Prison and Death: A Lenten Meditation for Maundy Thursday

imagesWe have been traveling with Jesus to Jerusalem since Ash Wednesday, six weeks. Jesus is now in the holy city, and he has been busy. He has rallied his supporters with a tumultuous entrance, an improvised celebration of Hosannas. He has made more enemies by wreaking havoc on the commercial interests in the temple, turning over their tables and driving out their four-legged merchandise.

On Thursday night of this unforgettable week, Jesus has arranged to celebrate a traditional Passover feast with his beloved disciples. It is a joyous yet melancholy time, just as Passover must have always been for the sons and daughters of Israel in those days. One one hand they were celebrating the epic deliverance of their ancestors from being a nation of slaves in Egypt. This led to the formation of their proud nation through the providential acts of their God, Yahweh, the LORD.

N.T. Wright characterizes their other feelings this way, “We are in the Holy Land focused on the temple, but paradoxically we are in a sense still in exile, still outsiders in our own land.” This was because they were ruled by pagans, by uncircumcised Romans who cared nothing for the Law and the traditions of Israel. Emotions were running high on that Thursday night.

During the Passover meal on that night, Jesus blesses the cup and loaf and teaches the disciples how to understand them symbolically to represent his blood and body. This is the beginning of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. On Maundy Thursday, we should remember these dramatic, prophetic, words of promise.

After the meal, Jesus has a private word for Peter, revealing that “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” We often take this as a dire warning to Peter alone concerning his upcoming failure: three denials of Jesus. Yet the “you” here is in the plural. Satan has desired to sift all the disciples, and maybe he has. Sifting is an act of purification, removing the tiny stones that were hidden is the wheat. Luke has already told us that one of the disciples, Judas, has been sifted, for Satan has entered his heart and filled it with greed.

Is Peter Satan’s next target?

Feeling the pressure, Peter blurts out, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” And so he does, eventually, so he does. It is a long road, but thirty-five years later in Rome, the fisherman is imprisoned and then crucified head down.

Prison and death. Do we include this in our calls to discipleship? As we drink and eat the emblems of the Lord’s Supper, we are eating symbols of death. As Paul put it, signing up to follow Christ is being “crucified” with him. I think that if a commitment to prison and death were a requirement for being a Christian, our numbers would dwindle dramatically.

As we finish our journey to the cross tomorrow, Blessed Friday, let us contemplate. Do we want to just watch this as if it is an internet feed on a computer, or would we join Jesus on a cross if asked to do so? If we were sifted by Satan, would we be live-giving wheat or a useless, tooth-breaking stone?

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College