You Have Only Hours Left

Tonight, with Christians all over the world, we will go to church. We will hear about this last supper that Jesus will eat with his disciples and we, ourselves, will share in that supper.

You have only hours left.

Tonight, with Christians all over the world, we will go to church. We will hear about this last supper that Jesus will eat with his disciples and we, ourselves, will share in that supper. Some will wash one another’s feet, as Jesus did for his disciples on this night. We will hear about his Mandatum Novum (in Latin “New Commandment”) which we corrupted into “Maundy” Thursday, imploring us to love one another as Christ has loved us and gave himself for us. And then we will end our services, turn out the lights, go home and go to sleep. We do not have the stomach to reenact what happens next. 

When the meal was finished (and the disciples proved themselves unable to pray for an extended period, much to Jesus’ disappointment) the terror starts. The sweating, the praying, the betrayal, the kangaroo-court trials, the sadistic beating, mocking and torture; we cannot bear to even think of it. Around the time we enter our deepest sleep of the night, Jesus was being hustled from place to place by Caiaphas and his minions, looking for someone to do what they would not… put an end to Jesus of Nazareth. 

This night, this darkest of nights, was the final test. With every support eventually removed, would Jesus remember his mission? Would he cave? Would the pain and anguish be too much?   

What was at stake here for Jesus was a truly terrible choice: save himself and completely give up on the mission God had sent him to earth to do, or go through this terrible ordeal that was spreading before him and be regarded as an abject failure. Remember, we know the end of the story now, but seeing a bloodied and humiliated Jesus executed by the Roman invaders would have been the most humiliating of ways, not just to die, but to see your teaching and ministry end. All of that teaching, preaching and wonder-working for nothing.

For Jesus, God’s call to service passed, not just through the tomb, but through ignominy as well. The death of body and honor as well, who could bear that?

There are times that we will be called to ride it out to the bitter end. To be called a loser. To seemingly see it all slip from our grasp and be left with nothing, just as Jesus was. But even at these extremes, we have not been abandoned, but we wait for the vindication of God, which we cannot produce on our own, nor can anything else stop. 

The example of Jesus, bloodied, shamed and despised all Thursday night and into Friday again says to us: Suffering and loss does not mean the end, it means God is still working. Can we hold onto that idea as Jesus did?


About The Author

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson is the pastor of the New Hanover Presbyterian Church - and feels blessed to be there! “New Hanover is a uniquely caring and close community” said Dr. Johnson. “Serving here has been a great privilege for me, and has given me a real sense of joy in ministry!” Robert has been at NHPC since 2015. Before serving this congregation, he was a parish pastor in Ohio and Virginia, a theologian in the Office of Theology and Worship of the PC(USA), and a missionary in Pakistan where he was a college and seminary professor. Originally from the Great State of Texas, he has degrees from Austin College, Princeton Theological Seminary and holds the Ph.D. from Union Seminary in Virginia. Robert enjoys cooking, travel, reading up in World and National affairs and playing at singing, guitar, bass guitar and trombone. His wife of 36 years, Marianne Vermeer, is the Chief Administrative and Financial Officer for the Medicines for All Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University. They have two adult sons, Nathan and Peter and an elderly dog named Cinnamon.

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