Like many writers, I have very vivid dreams. Some stay with me all day and some have stayed with me for years. When my husband was here I could say to him “Did we ever drive in a LandRover under a huge crystal bridge, with a pink castle in the distance?’ and he would patiently say ‘No. But we looked at Barbie Castles yesterday for Louise’s birthday present.’
Ah. Right. Thanks, George. That’ll be it.
But some dreams are so intense and real that they teach us something we can’t and don’t want to forget. Many years ago I dreamt that I was sitting, cross-legged, in a long, wide, high marble hallway. It was grand and beautiful in its emptiness, its grand austerity. A marble palace. But I was filled with fear and dread as I sat there, so aware of the echoing space, the hush, my aloneness. Petrified, as stiff and cold as stone. To one side and behind me, was an ornate door, closed. The only sounds were from the other side of that door; muted, muffled sounds, the familiar tinkle of a spoon in a china saucer, the gentle schlip-schlop of slippered feet, and in the distance soft voices murmuring. So ordinary. So terrifying. Terrifying.
I was waiting to be executed. Beheaded. Just waiting. There was no reason, no history, no questions, just the inevitable. Execution. The fear in that dream was real, the dread and the certain knowledge that death was a few steps away. There was submission to the inevitable, alongside the terror. I will never forget that palace. My own memento mori.
There! That’s cheered you up, hasn’t it? Sorry, guys. Plough on.
Only a dream, but it taught me something real; I know now that fear and resignation, dread and terror and acceptance can all exist at the same time. I truly do believe that I know now what it is to wait for death, I didn’t wake up fighting, or sweating, or screaming, but peacefully tearful, shaken, wiser, older. The chink of the teacup, the soft slippered footsteps, the melodic distant voices….. I hear them still.
This week I’ve been reading the Gospel of Matthew and thinking about Jesus the man. I don’t think that Jesus has ever been so real, so human and present to me, as he is right now. Reading Matthew 26, thinking of everything that Jesus faced, of the things he knew and prophesied, of the days leading up to his execution…. I’m back there in that marble corridor, my heart racing, my hollow stomach aching with the horror. My poor lovely Lord.
It’s never occurred to me before but the whole of Matthew 26 is a love story, the love of a man for his followers, the love they had for him, the soaring heights of his love, and the human frailty of theirs. At the top of the chapter we have Mary pouring a lavish river of sweet perfume on the head of the man she loved, and the God she worshipped. What devotion. And yet this generous act of selfless love was the catalyst, or maybe the excuse, that plunged Judas into bitter, greedy betrayal. How messed up we humans are.
But Jesus knew what was to come and he wanted to mark his last meal with the people he loved, and that’s a very human desire we all have – we all want to say a memorable goodbye. I’ve been with two dear friends this past year as they’ve died, and they both summoned the energy and the strength they needed to say goodbye to the ones they loved. One of my friends had not only made a very short list of the people she wanted to see (as it turned out she died the next day) but she also had things lined up to say to us! I think that’s how Jesus planned this meal – he knew that it was important, that he needed to be with his friends for one last time, and so “I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples…” verse 18. He planned his farewell supper.
Imagine that celebratory meal, a great gang of friends, and Jesus looking around at them all, knowing what was to come in just a few hours… grieving for the loss of them…. trying to leave markers so that they would look back and understand and take comfort from his words. He would be so very aware of the Passover, the history and significance of it….. the relevance of God’s timing and the message it sends …. And all that time, he was watching them, listening to them, smiling at them perhaps, even though he knew that Judas was even then betraying him. Was his mind in turmoil, his heart racing, fear and knowledge churning? Well, if he was Jesus the man, yep, I think so. This is Jesus the man. God and man. Both.
Jesus lived in perfect sinless union with his father, in constant prayer, total submission to the will of God, and so after the meal they sang a psalm and headed off into the hills, the disciples probably longing to pull their cloaks around them and get their heads down, Jesus longing to pray, to be at one with his Divinity, his Father. But I think that Jesus the man was also longing, aching, to shed this humanity and be only Divine. Surely he must have felt the pull of the eternal, alongside the tug of the worldly? The love of God and the love for his disciples? Do you think he had an easy golden walk through life as the Son of God? I don’t. I think every moment lived as man was an act of love for us, sacrificial. Every decision he made was a conscious act of love for God and for us, from the moment he was born to the final cry of ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani’… every hard choice he made was for us, and in obedience.
God and man. Perfect. So perfect a God that he faced death for us. So perfect a man that he longed for the companionship of the men he loved, but even the ones he chose to keep watch at his deathbed, his closest and last companions, abandoned him as they fell asleep. He was truly alone. Alone with his knowledge, his dread and fear, his submission to God, his willingness, his love. Alone. In those minutes, however long it took for the Judas mob to arrive, was he standing alone, kneeling alone, terrified but resigned, knowing what was to come and submitted to it? Did he stand in that olive grove, looking into the darkness, straining to see, listening, holding his breath? Knowing what was coming, the wavering torchlight, the voices of the Temple Guard, the clatter of swords, as they stumbled towards him? Not just waiting for the inevitable but willingly walking towards it. In the Gospel of John we’re told ‘Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
And then… Judas, Judas. Oh, Judas.
How does Jesus greet him? “My beloved friend,” Jesus said, “is this why you’ve come?” (TPT)
Ahh. Brave Jesus. Our brave Jesus. Our strong courageous God. Endlessly loving, whatever we do. When he sees us, in eternity, will that be how he greets us? ‘My beloved friends’.
Sometimes it’s good to think of the man who was Jesus. Thinking about the man, Jesus, reveals the nature of God. When God seems far away, Jesus is sometimes very near.
God with us. One of us. Whatever we face, and whatever we endure, however hard the road, Jesus was there before us, willingly, lovingly, submissively, strongly, bravely. For us.