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The Five Book of Jesus
Book Three, Section Two (continued)
Judas sits out in the courtyard while the others sleep inside.
Judas wants to pray, but he can’t focus.
Judas tries to pray the same thing he’s prayed thousands of times: “When is the End going to come? Master of the Universe, when is it going to come?” But when he starts to say the words, there’s none of the warmth or excitement he used to feel in response.
Why did Jesus let a woman anoint him? It can’t be valid: is he trying to avoid being the anointed one?
Why did Jesus talk on the mountain yesterday like the End wasn’t going to come yet, wasn’t going to come at all for a long, long time?
Judas’s head spins until he has to use both hands to hold it in place, to hold the ache back.
The jar his sister was carrying is broken. Her eyes are blank, and the neck of her tunic is torn.
When is it going to end? thinks Judas.
His sister walks slowly, her shoulders turned in slightly as if she’d like to fold in her arms and draw in her chest.
“When is it going to end?” says Judas.
Judas wants to scream, but the air is trapped in his chest. He should go out with his knife right now and find the one who did this. The one who made him feel this way.
“When is it going to end?” says Judas, “When is this world going to end?”
The angel is sitting across from him.
“You know it’s him,” the angel says.
“So why do you keep asking if it’s time?” says the angel.
“I need to know,” Judas says.
“Not even I know,” says the angel. “No one knows but God.”
“Who do you think I’ve been praying to?” asks Judas, and the angel is gone.
“Master of the Universe,” says Judas, but there’s nothing. It’s so hard to focus.
He clenches his teeth. He drives his fingernails into his palms hard enough to hurt.
“Master of the Universe,” asks Judas, “when is it going to come?”
But God’s silence is an echo of his sister’s. God’s silence is his sister’s until Judas’s heart suffocates in the thickness of it.
Enough, thinks Judas. And he gives up on prayer.
If God is planning to wait, thinks Judas, then I’ll have to force him.
If Jesus wants to go away, Judas will force him to call down a legion of angels first, will force darkness and light into the violence of their final collision.
Judas will force into motion the chain of events that will break this fallen world open, and then what will God do, what will God have to finally do?
Judas walks without lamplight into Jerusalem and through the streets he hates, the broad, greed-lined streets of the upper city. He walks past villa after villa until he comes to the high priest’s door.
He knocks, and no one answers.
He knocks more loudly, and the servants tell him to go away and go to sleep.
He knocks until his knuckles bleed and the servants threaten to beat him if he doesn’t leave. But the high priest is awake by the time they open the door and drag Judas in, so Judas explains why he’s come before anyone has the chance to break his ribs.
The high priest sends his servants back to bed and has a talk with Judas.
Judas walks away in peace a short time later. He walks away in the dead of that night, the moon shining like steel in his hands off thirty pieces of silver.
James and John wake in the grey light of the early morning to the sound of several crisp knocks accompanied by their mother’s voice. Of course, they think. Every year she’s up before the sun to get ready for the first night of Passover.
They pull on their robes against the chill and quietly welcome her into the house. After fussing over them a bit, she asks, “Do you know if he’s celebrating here? He’s been so busy, I haven’t wanted to bother him, but the festival starts tonight and we need to know the plan.”
James and John don’t know the answers, so they help their mother fix breakfast for everyone while she worries. Will Jesus be celebrating just with his apostles and his mother, or will he have many guests? Does he have other relatives who have come to the city this year?
The owners of the house are surprised to find breakfast ready so early, and the servants are delighted. Mary from Magdala and Jesus’ mother help serve the servants first. The apostles join the remaining servants as soon as space opens up, eating as they listen to Salome talk.
Who will be taking the lamb to the Temple? Do we already have enough wine for four cups per guest? That’s a lot of wine, Salome says. We’ll have to really hurry to make enough of the “bread made in haste” in time, she tells the younger Mary. And is there a good place, she asks the bemused servants, to grate the bitter herbs without making everyone in the house cry?
Fortunately, Jesus wakes before Salome’s temptation to wake him becomes too strong to resist. She holds her tongue and gives him time to eat before she asks for any decisions, keeping herself occupied by prioritizing the questions in her head.
When Jesus sits back and praises her cooking, she feels it’s safe to begin.
“Are we celebrating here or somewhere else?” she asks him.
“We’ll keep the Passover inside Jerusalem,” he says.
Peter laughs. “Master,” he says, “there must be hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in the city by now. Where are we going to find a free space so late?”
Peter stops laughing when Jesus calls him and John over and gives them precise but improbable-sounding directions on exactly how to find and secure their room. Andrew and Thomas listen and smile as they see Peter’s and John’s eyes grow wide.
