Who do you see on Maundy Thursday?
On the night before he died, Jesus gathered with his friends to share the meal. They were all there; the ones who had shared the last three years with him, who had walked the roads eaten the feasts, listened to the stories, watched the miracles, encountered the crowds – left everything to follow him. They had got up early in the morning to travel, sat up late at night to listen; they had had sore feet and amazed hearts, confused minds and wondering souls.
And tonight they were gathered with him in the upper room, sharing food, telling stories, wondering what was going on, what was going to happen next, dreaming, fearing, questioning, arguing, listening.
And watching him; looking at him. After all, he was the reason they were there. And who was it they saw?
Peter saw his leader, the one he would willingly die for, the one who had called him into a life that he had never imagined, in which he could – sometimes – walk on the water, he could see he glory of the Divine on the mountain top, encounter power and possibility beyond his thought. And yes – he would die for him. He had offered, he had promised. He saw the one who could change the world – and Peter knew exactly how he should do it too; Peter could see what could be done if Jesus would just do it his way – Oh Jesus was in charge of course – but Peter knew a bit too, and he knew that a sword would be necessary, and that there might even need to be death – but it shouldn’t be Jesus. If necessary, it could be Peter, he would be willing to sacrifice himself….but there had to be victory, Jesus had to win, had to give up this nonsense about giving himself up.
James and John saw the man of power, the coming King. They saw the one they wanted to be allied with, the one whose reign would free them all – and they knew that they could help, they could share in the reigning and take some of the burden form him. They could be his lieutenants, and free him from the mundane stuff of actually dealing with people and the day to day problems, so that he could work on strategy and the big picture. They could put his plans into action, they could be the gatekeepers so that nobody bothered him, they could protect his time and energy. If he would let them, if he would see their potential and stop this nonsense about being the one who had come to serve.
Andrew saw the man he had been following for some years now. He had met him first through John the baptizer, and had been drawn to him – and drawn others in too. He was always glad to help others find a way to hear and see this amazing man, with his wonderful message. It mattered that people could hear, could hear for themselves and make their own response. Andrew was not sure what was going on, but he knew that the message that Jesus taught, the blessing that Jesus brought was to be for all who wanted to approach, and he was good and bringing people in. He was quite happy to go on doing that, not to get involved in doing the proclaiming himself, but in making sure people had access. And he’d go on doing it too; if Jesus would just give up this nonsense of putting himself in danger – how could people hear if he insisted on speaking to the ones who didn’t want to hear, who were going to try to silence him.
Philip saw much the same; he too was part of that group that helped people to come and hear Jesus. But he wasn’t quite as accepting as Andrew; he had his own questions. He knew the wonderful things that Jesus said, but sometimes they didn’t make sense…all very well to say you know the way, but he hadn’t really shown them. And now, now it was not looking good; this path Jesus was taking, which he said would lead them to the father seems to be leading to confrontation, danger, threat. He’s not at all sure how that fits with this way, truth and life thing that Jesus said. Philip sees somebody he wants to trust, but he’s finding it hard.
Thomas had shared that question with him, but Thomas saw it differently when he looked at Jesus. Thomas was pretty sure he knew what was going to happen – and hee knows that whatever happens, he needs to keep going. He’s not at all sure what this is all about, and he’s not at all sure Jesus knows what he’s getting into – but he does know that he has no option but to go with him. Whatever this man is about, whoever it is that he is – and he’s heard some of the others saying some pretty big things, Thomas is clear, you don’t abandon a friend when they’re facing the threat – well, at least you try not to. He’ll try. He doesn’t want to let him down….
Matthew sees the man who welcomed him in, who gave him a place when nobody else would because he was such an outsider, such a compromiser. And not just him; he can see so many others who have been given a place too. He looks at the others and wonders if they have truly accepted him…and what is going to happen to him if anything happens to Jesus.
