Today’s gospel, John 13.2–33, 36–38, gives the lie to the idea of Jesus’ serenely going to his Passion and Death, completely untroubled in mind or body. Instead we see him ‘troubled in spirit,’ blurting out his distress at what he knows will happen, and then a brief, sad exchange with the friend who will betray him. All this to the accompaniment of the disciples’ baffled incomprehension. They are still in Palm Sunday mood, looking forward to the Passover, expecting great things of Jesus. Simon Peter is full of cheerful courage, ready to make the most extravagant declarations of love and fidelity. We know how it will end, but we are destined to go on every step of the way, with nothing changed or lessened in intensity.
I think Tuesday in Holy Week has its own special dynamic. Many of us are putting the finishing touches to our liturgical and domestic preparations. By Wednesday we shall be so close to the Triduum that we shall mentally be inhabiting its space, but today there is still some distance. We are distant, too, from the joyful celebration of Palm Sunday. Then, like a stone falling into a still pool, comes the narrative of betrayal, sending out ripples of horror in all directions. Today acts as a kind of reality check on Holy Week. We can’t close our eyes to the pain and suffering caused by a complex web of relationships and an equally complex chain of events. The only thing we can do is try to embrace it as honestly as we can. Much of our life has similar moments, but today assures us that, wherever we go, whatever we experience, Jesus has been there before us. There is a wise saying of Julian of Norwich which expresses how grace transforms our failures, if we will but let God act:
Grace transforms our failings full of dread into abundant, endless comfort … our failings full of shame into a noble, glorious rising … our dying full of sorrow into holy, blissful life. …. Just as our contrariness here on earth brings us pain, shame and sorrow, so grace brings us surpassing comfort, glory, and bliss in heaven … And that shall be a property of blessed love, that we shall know in God, which we might never have known without first experiencing woe.