Twelve disciples began with Jesus this night seated around the Passover Table. Twelve disciples were chosen to stand and partner with Jesus. You will recall their names: Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, Nathaniel/Bartholomew and Philip, Matthew Levi and James the lesser, Thadaeus/Judas, Thomas/Didymus (twin), Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot.
When we look across the New Testament texts, we can glean some details about each of these friends of Jesus. Simon Peter is a man of action. He was impulsive, hot tempered, insightful, and courageous. Andrew was enthusiastic and resourceful. John had a bold and fiery temperament. James the Elder was an unfilled leader. He was fiercely passionate and would find himself to become the first martyred of the disciples. Philip is best described as deliberate. He was practical, helpful, literal, and confused at times. Bartholomew/Nathaniel is best understood in light of his candid personality. He was forthright and honest. Matthew is best understood in light of his success in business and popularity among sinners and other tax collectors. He was a hospitable and penitent soul. Thomas is best understood in his desire to see the data or facts. He didn’t want to hear about mystical visions. He lived in the here and now. He was both inquisitive and doubtful. James the Lesser was the quiet follower and often hidden unnoticed in the background. He was the forgotten one among the disciples, yet, makes his appearance as someone extraordinary to Jesus. Thaddaeus/Judas is best known as someone in the background observing the experience, and questioning everything. He was both inquisitive and confused. Simon the Zealot surely followed Jesus with mixed motives. He was patriotic, loyal, passionate, and sacrificial. Judas Iscariot was ambitious and a financial leader among the brethren. He knew the value of a dollar, and was out to get what he felt was coming to him. He was considered a bit greedy and deceitful along the way toward financial gain.
Tonight we only have a representation of the 12 disciples with us. Some you may recall were faithful friends that made it into the inner circle of Jesus’ prayer life – Simon Peter, John & James – the Sons of Thunder. Those who made it into Jesus’ inner circle were the strongest personality types to be sure. Some we don’t know much about in the Scriptures like Andrew, Nathaniel, and Philip. One we know as the doubter, Thomas/Didymus or the Twin. One we know as the denier, Peter. One we know as the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. They all had left behind their lives to make a new one with Jesus. And, all would falter in their faith on the last night of Jesus’ life.
It was the night of the Passover Meal when Jesus asked Peter & John to prepare a place for the meal, an upper room furnished with rugs and furniture, prepared for this special occasion. But no one would comprehend what was about to happen. Their unpolished faith was about to be tested!
It was in the upper room Jesus took a basin and towel, and began to serve the disciples by washing their feet. It wasn’t long before one would object, Simon Peter, of course. Then Jesus instituted a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. He then broke bread and shared a cup: a new way to remember his sacrifice. All of salvation history was about to be changed!
Each one of us can find ourselves in the stories and characters of the bible stories. But on this night we remember the solitude of Jesus. Alone he prays as his closest allies – Peter, James & John – fall helplessly asleep at his side. The most vibrant men in the group cannot withstand the heaviness of this night. This tight knit band of brothers was about to enter into the most sacred holy moment of all time when God himself holds his life giving breathe and turns away as his only Son is murdered. The disciples will flee into the night. One stripped of his clothing to run naked into the night, young John.
Holy solitude calls us to stand in the aloneness of the crucified Christ and identify in the suffering of his abandonment. During Holy Week, the church enters into sacred silence. Solitude gives way to silence, quietness of community, that we might commune with God. Community with God gives way to sacred speech. It is in solitude that we learn how to properly speak to one another in love and admonition. Solitude guides us to properly hearing the Word of God. It is in the solitude that we calculate the unfathomable love of our God, and take our aim at giving it away.
Transformational silence moves us into properly acting in love of God and neighbor. Silence is the language of a heart made glad in God. Silence washes us from within that we might be refreshed. It is in solitude and silence that we find transformative grace. Silence is the sound of relinquishing our wants and desires. What is a personal word of love to us in the silence can become a corporate word of love for those in dire straits. It is in the place of standing alone that we are tested and tried so that we might produce fruit in our lives in accordance with God’s command to love.
Holy solitude and transformational silence require deep reflection on our part. May we take the time to consider the meaning of our own unpolished faith in Jesus as we take the journey through the betrayal, the judgements, and the crucifixion until we find ourselves resurrected with Christ Jesus on Easter morning.