Maundy Thursday Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Good Friday Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

Holy Saturday Job 14:1-14  OR Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24; Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; 1 Peter 4:1-8; Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42

“Stay together, friends, don’t scatter and sleep.  Our friendship is made of being awake.”—Rumi

Several years ago during this season, my family gathered to bury my grandmother. She was 92 years old and greatly loved by many.  On Saturday we came together around her casket to see her body one last time, to pray, and say our personal good-byes. On Sunday, we gathered at a small church across from her home to worship and celebrate her life in a more public and formal way.  And then on Monday, a few of us made the journey three hours south for her burial.

At one point, I considered going home after the funeral because that would have been more convenient. But there was another desire within me, the desire to go the whole way—with my Dad as he walked the path of saying good-bye to his mother and with my grandmother as her body was brought to its final resting place.  Even though I knew she was no longer with us in the flesh, there was something about being present with her body up to and through those final moments that seemed important.

When my grandmother was alive her greatest delight was to have her family around her.  When it came time for us to leave, she would always stand on the porch and wave to us, straining for one last glimpse as we disappeared down the street.  In fact, the picture that we as grandchildren were given on the day of her funeral was a picture of her waving good-bye from her front porch; it captured something of her heart and her spirit.  I imagined that on the day of her burial, perhaps she would see us standing on the porch of this life, straining for one last connection with her before she disappeared from our sight. Staying with her all the way to the end of her journey here on this earth seemed like something we could do to honor her faithful love for us through the years.

It is this spirit that draws us to walk with Christ as we enter into these holy days.  It is the desire to stay with our loved one for as long as our presence can bring comfort and reassurance.  It is the commitment not to leave them alone as the darkness deepens and to be there waiting when the light dawns again.

Friends for the Journey
These are the days when Jesus’ followers around the world give themselves most fully and completely to worship.   This is our privilege—to walk with Christ and worship him during the holiest days of the Christian Church.  The journey begins, ironically, with the kiss of a friend on this very night—Maundy Thursday—after a dinner in which Jesus expressed his love for his disciples not just with words but with actions.

The irony has to do with the fact that Jesus had given such priority to cultivating relationships with his disciples during his brief time here on earth and now his betrayal was taking place within that most intimate circle. A careful look at Jesus’ life reveals that some of his most human moments had to do with his poignant expressions of longing for companionship.   From the earliest moments of his life in ministry he invited “those whom he wanted…to be with him,” the Scriptures tell us in Mark 3.

Jesus’ longing for intimacy and friendship with those he loved expressed itself in different ways throughout his life.  When his teaching became too challenging and many chose to leave, Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Will you leave me also?”  As their relationships deepened, Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” And one of the crowning achievements of his life was that he loved his own until the end.  (John 13:1)

Going all the Way
Perhaps the most compelling expression of Christ’s longing for companionship was his request for his disciples to accompany him to the Garden of Gethsemane and to pray with him through the dark night of his betrayal and death. (Matthew 26: 36-37) There was something about knowing that his friends were nearby that provided strength and comfort.  He invited Peter, James and John, whom he trusted the most, to come farther than the others. And as he began to grieve more openly and to struggle with what was before him, he asked them specifically to stay awake with him.

I’m sure Jesus knew the difficulty of what he was asking. It is hard to stay present to someone else’s pain. The human tendency to “check out” when the human struggle becomes too much to bear is very strong. But he asked them anyway because only those who are closest stay through to the end.

Every year at this time we, too, have the opportunity to “go all the way” in reliving the events of Jesus’ last days here on this earth. Like the first disciples we have the opportunity to choose, as best we can, to deepen our friendship with Christ by communing with him and learning from him as we walk each step of the way—from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the darkness and death of the crucifixion to the victory of the Resurrection.

As we are intentional about seeking ways to walk with Christ through the events of these days, we respond to his deep and consistent desire to be with those he loved. Staying awake with him is an act of love and friendship.  It is the gift of ourselves, which is the truest gift we have to give. It is best to enter into these days very humbly for we are as human and fragile as Jesus’ first disciples were.

As St. Augustine wisely prayed, so we pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, don’t let me lie when I say that I love you…and protect me, for today I could betray you.”

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2013.  Not to be used without permission.

Ruth is founder of the Transforming Center, and author of Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence (InterVarsity Press).

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