Narrative and Reflection By Ilana Blattner
The air is temperate and dry as the moon rises over Jerusalem, and the thrushes and owls sing the city to sleep under its ethereal glow. I glance ahead of me further into the thicket of Gethsemane and find the apostles dozing amidst the grove. They number eleven mingled within the flora, empty plates and glasses strewn amongst them. Even Peter and John have fallen to the carnal clutches of sleep, nestled beneath the olive trees to dream saccharine dreams of salvation still far out of reach.
Perhaps before I would have found myself among their number, idealizations of martyrdom flashing through my mind, but tonight I am wide awake, and painfully aware of the grief and guilt plaguing my thoughts. Hope as I might to be with Jesus as he undergoes his agony further inside the garden, I am as heinously at fault as the apostles. Rather than blissfully asleep with them in the brush, or in seated in solidarity with my mentor, I instead observe from over the garden wall across the way, a turncoat at my side and the rest of the city guard behind us. Judas is weeping again, and so am I. Grieve as we might, we cannot undo the betrayal, nor can we stop what is yet to come.
Every year during the Lenten season, I find myself in agony while listening to Christ’s Passion. It is a natural reaction, I believe, as for me, it is the account of the death of someone dearly beloved to me: He who I love above all else. Year after year, the pain ceases to dull and it becomes hard to breathe as I kneel in the pew, or read from the lectern, though I cannot turn away. I am enraptured and in awe and horrified and mystified all at once. How could someone die, slowly and painfully and publicly, for those who persecute him? Who deny him? Who betray him? How could he die for me?
Over and over again in my relationship with Christ, I am Judas. Perhaps others do not see me this way; many confessors have told me to be kinder to myself, but this is the truth. I am Judas in the garden, Judas in the temple, Judas hanging from the tree. Unable to accept the love, unable to confront my trespasses, and, all the more egregious, unable to accept Christ’s forgiveness for them. I try to heave my ineffable love of Christ out of the depths of my soul and out into this world, but the expression of what I feel inwardly is always subpar at best. So I betray him, daily, shortchanging the depths of my love and his importance to my existence out of fear that others may believe me to be losing my mind. And it is an incredibly lonely thing to try and keep that love within myself.
Though, in all honesty, I do not believe that I know how to love him. I am mystified day after day by the weight of Christ’s sacrifice and the weight of the cross. How am I to serve and to love like Christ? There is no way to love exactly as Christ did. He is love itself. Pure, unadulterated, agape in its truest form. It would be arrogant to think we could ever hope to achieve such a thing. But I seek and yearn for nothing more than to do his work. I crave more, but fear I cannot learn.
And so I pray. Every night, I pray for the same thing. I pray that Christ may show me how to love better. My vocation in this life, and in my relationship to Christ, is simply to love and to love with all that I have. Though I am my own harshest judge, I know Christ sees me in a different light, and someday, I hope to bear this light to others as well. The thought brings me great joy, and it is that joy that sustains me. This joy is what we all ought to seek in pursuing Jesus. Know that despite your own perceptions of yourself, Jesus sees and knows and loves you in ways we can never hope to comprehend.
By the shore of the Sea of Galilee I stand with Peter, warm sand between our toes and the water’s breeze ghosting across our skin. We are sunburnt and covered in the salt and sand of the sea and stand with nets fit to burst from the sheer number of fish wrangled within them. Across from us, though, stands an even greater sight. It is Christ, resurrected after death, with a warm smile on his face, warmer than even the sun shining over the sea. Both Peter and I are faced with our denials in an instant, and after Peter confronts his, Christ looks to me with my own before me. Bathed in the warmth of his love and forgiveness, however, I find that my sorrow and self-deprecation fade away. I am forgiven. I am loved. And as I rush towards him at last, I am forever held and forever his.