Today is Maundy Thursday.
Holy Week: Day 4, The Mysterious Silence
We all have a “day off.” As a minister, I work a lot on the weekends, so mine happens to be today. And it also just so happens that, on the last week of Jesus’ life, he also needed a “day off.” And this was the day. For him it must have felt like the “calm before the storm.” (Yes, believe it or not, even with the incredibly intense events of the past few days, Jesus’ most intense days and hours were still awaiting him! I find that simply amazing. How much stress can one person take?!)
Oddly, the Scriptures do not clearly tell us what Jesus did on Day 4 of his last week. Mark’s gospel has one statement in verse one of chapter fourteen that says, “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away…” (so…that would be, in our reckoning of time, Tuesday). And then in verse 12 of chapter fourteen Mark says “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread…” (so that would be in our reckoning of time, Thursday from 6 p.m. onwards).
On one level, we could chastise Mark: “You’ve just skipped a day! What’s up with the “two-days-before” and the “on-the-first-day-of” nonsense! We want to know what happened the next day. I mean, it was just getting juicy! Raising that guy Lazarus, not attending the ceremonial cleansing time, riding into Jerusalem to the shouts of ‘Hosanna’. Then, the action scene where Jesus turns over tables, the public debate and the foreshadowing prophecy. What happens next?!” (It’s people like this who write biographies called “Jesus: the missing days” or produce documentaries titled “Jesus Unplugged: A behind-the-scenes look at never-before-seen footage.” It’s people like this who desperately want to find out what Jesus did that day.)
It’s people like this who need to “get a life.” Just kidding.
Here’s a question: what if Jesus didn’t “do” anything? Is that so bad?
For some people it is. I mean, imagine someone telling you “You’ve got one week left to live.” I must confess: if I were told that, and if I had the same infinite power Jesus has, I would probably have gone around trying to do as much “good” as possible. I probably wouldn’t be causing a ruckus in the temple by trashing the place and I certainly wouldn’t be taking a day off. You know what I mean?
But Jesus did. (Take a day off, I mean).
Now: I can just hear someone saying: “How do you know he took a day off? Maybe he did a bunch of stuff but it was simply never written down?”
This is just my humble opinion, but I doubt that.
Here’s why: because this is the last week of Jesus’ life and almost every phrase and nuance has been written down about Jesus’ words and actions thus far and afterwards. In fact, this is the part of the record of Jesus’ life that is the most “complete.” Did you know that around one third of the stuff recorded about Jesus centers on his last week of life? Now, when it comes to other parts of his life, there’s a lot that hasn’t been written down in the interest of “space” and in the interest of more force in terms of “story-telling.” (John closes his account of Jesus’ life by stating: “Jesus did many others things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”) But, I don’t think the gospel writers omitted key details of this part of Jesus’ life. For that reason, I find the argument that “Jesus did a bunch of stuff, but it just wasn’t written down” to be an unlikely alternative. I think it’s more plausible that Jesus “took a day off”.
The question that begs to be answered is “Why?”
I have one idea, one “speculation” (and let me stress: this is mere “speculation.” ). Bear with me:
Have you ever been to a more “liturgical” kind of church service? For those of us who have, you will recall that the basic stucture of the whole service is what we call “antiphonal.” An “antiphonal” service has a compelling format because it is the format of “dialogue”: First, God speaks and humans listen. Then, humans respond and God listens. What if this antiphonal dialogue is rooted in Holy Week? I think it is.
You see what I’m driving at? What if Jesus’ last week is antiphonal? First, God speaks and humans listen. Then, humans respond and God listens. Maybe Jesus “took a day off” because he was listening: listening to his Father, but also listening to see mankind’s response to what he just did the day before (he taught in the temple and on the Mount of Olives, remember?) Maybe, Jesus was just listening. Just resting and listening.
This fits with what’s recorded in John’s gospel. There’s this idea of Jesus saying “Okay, I’ve done some amazing things. Now the ball’s in your court. Will you believe in me?” (John’s gospel isn’t totally in “chronological order”. It isn’t totally “linear.” So he has some keys as to what may have happened to “the missing day.”) He writes just before chapter thirteen’s record of his Passover–Thursday night–account: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37) It’s as if John is saying: “Okay, Jesus has spoken. What’s your response?” (It’s totally antiphonal!)
Having said that, I think it’s time to listen (and respond).
Reflection: “Do I believe in Jesus? He’s done his miracles, he’s spoken his words of life: do I believe him? Jesus is waiting for me to respond to him now. How will I respond?”
Prayer: “Lord Jesus, you have worked miracles. You have shown yourself to be God. I believe in you. I respond to you in faith and I follow you.”
Try reading John’s gospel account on this “silent day”:
May this Holy Week continue to be meaningful for you.