Re-Living the Disciples’ Sleepiness

It’s Maundy Thursday today, and this always makes me think back to a discovery I made a few years ago on this day.

I was helping with setting up for a Seder meal at my church before our Maundy Thursday service. We spent the afternoon making plates of parsley and horseradish and decorating the tables, and by the time we sat down for the ceremony, I was absolutely famished. Waiting through the long Seder liturgy was torture. When we could finally eat our simple meal of stew and matza, I certainly feasted! Afterward I helped with clean-up and then slipped into the Maundy Thursday service that had already started. The Tenebrae service was mournful and solemn, and the lights gradually dimmed to complete darkness.

Right then I experienced just what the disciples did – I got terribly sleepy after being famished and then overeating! As the light waned, my eyelids drooped lower and lower. I could just hear Jesus saying, “Could you not watch with me just one hour?” It was fascinating to live through the same sensations as the disciples had that night. In fact, they would have been much more sleepy than me, I’m sure. Traditional Passovers start at sunset and go well past midnight, with a huge meal accompanied by four cups of wine. Certainly the disciples and every observant Jew wanted to crawl straight into bed after the late-night feast ended.

That led to another insight that really clarified my understanding of Jesus’ arrest and trial. I didn’t see why Judas needed to help the authorities find Jesus, and why he left right during the supper, and why they decided to arrest Jesus when he came out to the garden. The reason was that Jesus was enormously popular with the masses that whole week after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was staying in a hidden location outside of town in order to get away from the crowds and the threat of the authorities. (See John 11:48-57)

The priests knew they couldn’t lay a hand on him because of his enormous popularity, and the only time they could get to him was when all observant Jews would have been at home asleep after Passover. Jesus’ arrest, trial and sentencing all occured during the wee hours, when the throngs of his supporters were in bed. The only people around to shout “crucify” in the early morning would have been the crowd of corrupt priests and Roman soldiers who had wanted to kill him. (See the article “New Light on Jesus’ Last Week” at

This made everything make more sense – I used to think that the same crowds who loved him one week earlier hated him that day. But reading the Gospel accounts more closely makes it clear that he was popular with the masses even after his death. One Jewish scholar believes that far from being rejected by his people, there was an enormously positive response to him. Now when I read Paul talking about why the Jews did not believe in him, I think he is actually talking about why every last Jew didn’t see that he was the Messiah, rather than why none of them understood that he was the Messiah. According to Acts 21:20, tens of thousands of Jews believed in him in Jerusalem alone!

Certainly Jesus died for the sins of the world that night, and God was completely in control of those events so long ago. But living through a Passover has taught me that Jesus’ secret arrest and conviction while the masses slept was carried out by a small group of corrupt officials rather than by the Jewish people as a whole.

Published in: on April 5, 2007 at 3:20 pm  Comments Off on Re-Living the Disciples’ Sleepiness  
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