Tuesday 26th March – Mark 14:12-31  ‘All fall away’

Mark 14:12-31

The journey of Jesus through Holy Week is, among many things, a journey from crowds to loneliness.  The great throng of Palm Sunday becomes the large crowd in the temple; then the smaller gathering at Bethany, moving on to the Last Supper with his disciples; then just Peter, James and John in Gethsemane, until finally Jesus is arrested and is completely alone.  Listeners left, followers gone, friends fled.

The narrative becomes more intense, claustrophobic.  Today Jesus prepares to eat the Passover (v13), then at the celebration itself talks of betrayal (v18) and his own shed blood (v24).  He finishes the meal with an evening walk where he finally comes clean: ‘you will all fall away.’ (v27)

It is a stark and sobering admission, and not surprisingly his friends, buoyed not just by wine and conversation, but an evening reflecting on God’s sovereign activity in history, don’t agree.  A tight-knit huddle, they’ve weathered all storms – literal and spiritual – for three years.  They’re just not the ‘falling away’ types – especially not gung-ho, have-a-go Peter.  ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’

We all know what happens next, and we’ll reflect some more on it over the coming days.  But I’m always struck by the disconnect between words and deeds.  Between brave declarations, and craven response.  Between intention and action.  Or as Jesus puts it shortly: ‘The Spirit is willing’ – it usually is – ‘but the flesh is weak.’

And as we gaze back at these iconic scenes with 2,000 years’ perspective – two millennia of knowledge and experience – it strikes me that the only honest response is simply this: there but for the grace of God go I.  Go any of us.  The disciples are just like us: true of heart and easily scattered.  How many times has the rooster crowed for each of us? 

And yet… and yet…. Jesus is still Jesus.  Still full of compassion and mercy, still slow to anger and of great goodness.  Still able to welcome us back with our blushing, tear-stained cheeks.  And in this famous meal he gives us, this simple but glorious act of remembrance, we are able each time to acknowledge our weakness, and praise his strength; to lament our faithlessness and rejoice in his faithfulness; to receive mercy and forgiveness again.  Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s saving death until he comes.

Even as they gather to celebrate the Passover, Jesus knows they will all desert him within hours – and yet he gives them this wonderful sign of his love anyway.  That is grace – and it is grace we remember today.  As the old hymn puts it so well: ‘When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within: upwards I look and see him there, who made an end of all my sin.’  Amen, thank you Jesus.

Loving Lord, there but for your grace I would have gone so many times.  Thank you for your mercy and love.  Make my weak knees strong, and stand by my side always.  Amen.