In our gospel lesson from John two supporting characters emerge at center stage with Jesus. One of these characters has been in our field of view the whole time. The other makes his official debut in the gospel, somehow avoiding notice until this moment at supper where the flickering candlelight makes shadows jump dramatically on the perimeters of that upper room.
The gospel writer says that Jesus heart was troubled as he announces that someone at the dinner table will betray him. As the disciples’ eyes dart around the room we can feel their uneasiness, perhaps because each of them at one point on their journey with Jesus had considered jumping ship and going back to their old lives and families, back into their individual realms of safety and the familiar. We read earlier in John that as many of Jesus’ followers were abandoning him, He turns to his disciples and asks if they too want to leave. You may remember Peter’s response: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’*Jesus replied: ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’
Sitting at supper with Jesus that night, perhaps they had forgotten this reply to Peter’s affirmation. After all, each of the men in the room had made it to Jerusalem with Jesus. They had stuck it through and had entered the city with him through the crowds waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” Yet now Jesus reminds them of the imminent betrayal and for a second each one of them experience the panic of implied conviction.As Jesus hands the dipped bread to one of the men sharing center stage with him: Judas is exposed as the betrayer. Jesus turns to him and says, “Do quickly what you’re are going to do.” Yet the rest of the men at the table fail to see this because they themselves are lost in their own shadows of doubt and fear. In the impending hours they will all abandon Jesus, fleeing into the night to avoid being exposed themselves. All but one; the other disciple sharing center stage with Jesus.
This unnamed disciple is reclining intimately in the bosom of Jesus, perhaps listening to His troubled heart beating rapidly. In the tension of the moment he knows that there is nothing he can do for Jesus except abide with Him there in the comforting assurance that he will not flee. And for the rest of Holy Week we strain to see through the shadows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the face of this disciple. We want to know who is so beloved by our Lord, who follows close at hand with him during his trial and conviction; who it is that Jesus entrusts the care of His mother at the foot of the cross before giving up His spirit. We come to know in John’s telling of the resurrection that it is this unnamed disciple who when arriving at the tomb at once believes that Jesus is alive and we are awed by his faith in spite of the evidence at that moment being circumstantial.
Who are you in this story? What is your relationship to Jesus at this point in your life? In the great drama of Holy Week we are asked to consider this question and at several points a piece of bread will be put into our hands. Will you be tempted to flee in fear and panic, abandoning the intimacy that Jesus longs for with you? Or will you stay a little longer, reclining on His bosom; accepting the invitation to have your feet washed; following him to the cross and waiting in the wee hours of the morning for the sun to rise. If you have the courage to stay with Jesus,you may find as the Easter sun shines through these stained glass windows that the identity of the beloved disciple all this time has been you.
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