23rd April 1947.
Jesus' order has been carried out to the letter, this time, and Bethany is crowded with disciples. Meadows, paths, orchards, Lazarus' olive-groves are full of them and as they are not sufficient to hold so many people, who do not want to damage the property of Jesus' friend, many of them have spread out also among the olive-groves that are between Bethany and Jerusalem along the roads of the Mount of Olives. Closer to the house are the disciples of early days, many others are farther away. Faces not well known or completely unknown. But who can now recognise so many faces and mention their names? I think there are hundreds of them. Now and again, in the medley, a face or a name reminds me of faces seen among those helped and converted by Jesus, even at the last hour. But it is beyond my capability to remember so many faces and names, and to recognise them all. It would be the same as if one expected me to recognise who was among the people that crowded the streets in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday or on Good Friday, or covered Calvary with a carpet of faces, most of which were drawn with hatred.
The apostles go in and out from Simon's house, moving around the people to keep them quiet or to reply to their questions. Also Lazarus and Maximinus help them. At the upper-floor balcony windows of Simon's house one can see all the faces of the women disciples appear and disappear: grey-haired or brown-haired heads, among which shine the fair-haired heads of Mary of Lazarus and of Aurea. Now and again one comes out, looks and withdraws. They are all there, really all of them, the young ones and the old ones, also those who had never come, such as Sarah of Aphek. On the terrace many children are playing, those gathered by Sarah, the grandchildren of Anne of Merom, Mary and Matthias, the little boy Shalem, who was crippled and was the grandchild of Nahum and who is now happy and healthy, and some more. A flock of happy little birds, watched over by Marjiam and by other young disciples, such as the little shepherd of Enon and Jaia of Pella. Among the children I now see also the little boy of Sidon, who was blind. It is obvious that he was brought by his father.
The sun is beginning to set in a very bright clear sky. Peter consults with Lazarus and with his companions.
« I think that it is better to dismiss the people. What do you say? He will not come today either. And many of these people have to consume the little Passover this evening » says Peter.
« Yes. It is better to dismiss them. Perhaps the Lord has wisely decided not to come today. All those of the Temple have gathered in Jerusalem. I do not know how they heard that He was coming and... » says Lazarus.
« And even so? What can they do to Him any more? » says Thaddeus vehemently.
« You are forgetting that they are they. And these words of mine say everything. Even if they can do Him no harm, they can do a lot of harm to these people who have come to worship Him. And the Lord does not want to damage His believers. And then! Do you think that they, blinded by their sin and their thought, which is always the same one, among the contrasting ideas in their heads, do not also have the idea that the Lord has risen, that is, that He never died and He came out from there like one who awakes by himself or with the complicity of many? You do not know what wild confusion of thoughts, what entanglement, what storm of suppositions is in their minds. They have created it all in order not to admit the truth. We can really say that those who were accomplices yesterday are divided today, for the same cause that previously kept them joined together. And some people have been seduced by their ideas. See? Some are no longer among the disciples... » says Lazarus.
« And let them go! Other better ones have come. Certainly, those who have informed the Sanhedrin that the Lord will be here on the fourteenth day of the second month, are to be looked for among those who have gone away. And after the delation they no longer have the courage to come. Come on! Stop it! Enough of traitors! » says Bartholomew.
« We shall always have some, my dear friend! Man!... He yields too easily to impressions and to pressures. But we must not be afraid. The Lord said that we must not be afraid » says the Zealot.
« And we are not afraid. A few days ago we were still frightened. Do you remember? I, as far as I am concerned, was afraid when I thought of coming back here. Now I no longer seem to be so frightened. But I do not trust myself too much, and you as well ought not to trust your Cephas too much. I have already proved once that I am made of clay that crumbles, instead of being of solid granite. Well, let us dismiss these people. It is your duty, Lazarus. »
« No, Simon Peter. It is yours. You are the chief... » says Lazarus kindly, embracing Peter's shoulder with his arm and pushing him thus towards the staircase and up it, as far as the terrace surrounding Simon's house.
Peter makes a gesture meaning that he wants to speak and the people nearby become silent and those farther away move towards him. Peter waits until most of them are near him, then he says: « Men from every part of Israel, listen. I exhort you to go back to town. The sun has already begun to set. So, go. If He comes, we will let you know at all costs. God be with you. »
He withdraws, going into an airy room where, around the Blessed Virgin, there are all the more faithful women disciples and also the other women who loved the Lord as their Master, although they never followed Him on His pilgrimages. And Peter goes and sits in a corner, looking at Mary Who smiles at him.
