I bought a new car a few weeks ago. It was my first new car in eight years and I’m struck by how much things have changed in that short period of time. The Subaru I bought eight years ago had some pretty nice features, but this Subaru? It’s incredible. My face is scanned every time I get into the car and it recognizes me and then sets the seat position and mirrors accordingly. When I swerve, even slightly to one side or the other on the road, the car tugs me back into my lane. If I look away at the screen to set a new station on the radio, I get a flashing message telling me not to take my eyes off the road. It’s all wild. And wildly complicated.
In the past, I would get an instruction manual with a car and it would sit in unwrapped plastic in the glove compartment for as long as I had that car. For this new one, I keep it open on the seat next to me and refer to all the time. Some instruction manuals… we don’t ever really need. Some… we need very much.
Scripture is the instruction manual that we need very much for our faith. The New Testament in particular. The Gospel especially so. And you could make the argument that the Triduum story is that part of scripture we should keep open on the seat next to us and refer to often. It is an instruction manual for our faith. More precisely, it is an instruction manual on how to be a disciple. Jesus taught his followers… how to follow. He told them that he would accompany them until the end of time. They accompanied him, and in return, he told them that he would always accompany them. Always.
In this discipleship instruction manual, there are countless examples of Jesus turning things upside down, switching things around in an unanticipated fashion, surprising those who had different expectations. For example:
They thought he would come as a triumphant and conquering king. Instead, he came as a helpless infant born to simple peasants.
They thought he would overturn the often cruel and overbearing rule of the Romans and instead he instructed them to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s.
He told them to love their enemies.
He said that if you love your life, you’ll have to lose it.
He showed them that the first would be last and the last, first.
He said that he came to serve and not be served.
He showed us that curses can be blessings in disguise.
He indicated that there is redemption in suffering.
Jesus turned everything upside down.
And in what has to be one of the most powerful and surprising moments in his life, in all of human history actually, he did this:
“… fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet….”
Did you catch that? When he realized that his Father in heaven, Creator of EVERYTHING, had given him FULL power… his very next move was to stoop down onto the ground and wash his disciples’ feet.
That is a strange and surprising expression of power.
Jesus flips things around. Turns them upside down. And he is asking us to follow him. He is telling us point blank that we are to do as he does.
So, as we approach the holiest days of our Church year, let’s do as his instruction manual states. Let’s… turn things upside down.
I am personally very much drawn to the theme of accompaniment. I take great comfort in the notion that Jesus told his followers, and you and I, that he will accompany us for all of time. I know that in the respective highs and lows in my own life, especially inside of those lows, he is right there. Next to me. He accompanies me.
But on this night… let’s reflect on the fact that Jesus knows full well that trials await him. And that they will not be fair ones. That he will be given over to those who will be cruel and violent. That one of his own best friends will betray him. One who he depended upon will deny even knowing him. Most will flee to safety. He will be completely abandoned.
How must he have felt in that moment?
Coming into these days of his Passion, Jesus will be taken and sent into a holding area. He will be alone, probably in the dark. He will wait. He will anticipate. His suffering has begun before the first crack of any whip. Before nails are placed above his hands and feet, ready to do their assigned task. The suffering of Jesus has already begun.
In a dark holding area.
Here’s a prayer: Sit next to him there. Be with him.
What would you do in that moment? What would you say to him?
Jesus told us that he will accompany us until the end of time. Tonight and over the next few days, let us accompany him.
Prayer all too easily and often becomes about what we want. What we need. About our suffering. About our hopes and aspirations. About our pain. About our fear. About us.
Tonight before you leave here and then over the next two days, let’s turn things upside down and let us minister to Jesus. Let’s make it not about ourselves, but instead about him.
Quiet. Darkness. Alone. Jesus sits and awaits his fate.
Be with him there.