The servant with the stone jar
(Based on Mark 14:12-26 and William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible.
An address given by Rev. Johnny Paton at St.Ninian’s Craigmailen
on the Thursday evening in Holy week 2012)
I only saw Jesus in the flesh twice.
Both were rather strange moments.
And in truth they were only separated by a number of hours.
The first time was when my master asked me to go and fetch some water.
Now, I was somewhat put out, such work is woman’s work.
But you don’t argue with my master.
So I picked up the earthen stone jar and made my way out into the streets to the nearby well.
I must have stood out like a sore thumb.
And on the way back I was aware that I was being followed by two men.
When I got back to the house the two of them stopped, started to confer, and then approached the house. My master appeared out of nowhere and greeted them as if he was expecting them.
I am pretty sure now that that was why I was sent out in the first place.
It was all planned.
Because the next thing he was showing them upstairs to the upper room.
We servants had spent all day preparing it for Passover as it was often booked for meals and celebrations.
Usually a wee bit dusting was enough.
But for Passover meals you had to be especially careful.
You see, every little scrap of food had to be cleared away,
especially little bits of bread with yeast – leavened bread indeed.
Because I am told that the first Passover in Egypt had been eaten with unleavened bread,
because they were in a hurry to leave.
After we had finished my master had taken a lighted candle and ceremonially searched the room for
leaven – and God help us if he found any!
Anyway a few hours later the two men returned with a number of others and they all went upstairs.
Now I am my master’s most trusted servant so I was told to be on hand.
When the meal proper began I was sent up stairs with the lamb dish.
There had been a bit of a commotion before I arrived but now they had settled
and I withdrew to a small alcove in the room behind a curtain.
I have sat through a lot of Passover meals and this one was no different from all the others.
Mind you, it took me a while to understand the accents – they were all northerners,
from somewhere up in Galilee
and the accent is not quite as refined as the one I was used to in Jerusalem.
Anyway, as my ear got attuned I followed the sacred words and felt them wash over me and through me. Knowing them so well means you can let yourself fall under their spell and be at one with them.
As ever it was such a privilege to be there.
Not being Jewish by birth meant I was at best a hanger-on.
Anyway servants don’t get much chance to be religious – we just do as we are told.
But, as I said, I was soon away in a world of my own,
being carried along by the sacred words I knew so well.
And the man in charge spoke with real sincerity too.
When all of a sudden I was aware that something had changed.
The Passover was all but over.
Indeed they had just finished eating the ceremonial lamb and washed their hands
and were just about to eat the leftovers of the unleavened bread
when the man in charge said something I had never heard before.
‘Take this,’ he said. ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this to remember me.’
Well I was startled out of my ‘reverie’ I can tell you.
What on earth did he mean?
I glanced around the curtain and looked intently at the man
and for the first time was aware of something about him.
I mean now I know who he is, but at that moment I was totally transfixed.
There are four cups of wine and water at the Passover meal.
The third cup was due to be drunk next.
I could not wait to see what happened.
He said, ‘This is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for many.
Do this and remember me.’
You could have heard a pin drop.
What was he saying?
The broken bits of bread were him?
The poured out wine was like his blood pouring down?
Was he going to die?
Was he saying goodbye?
At that point he spotted me, looked right at me, and before I could look away – he smiled.
And at that moment I felt so overcome, and so included and so loved.
It was as if he was saying goodbye to me, but we had not even met!
There was more said, but I missed it all – I was frozen in time.
They got up, sang their hymn and left.
And you know what I did?
I went over to the table – there was a crumb of bread they had missed, and I put it in my mouth.
There was a drop of wine in the cup and I licked it up.
You see, I wanted to remember this moment for the rest of my life.
The next morning my master sent me out to the other side of the city
on a last urgent errand before the Sabbath and everything shutting down.
I ended up running and it was at the heat of the day by now,
just after lunch so the streets were not too mad.
I had to go past the city rubbish dump and that’s when I saw the crosses.
Three of them.
God how I hated the Romans when they did things like that.
What a way to die.
I didn’t want to look too closely I can tell you.
But then I saw him.
He was on one of the crosses – hanging there.
Something forced me to go nearer though I didn’t want to.
My heart was beating through my chest.
Yes, I had been running but now it was beating even more.
I recognised one or two others I had seen last night too.
And there were women there crying - family.
He had a ring of thorns on his head and had been hanging there for hours I supposed.
And then it happened.
He opened his eyes on the back of a spasm of pain – looked wildly around –
and then screwed up his eyes and looked down at us.
And you know he saw me.
And you know how I know?
He looked slowly to his left hand then slowly to his right and I followed his gaze.
There was blood trickling down his hands and arms.
It was a message to me.
This is my new covenant in my blood which is poured out for many.
Then he tried to smile again and his head fell forward exhausted.
I waited a while longer but I had to go.
My master would be after me.
I ran home weeping, completely overcome by what I had seen and felt.
A few weeks later I met in the street one of the disciples as I now call them.
I asked him what was happening and he told me that this Jesus had risen from the dead.
At that time I was way out of my understanding.
But the smile on his face – I recognised that.
So I told him my story and how this Jesus had ‘got’ to me.
He was silent for a moment, looked carefully around himself to see if anyone was listening,
and then invited me to join some of the others later that night.
I managed to sneak away from the house
and there in another room surrounded by 30 or 40 people
the disciple I now know as Peter
celebrated that conclusion to the Passover meal all over again.
He said the words that Jesus said.
‘This is my body which is for you.
This is my blood of the new covenant poured out for many.
I closed my eyes and remembered.
You know how I said I saw Jesus twice in the flesh.
Well there is more to say now.
Because when I closed my eyes I saw Jesus for the third time, in my mind’s eye¸ as clear as day.
He was alive again for me and you know how I knew he was alive?
Because he looked right at me and he smiled.
And the ring of thorns was no longer there!
Instead there was a golden crown upon his brow.
And my heart was full
and my soul rejoiced
and I have never been the same again.