The people, outside, slowly part into two groups: that of those who remain and that of those who go back to town. Voices of adults calling the children, the shrill voices of children replying to them. Then the buzzing noise subsides.
« And now » says Peter « we will go as well... »
« Father, but the Lord said that He would come!... »
« Eh! I know! But, as you can see, He has not come. And this is the day He prescribed... »
« Yes, and my brother has already prepared everything for you, and here is Mark of Jonas, who has come to take you there and open the gate to you. But I am coming as well. We are all coming. Lazarus has provided for everybody » says Mary of Magdala.
« And where can we consume the supper with so many people? »
« Gethsemane itself will be the Supper room. Inside the house, the room for those who Jesus said. Outside, near the house, the tables for the others. That is what He wanted. »
« Who? Lazarus? »
« The Lord. »
« The Lord? But when did He come? »
« He came... What does it matter to you when? He came and He spoke to Lazarus. »
« I think that He will come, and even more, that He has come to each of us, even if none of us say so, keeping that joy as his dearest pearl, that he is even afraid to show, fearing it may lose its most beautiful light. The secrets of the King! » says Bartholomew, and he looks at the group of the virgin disciples, whose faces blush as if the beams of the setting sun set them aflame. But it is a spiritual flame of intense joy that lights them.
Mary, the Virgin of the virgins, all white in Her linen dress, a lily dressed in white, lowers Her head smiling, without speaking. How much She resembles, at this moment, the young Virgin of the Annunciation!
« Certainly... He will not leave us all alone, even if He does not appear visibly. I say that it is He Who puts certain thoughts in my poor heart and even more in my poor mind... » admits Matthew.
The others do not speak... They look at one another while they put on their mantles, scrutinising one another. But the very care with which some cover their faces as much as possible, to keep concealed the wave of spiritual joy enlivened by the recollection of the divine secret meetings, reveal them as the most favoured ones.
« Well, say so! » exclaim the others. « We are not jealous! We are not so intrusive as to want to know. But we shall be comforted by the hope that we shall not be deprived of His sight for good! Remember the words of Raphael to Tobias: “It is certainly right to keep the secret of the king, but it is more honourable to reveal and publish the works of God.” The angel of God is right! Keep the secret of the words He has given you, but disclose His continuous love for us. »
James of Alphaeus looks at Mary, as if he wished to be enlightened by Her, and realising by Her smile that She agrees, He says: « It is true. I have seen the Lord. » Nothing else. And he is the only one to say so. The other two, who have covered themselves carefully, do not utter one word.
They all go out and in groups, the eleven ahead, then Lazarus with his sisters and the women disciples around Mary, last the shepherds and many of the seventy-two disciples. They set out towards Jerusalem along the upper road that takes one to the Mount of Olives. The children who have stayed run backwards and forwards happily.
Mark shows them a path that avoids the Field of the Galileans and the busier areas and goes directly to the new enclosure of the Garden of Gethsemane. He opens, lets them pass, and closes. Many disciples whisper to one another and some go to ask the apostles, and John in particular, questions. But they make a gesture to wait, as it is not yet the time to do what they ask, and they all remain quiet.
How much peace in the vast olive-grove, still kissed by the last sunbeams in the upper part, whereas the lower ones are already in the shade! A light rustling of the wind among the silver-green leaves and the cheerful chirping of birds greeting the dying day.
Here is the little house of the keeper. On the terrace, which is its roof, Lazarus has had a number of tents put up, so that the terrace has changed into an aerial supper room for the disciples who were not able to consume the Passover the previous month. Downstairs, on the very clean threshing-floor, there are more tables. In the house, in the best room, is the table for the women disciples.
The roasted lambs, lettuce, unleavened bread and the reddish sauce are brought to the various tables of those who have not celebrated the Passover, and the ritual chalice is placed on the tables. But on the table of the women there is no chalice, but as many cups as the people sitting at the table. The women were obviously exempted from that part of the ceremony. On the table of those who have consumed the Passover at the proper time there is the lamb, but there is no unleavened bread and no lettuce with reddish sauce.
Lazarus and Maximinus supervise everything. And Lazarus bends over Peter to tell him something that makes the chief Apostle shake his head violently in obstinate denial.
« And yet... it is your duty » says Philip, who is beside him.
But Peter points at James of Alphaeus: « It is his duty. »
While they are discussing so, the Lord appears at the beginning of the threshing-floor and says greeting: « Peace to you. »
They all stand up and the noise warns the women of what is happening. They are on the point of going out, but Jesus enters the house greeting them as well.
Mary says: « Son! » and She worships Him more deeply than the others, teaching them by such a gesture that, no matter how Jesus may be a friend, such a friend and relative as to be even Her Son, He is always God, and is to be worshipped as God. Always worshipped, with an adoring spirit, even if His love for us is so full as to urge Him to give Himself with full confidence, as our Brother and Spouse.
« Peace to You, Mother. Sit down and eat. I am going upstairs, where Marjiam is awaiting his reward. »
He goes out to climb the little staircase and He calls in a loud voice: « Simon Peter and James of Alphaeus. Come. »
The two He has called go up behind Him and Jesus sits at the central table, where Marjiam is, and says to the two Apostles: « You will do what I tell you » and to Matthias, who is at the head of the table, He says: « Begin the Passover banquet. » This evening Jesus has Marjiam beside Him, where John was the last time. Peter and James are behind the Lord awaiting His orders.
And the banquet is celebrated with the same ritual of the Passover Supper: hymns, questions, libations. I do not know whether it is the same at the other tables. I look fixedly where Jesus is, unless His will compels me to look elsewhere, and I forget everything to contemplate my Lord, Who is now offering the best morsels of His lamb – He has taken it on His plate but He does not eat any of it, neither does He take any lettuce or sauce, and He does not drink of the Chalice – and He offers the best morsels to Marjiam, who is really blissful.
At the beginning Jesus made a gesture to Peter to bend and listen to Him, and Peter after listening to Him said in a loud voice: « At this moment the Lord offered the chalice for us all, as He was the Father and Head of His Family. »
Now He makes another gesture to Peter, who listens again and then stands up and says: « And at this point the Lord girded Himself to purify us and teach us what we are to do to consume the Eucharistic Sacrifice worthily. »
The supper proceeds until at another sign Peter says again: « At this moment the Lord, after taking the bread and the wine, offered them, and praying blessed them, and after breaking the bread into parts, He handed them to us saying: “This is My Body and this is My Blood of the new eternal Testament, and it will be shed for you and for many to the remission of sins.” »
Jesus stands up. He is most imposing. He orders Peter and James to take a loaf of bread and break it into small morsels and to fill a chalice, the biggest one there is on the tables, with wine. They obey and hold the bread and the wine in front of Him, and Jesus stretches out His hands over them and prays without any other action except His enraptured look...
« Hand out the morsels of bread and offer the brotherly chalice. Every time you do this, you shall do it in memory of Me. »
The two Apostles obey, full of veneration...
While the distribution of the Species takes place, Jesus goes down to the women. I think, but I cannot see, because I do not go in where they are, that Jesus administers Holy Communion to His Mother with His own hands. This is what I think, but I do not know whether it is true. But I cannot understand why He should go there, if it were not to do that.
Then He goes back up to the terrace. He does not sit down any more. The supper is about to end. He asks: « Is it all consumed? »
« It is all consumed, Lord. »
« As I did on the Cross. Stand up. Let us pray. »
He stretches out His arms, as if He were on the cross, and He intones the prayer of the Our Father.
I do not know why I am weeping. I think that it is perhaps the last time that I shall hear Him say it... And, as no painter or sculptor will ever be able to give us the true image of Jesus, so no one, however holy he may be, will ever be able to say the Our Father so manfully and at the same time so gently. I shall always feel a great nostalgia for these Our Fathers as I heard them from Jesus, a real conversation of His soul with the most loved and adored Father of Heaven, a cry of honour, of obedience, of faith, of submission, of humility, of mercy, of wish, of trust... everything!
« Go. And may the Grace of the Lord be in all of you and may His peace accompany you » Jesus says dismissing them. And He disappears in a bright light that by far exceeds the moonlight, as the moon is now full and high over the silent Garden, and the light of the lamps placed on the tables.
Not a voice. Tears on faces, adoration in hearts... and nothing else. The night watches and knows, with the angels, the throbs of those blessed hearts.