This post draws on the final chapter of my book, Jesus said, I Am, finding life in the everyday
The last time Jesus said “I am” was in the garden, at the moment the soldiers, and Judas, came to arrest him.
This is the decisive moment, when everything changes: Jesus steps forward, moving away from his friends. He steps unarmed towards the guards, soldiers, and Judas. This step delivers him into the hands of violent men. And yet, and yet.
In his very quietness, quiescence, there is a power and a strength they do not understand. For their power is no power. Jesus has freely chosen to drink from this cup of betrayal and suffering and death. He knows what is to come. He steps forward, into all that is to come, knowing this to be the way of justice, love and peace. He steps forward, knowing this is the way to something unimaginably great – overcoming and forgiving the worst evil humanity can do. But also, it is an immediate, personal, loving step – he keeps his friends safe, draws the eyes of the solders away from them as he enters their circle of glaring torchlight.
‘For whom are you looking?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth’
‘I am’ – ego eimi – ‘I am he’
Once again, we see something – someone – real – someone you can talk to, touch, kiss even – who is also this ‘I am’ we have been holding in our mind. Those who came to arrest him fall to the ground as he says these words.
This is the great ‘I am’ of the burning bush in the shadowy brightness of the soldiers’ torches. We are on holy ground.
Peter must put away his sword, and he does. Jesus undoes our common narratives of violence – killing, defeat of our enemies, power and control are not the way of the cross. Luke (22:51) records Jesus healing Malchus, the one Peter wounded. Even now, this is how Jesus loves his enemies.
There is a very moving C14th painting in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Norwich Cathedral which shows the arrest of Jesus. Jesus is at the centre, with soldiers around him. Judas is on his left, embracing him, and Jesus receives this embrace, moving slightly towards it. And Jesus’ other hand rests on a poor naked scrap of humanity, Malchus, restoring his ear. It is all one beautiful, graceful movement. This movement, this gesture, seems to transform even the betrayal of a friend, turning it into something life-giving for the naked soldier. Even in all his ugliness, he is healed. At some point, someone has scratched away Judas’ lips and eyes, presumably unable to bear the betrayal. But Jesus bore it; he submitted to it.
The path of the sword is not the way of the cross. For love and life to triumph over cruelty, separation and death, Jesus chose this way.
The way towards Good Friday is also the way towards Easter Sunday.
We have seen Jesus bring many things together. These I am sayings reconcile, among other things, the everyday world of bread and gates and plants, with something that seems mystical and far away – the great I Am of the burning bush. Perhaps we can come to hold these things together, see that they are not so far apart, after all.
Perhaps we too, in all our common, daily life can connect these two things. Our lives can seem so insignificant and ordinary, but they are illuminated by a life-light, a love and a grace, a hope and a way that is so deep and true it connects our very depths to the very depths of a God who loves us enough to come, in fragile flesh, and stretch out his arms to show us the full extent of his love. It is in our very ordinariness, our very smallness and failure and seeming insignificance, that we encounter the love and grace of God. Even there, we can live out of that life-light. We can live in abundant life.
Reflection and response
Take some time to look at the picture of the betrayal above. Seek to do so prayerfully, open to God. What do you notice? What catches your attention?
Ask if there are things for you here.
Ask if this speaks into your life, what you are facing now, today.
You might like to think more about Judas. You can find my poem about him at the last supper here.
Dear God, may we be forever caught up in your love and life. May we never consider ourselves to be too small, too ordinary, too insignificant to be part of your great story of love and abundant life. May we remember how Jesus came, humbly, and compared himself to bread, to a shepherd, to a vine. May we see in the rough materials of our lives the wonder of your grace, your glory, your love.
Life and service
We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
St Teresa of Calcutta
As you consider the ordinariness and extraordinariness of ‘I am’, that great union of the everyday with the divine, develop the discipline of seeing each thing as capable of being filled with great love. This day, seek to do one humble thing with great love. Repeat every day.
Thank you so much for walking this Lent path with me.
If you’d like a copy of my book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.
Here are a few suggestions: