In John’s Gospel we have that dramatic scene at the Last Supper where Peter wants to know who will betray Christ. One gets the distinct feeling that Peter is very worried that it might be him. He knows that if he asks John, the beloved disciple, to ask Jesus, he will tell him who the traitor is. Here we have John asking Jesus the fatal question.
So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him to buy what we need for the feast, or, that he should give something to the poor. So after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night.
And it was night. Judas makes his way under cover of darkness to alert the chief priests, Annas and Caiaphas as to where he thinks Jesus might go after supper. Archbishop Goodier in his wonderful book on the Passion thinks that Judas took the priests, soldiers, temple guard and others to the cenacle, and then finding no-one there guessed that Jesus had gone to the garden of Gethsemane. Whatever happened between Judas’s departure, and the arrest of Jesus, we know that Judas went with the armed guard, and indicated by kissing Jesus, whom to apprehend.
How many terrible deeds are still done under the cover of night, even in our vast and illuminated cities that seem to be more reminiscent of science fiction cities? How many betrayals, murders and robberies take place under the cover of night. How many drunken orgies take place at night time. How many meetings of the great and the powerful take place late at night and into the early hours of the morning. How many terrible plots, and cruel tortures take place under the veil of darkness? How many interrogations take place at night, when a victim is tired and at his most vulnerable? Is there no end to Man’s cruelty? It would seem that the end will only come on that glorious and majestic day, when Christ in all his beauty, glory, and radiance will come on clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead. On that day all will be put to right, and then history, the world and time will end.
Until then there will be always that fear of torture, and being alone to face it. Recently there has been a report on the awful torture chambers that America has set up since the destruction of the Twin Towers. The idea that only the Communists and Nazis were torturers has thus been proved false. Every government fearing that its power is in danger of being destroyed, tortures and kills.
The night envelops both the good and the evil. The night of the of the Last Supper is so different from the night when the angel of death passed over the people of Israel and destroyed all the first born of man and beast alike.
At midnight the LORD smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. And Pharaoh arose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where one was not dead.
One can imagine the terror of the Egyptians who, having weathered all the previous plagues now find that all the first born have died when the destroying angel passed over the land of Egypt.
The people of Israel however are filled with joy for their exile is at end, and they can leave loaded with gold and jewellery taken from the Egyptians, who will give them anything as long as they go.
Jesus in his arrest, his trials, his tortures, and in his death takes on all the powers of darkness, and there is still a sense of darkness, even with the coming of Good Friday morning, for his enemies are children of darkness, servants of Satan. Jesus is the new paschal lamb, but he is also the scapegoat that must die outside the city walls. God becomes the scapegoat.
Let us look further into this profound mystery. The people of Israel are defended by the destroying angel, who is their champion. Moses is able to take them to the promised land. Christ is the new Moses who opens the gates of Heaven to the redeemed, but only if he suffers in way that no man has ever suffered, or will ever suffer. The mystery of the Cross and Christ’s suffering will be a cause of eternal wonderment to the saved, and a source of eternal shame to the damned.
Christ gives his body and blood to his apostles, and then in the Garden gives his blood in his terrible sweat, and the oneness of The Last Supper and Calvary is symbolically sealed in this terrible agony in the Garden.
Here in Gethsemane Christ has to take all the sins of the World upon his shoulders and, so to speak into the depths of his humanity. In our humanity God protects us from the worst ravages of evil, but allows evil to ravage himself. He allows the revenge of Satan in accepting that gigantic assault of all the sins every committed. Only the heart of The God Man, could take such anguish.
In the Garden Our Lord only has three very sleepy and frightened apostles to support him, and they are as good as useless. So his handpicked friends, his apostles are not up too much. They run away when he is arrested, though implicitly with Christ’s permission. He says to his abductors,
“Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go.”(John 18: 7-8,).
He then is alone to suffer all the hatred from his adversaries, but it is actually the beginning of his triumphant victory march, for it is held that the worst suffering was the Agony in the Garden, and surely this is true, because suffering is worse in anticipation. He can now feel that though he has no-one near to him like his mother, Our Lady, or his apostles, he knows that beside him are the Father, and the Holy Spirit. In his great sacrificial love we may suggest that he did not allow him to feel the consolation of their love, as he had to give his all to save us.
He then begins to tread the path that every just person has had to tread since the beginning of time, and those who are not judged. For it is not only the just who are maligned, so too are the sinners, and the wicked. What man or woman hasn’t been misunderstood, maligned, or misunderstood, and tortured, the saints more than anyone else. Christ takes all these insults upon him, purifies them, and then passes them on to us, that in suffering we may make our sufferings one with him, and so aid in the work of Redemption.
As I said Christ is both the innocent and spotless lamb, and also the scapegoat. He becomes like us in all things but sin, as St. Paul tells us.