Judas sees the man he is going to betray. It’s possible he doesn’t think of it like that. It’s possible he thinks he is going to do the right thing – after all, nobody actually sets out to do something they believe to be fundamentally wrong, without having some sort of justification in their mind about why it is the right thing to do. Judas was a nationalist; Judas wanted to see the kingdom come, the Romans be defeated, his people to live in freedom and under God’s rule as the prophets promised; did he see the one who might be able to do that if he was just pushed far enough – or the one who had promised to do it, and now had failed and so was getting in the way of the coming kingdom; or might we even say that he saw Jesus more clearly than all the rest because he saw the one he was going to betray – and the others didn’t yet see that coming in their behaviour?
And there were others there – others whose names we know, but whose sight of Jesus we cannot now access at all – Bartholomew, and James son of Alpheus and Simon the Cananaean….and it was a meal; chances are there were women there in the back room at least – the women who travelled with him; Mary his mother, who saw her son and wondered – so often we read of her wondering; what did she wonder this night? How did it come to this? What can I do to save him? Who is he? Joanna, from the household of Herod; did she somebody who threatened her household or who promised her something she had not found there? There were others who travelled with him. Most well-known is Mary, freed from seven demons. Surely she looked at him and saw hope and promise, and the person who gave her back her self – and what did she see as she looked at him apparently intent on giving up himself. Did it make her fear a return of the dark, a loss of hope; all that she had been freed from now appeared to be winning. The power he had shown in liberating her now seemed to have been lost as the threats around him became irresistible.
They all saw him – but what did they see; somebody who promised much but now seemed intent on letting them down? Somebody they wanted to protect, they wanted to act in a way that they could understand, somebody who would behave properly; somebody who frightened, stretched, questioned them? They looked and they saw him – in so many different ways, shaped by their own experience, through their own eyes, they saw him, as he truly was and yet not fully, not yet…..
And what did he see; Peter who so wanted to get it right, and who had got it so wrong, and was going to do worse; James and John, sons of Thunder who were so sure of themselves and so anxious to be in charge; Andrew who wanted others to know what he knew in the way that he knew it, Philip who would do all in his power to put Jesus where others could find him; Thomas, dogged and confused, Matthew, finding his feet in a group, and fear rejection, Judas, who was going to hurt him so badly; the others who had been with him for so long, and sometimes seemed to get it, and all too often didn’t; his mother who taught him to wonder; Joanna, taking risks to follow her vision, Mary, free now and yet so afraid, not yet able to trust her freedom….
And maybe he saw more; Peter who would fail spectacularly and so could discover the meaning of redemption and communicate it to others; James and John who could not live up to their boasts but who would find ways of serving that would change lives and communities when they discovered the true meaning of the Kingdom; Andrew who would travel far, Philip who would welcome in such an outsider when he met the man I the carriage; Judas in whom it was discovered that even the most determined act to deny the kingdom can be redeemed for the kingdom; his mother, who would see him again, Mary who would be the first preacher of the resurrection….. maybe he didn’t see that yet. Maybe tonight all he can see is that something is ending, and it is frightening, and he has to go through it to discover if what he believes, what he preaches, this God in whom he has put all his trust is what he – hopes?
And above all, when he looks at them he sees them with eyes of love. They are his own in the world, and he loves them; loves them as they are. He hopes for what they will become, and he forgives what they have been and will be – but he loves them for what they are; people, real people living real lives in all the complexity, wondering, confusion, delight, fear and muddle that being human is. He does not want them to be otherwise. He could have called the angels to serve and bring the message – they came at his birth after all, and they have been messenger all through the story of God with people. But not now, not here, not in this most human of places, eating, drinking, waiting and dying.
He looked around and saw them all; saw each of them – strengths, gifts, joys, capacities, pains, sins, weakness and brokenness.
And he loved them and shared the bread and wine with them, and gave to them the right and calling to be his body in the world.
And we are here tonight, and we are looked at with the same clarity, the same love, the same calling, and given bread and wine and right and calling. This is that, and now is then and here is there – and the Lord is here.
Who do we see may be an important question?
More important is that whoever we are, whatever we carry, hope, expect, fear, have done, will do, whatever our story, he sees us with the same eyes of love.