, though. We’re too tired. He can pray alone, he’s tough enough. We’ll sleep and see what the morrow brings. He’s more nervous than I seen him, but he’ll be fine. He always is. They’ll try to get him and he’ll just walk through them and be fine.
And just before sleep crashes in, a simple thought crosses John or Peter’s mind, or maybe they look at each other as it touches them both.
My God…what if they killed him…what then?