With the issue of space taken care of, Salome asks about guests. Jesus says just sixteen. Salome moves on to the next questions and Jesus makes assignments. Two people should go to get the wine, she says. Jesus sends Matthew and Simon. Who will take a lamb down to the Temple and bring back the meat? Jesus tells Judas to go when it’s time. Has anyone purchased a bitter root? Jesus asks James to get one quickly and bring it back. Is Jesus feeling all right? Yes, says Jesus, I feel fine. I just need a little more rest: it’s going to be a long night.
“Are all the preparations in the house going to bother you?” asks Salome.
“Don’t worry about me,” says Jesus, but everyone can see Salome still does.
“Maybe I’ll go back to that garden on the mountainside to rest,” Jesus says.
Because of Simon’s warning, the seven apostles without immediate chores insist on going with him, two of them armed with last night’s swords.
Mary from Magdala prepares the fire to cook the thin cakes as she watches the older women make the dough. She admires Salome’s bony hands, the efficiency with which they mix and press together flour and water, the ease with which they form the dough into balls of remarkably consistent size. She sits spellbound by the casual, habitual grace of the older Mary’s hands as they flatten the dough into circles to bake.
The young Mary thanks God she gets to be close to these two women. She thanks God for the beauty of their grey hairs, the strength of their skilled arms.
Her own hands are hard at work baking matzah by the time James returns with the horseradish root. The older Mary takes it from him, holds it gently and with great care.
And then, before Salome can offer to help her, she goes off to grate the bitter, pungent root alone.
If anyone sees her, they’ll assume it’s because of the root she’s crying.
In the late afternoon, everyone meets in the garden. Simon and Matthew, so often tense around each other, talk and laugh so freely that Andrew wonders if they’ve tried to lighten their heavy loads by sampling the wine. James and the women arrive next with tall stacks of the thin, crisp Passover bread and a little vessel of strong-smelling grated root. Judas comes haltingly: he’s having trouble getting the lamb he bought at the market to follow and tries to drag it until Jesus walks over and advises him on how to patiently guide sheep.
Peter and John are the last to arrive, still wide-eyed with their wonder at having found a servant struggling with a heavy pitcher of water, just as Jesus predicted, who accepted their help with the load and led them to a nice house in the upper city, just as Jesus predicted, whose owner offered a large second-story room when they told him their Master needed one, just as Jesus predicted.
No one else is nearly as surprised about all this as Peter and John: after all, it’s often easier to accept the miracle you only hear about than the one you actually see. As they walk from the garden through the city, most of the disciples absorb the holiday fervor of the crowds, but Peter and John are too busy asking themselves if they really saw the servant right here, if he really led them down this street and into that courtyard. And when their host greets them, they wonder again: did he somehow know they were coming this morning? Was he warned in a vision or a dream?
When Judas comes back from the Temple with the meat, they get started. They bless the first cup of wine, wash their hands, and fall through time.
It’s spring. After the barren winter, the earth clothes herself in a tunic of new water and a vibrant green robe. We should be happy: the breeze is like wine, breath itself intoxicating. But something is wrong. The renewal of spring comes, but we’re still crying, because we’re enslaved.
Jesus and Judas dip their parsley into saltwater at the same time.
We’re like the caged bird who is moved by the season to gather straw for a futile nest. And the children of Israel sighed because of their bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of their bondage.
Jesus breaks a piece of the Passover bread in two, lifts a half high above his head.
“This is the bread of affliction,” he says. “All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are in need, let them join in the meal with us.”
Then he departs from tradition, breaks the half in pieces. “This is my body,” he says. “When you eat, remember me.”
We are slaves in Egypt. We have been thrown into a pit by our brothers and sold.
We bought the blessings of our father for a bowl of soup and now there’s hell to pay. We sold ourselves for love but feel the love won’t be complete until we’re also free.
We’re tired of serving idols on the Euphrates and we want God to show us the way to a free land of our own. We ate some fruit, and it tasted good, and the juice was red like our blood against these thorns.
It’s spring, but we’re still slaves in Egypt.
We were slaves to the Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord took us out of there with a mighty hand.
This is how it happened, says Jesus. This is how it happened to our ancestors and us.
There iwas a cup made from the beginning of the world for the price of evil, and drop by drop it fills up with unspeakable pain.
The performers dance in the royal court while the drummer plays a breathless beat. It’s the same beat as the rhythm of whips on slaves’ backs in the fields; every time the dancers leap, an old man collapses.
Outside the palace one day, the Pharaoh stretches out his arms to bask under the same sun that bakes the slaves’ bricks and bodies. The Pharaoh yawns at the same time a slave woman gives birth to a screaming baby he’s already ordered to have killed, like so many others.
The slaves are growing too tired even to give their sons names.
Drop by drop, forgotten blood fills the cup.
The mother raises her baby by posing as his wet nurse. The Pharaoh rules his people by posing as their God.
He commissions his wise men to carve his history into rocks, but he doesn’t know the overseers’ whips are the strongest styluses, that history is being written in scars.
The baby grows up, and tells history to stop. The baby grows up, and kills one of the writers. It doesn’t matter. Another will take his place.
The people of Egypt eat and drink and laugh. It’s nice to have such cheap bricks.
The man whose mother posed as his wet nurse goes out to the desert like John. He’s tired of Pharaoh. He wants God.
God finds him. God burns like a fire that’s shut up in his bones.
The man goes back to Pharaoh. He tells him about the pain in the bitter cup. He tells him to let the slaves go. But Pharaoh has a hard heart. Why does Pharaoh’s heart always have to be so hard?
An evil generation looks for signs, so the man shows signs to Pharaoh. But it isn’t enough. Pharaoh believes that forgotten blood can stay forgotten: he doesn’t believe in the cup.
Jesus lifts the cup high enough for everyone to see, and with each word he spills one tiny drop: Blood, frogs, lice, says Jesus. Flies, sickness, boils, he says. Hail, locusts, darkness.
Slaying of the firstborn.
“This is my blood,” says Jesus, still holding the cup. Ten drops on his plate stand for all the suffering of Egypt, but he looks at the whole cup. How many drops are left there? How many thousands of drops?
“Whenever you drink, remember me,” he says.
Soon Jerusalem’s houses and streets and inns and brothels and stables and slums are filled with the sounds of half a million people singing. We’ve been freed from bondage in Egypt. We’ve been led by a prophet to a land full of promise, marked by old promises.
I love the Lord because he heard my voice and my prayers! the people sing. He lowered his ear to listen, so I’ll cry out to him as long as I have breath.
The apostles’ heads are warm with wine. They pour out into the streets and join in the songs. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all his people, they sing, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Jesus is going somewhere now, and the apostles try to follow him. In the press of half a million bodies, no one notices Judas is gone.
By the time the singing is over and the pilgrims have gone back inside and fallen asleep, Jesus and eleven of the twelve have made their way across the city and back to the garden on the mountainside. They’re happy to be here again: the four cups of wine it takes to celebrate this night have made them so drowsy, and it seems like a nice place to rest.
“This will be a hard night for you,” says Jesus, and the apostles try their best to listen. “But when it’s over, remember the prophets wrote about it: smite the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. So don’t blame yourselves when you leave me.”
“I’ll never leave you,” says Peter, and he starts to get choked up. “Not even if everyone else does, not even if I’m the only one left with you in the world.”
But Jesus shakes his head. “Before the rooster crows in the morning, you’ll deny me three times.”
“No!” says Peter. “I would die with you, but I won’t deny you! I’ll never leave you, no matter what you say.”
So Jesus doesn’t say anything, and eight wine-weary men fall asleep.
“Follow me, then,” says Jesus to the last three, and he walks deeper into the garden with Peter, James, and John.
When they pass the oil press, Jesus starts to shake.
“Wait here,” he says. “Just once, I need to know you’re here for me.”
The three fishermen don’t know what’s happening, don’t know what to say. But they’re determined to wait, watching, until their Master comes again.
A stone’s throw away, Jesus falls down on his face.
“Father!” he cries.
Peter, James, and John wait and watch, watch and wait, but wine-warm minds make heavy eyes. The night is cool, and the garden feels safe, and the spring is here whispering of a coming sweet summer and the goodness of life.
Peter finds he can keep his eyes open, or his mind from drifting, but not both.
In the olive press, there’s a millstone far larger than any man can lift.
How much more than the olive beneath it does the millstone weigh? How might the great stone’s weight feel on the olive’s back?
“Father!” cries Jesus. “Father!”
Peter, James, and John dream of an olive press. Or could it be that they’re awake?
Gethsemane, they call this place. An oil press. An olive oil press.
Jesus shakes Peter, James, and John awake. “Couldn’t you wait an hour with me?” he asks.
“We’re waiting,” they say. “We’re awake now, and we’re waiting.”
Peter, James, and John look out into the heavy darkness of this night.
A stone’s throw away, Jesus is flat against the earth again. Fallen before his Father’s face.
“Don’t make me finish,” he begs. “If there’s any other way, don’t make me finish this. But help me finish if this is the only way!”
Peter, James, and John dream of an unbearable weight. In their dream, an angel has to come to protect them from it. To keep it from crushing them.
Jesus wakes them again. He doesn’t ask anything, but they still don’t know what to say.
Jesus staggers, stumbles, falls one last time. “Father,” he says.
Then the weight comes again, all of it, until blood seeps out of every pore like great drops of oil.
Peter, James, and John are deep in a dreamless sleep.
James Goldberg is a poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, documentary filmmaker, scholar, and translator who specializes in Mormon literature.
Original artwork by Sarah Hawkes.