More for our joys than for our fears, --
That we should sometimes smile at grief,
And look at pleasure's show through tears?
Alas! but homesick children we,
At last the end came. The end comes for every earthly friendship. The sweetest life together of loved ones must have its last walk, its last talk, its last hand-clasp, when one goes, and the other stays. One of every two friends must stand by the other's grave, and drop tears all the hotter because they are shed alone.
The friendship of Jesus with his disciples was very sweet; it was the sweetest friendship this world ever knew, for never was there any other heart with such capacity for loving and for kindling love as the heart of Jesus. But even this holy friendship in its earthly duration was but for a time. Jesus' hour came at last. To-morrow he was going back to his Father.
Very tender was the farewell. The place chosen for it was the upper room -- almost certainly in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. So full is the narrative of the evangelists that we can follow it through its minutest details. In the afternoon two of the closest friends of Jesus came quietly into the city from Bethany to find a room, and prepare for the Passover. All was done with the utmost secrecy. No inquiry was made for a room; but a man appeared at a certain point, bearing a pitcher of water, -- a most unusual occurrence, -- and the messengers silently followed him, and thus were led to the house in which was the guest-chamber which Jesus and his friends were to use. There the two disciples made the preparations necessary for the Passover.
Toward the evening Jesus and the other apostles came, and found their way to the upper room. First there was the Passover feast, observed after the manner of the Jews. Then followed the institution of the new memorial -- the Lord's Supper. This brought the Master and his disciples together in very sacred closeness. Judas, the one discordant element in the communion, had gone out, and all who remained were of one mind and one heart. Then began the real farewell. Jesus was going away, and he longed to be remembered. This was a wonderfully human desire. No one wishes to be forgotten. No thought could be sadder than that one might not be remembered after he is gone, that in no heart his name shall be cherished, that nowhere any memento of him shall be preserved. We all hope to live in the love of our friends long after our faces have vanished from earth. The deeper and purer our love may have been, and the closer our friendship, the more do we long to keep our place in the hearts of those we have loved.
There are many ways in which men seek to keep their memory alive in the world. Some build their own tomb: few things are more pathetic than such planning for earthly immortality. Some seek to do deeds which will live in history. Some embalm their names in books, hoping thus to perpetuate them. Love's enshrining is the best way.
The institution of the Last Supper showed the craving of the heart of Jesus to be remembered. "Do not forget me when I am gone," he said. That he might not be forgotten, he took bread and wine, and, breaking the one and pouring out the other, he gave them to his friends as mementos of himself. He associated this farewell meal with the great acts of his redeeming love. "This bread which I break, let it be the emblem of my body broken to be bread for the world. This wine which I empty out, let it be the emblem of my blood which I give for you." Whatever else the Lord's Supper may mean, it is first of all a remembrancer; it is the expression of the Master's desire to be remembered by his friends. It comes down to us -- Christ's friends of to-day -- with the same heart-craving. "Remember me; do not forget me; think of my love for you." Jesus' farewell was thus made wondrously sacred; its memories have blessed the world ever since by their warmth and tenderness. No one can ever know the measure of the influence of that last night in the upper room upon the life of these nineteen Christian centuries.
The Lord's Supper was not all of the Master's farewell. There were also words spoken which have been bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, to believers ever since. To the eleven men gathered about that table these words were inexpressibly precious. One of them, one who leaned his head upon the Master's breast that night, remembered them in his old age, and wrote them down, so that we can read them for ourselves.
It is impossible in a short chapter to study the whole of this wonderful farewell address; only a few of its great features can be gathered together. It began with an exhortation, a new commandment, -- "That ye love one another." We cannot understand how really new this commandment was when given to the Master's friends. The world had never before known such love as Jesus brought into its wintry atmosphere. He had lived out the divine love among men; now his friends were to continue that love. "As I have loved you, that ye also love one another." Very imperfectly have the friends of the Master learned that love; yet wherever the gospel has gone, a wave of tenderness has rolled.
Next was spoken a word of comfort whose music has been singing through the world ever since. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me." Unless it be the Twenty-Third Psalm, no other passage in all the Bible has had such a ministry of comfort as the first words of the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel. They told the sorrowing disciples that their Master would not forget them, that his work for them would not be broken off by his death, that he was only going away to prepare a place for them, and would come again to receive them unto himself, so that where he should be they might be also. He assured them, too, that while he was going away, something better than his bodily presence would be given them instead, -- another Comforter would come, so that they should not be left orphans.
Part of the Master's farewell words were answers to questions which his friends asked him, -- a series of conversations with one and another. These men had their difficulties; and they brought these to Jesus, and he explained them. First, Peter had a question. Jesus had spoken of going away. Peter asked him, "Lord, whither goest thou?" Jesus told him that where he was going he could not follow him then, but he should follow him by and by. Peter was recklessly bold, and he would not have it said that there was any place he could not follow his Master. He declared that he would even lay down his life for his sake. "Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?" answered the Master. "Wilt thou, indeed?" Then he foretold Peter's sad, humiliating fall -- that, instead of laying down his life for his Lord.
After the words had been spoken about the Father's house and the coming again of Jesus for his friends, Thomas had a question. Jesus had said, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." Thomas was slow in his perceptions, and was given to questioning. He would take nothing for granted. He would not believe until he could understand. "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" We are glad Thomas asked such a question, for it brought a wonderful answer. Jesus himself is the way and the truth and the life. That is, to know Christ is to know all that we need to know about heaven and the way there; to have Christ as Saviour, Friend, and Lord, is to be led by him through the darkest way -- home. Not only is he the door or gate which opens into the way, but he is the way. He is the guide in the way; he has gone over it himself; everywhere we find his footprints. More than that; he is the very way itself, and the very truth about the way, and the life which inspires us in the way. To be his friend is enough; we need ask neither whither he has gone, nor the road; we need only abide in him.
"Thank God, thank God, the Man is found,
Then Philip had a question. He had heard the Master's reply to Thomas. Philip was slow and dull, loyal-hearted, a man of practical common-sense, but without imagination, unable to understand anything spiritual, anything but bare, cold, material facts. The words of Jesus about knowing and seeing the Father caught his ear. That was just what he wanted, -- to see the Father. So in his dulness he said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." He was thinking of a theophany, -- a glorious vision of God. Jesus was wondrously patient with the dulness of his disciples; but this word pained him, for it showed how little Philip had learned after all his three years of discipleship. "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?" Then Jesus told him that he had been showing him the Father, the very thing Philip craved, all the while.
Jesus went on with his gracious words for a little while, and was speaking of manifesting himself to his disciples, when he was interrupted by another question. This time it was Judas who spoke. "Not Iscariot," St. John is careful to say, for the name of Iscariot was now blotted with the blotch of treason. He had gone out into the night, and was of the disciple family no more. Judas could not understand in what special and exclusive manner Jesus would manifest himself to his own. Perhaps he expected some setting apart of Christ's followers like that which had fenced off Israel from the other nations. But Jesus swept away his disciple's thought of any narrow manifestation. There was only one condition -- love. To every one who loved him and obeyed his words he would reveal himself. The manifesting would not be any theophany, as in the ancient Shekinah, but the spiritual in-dwelling of God.
After these questions of his disciples had all been answered, Jesus continued his farewell words. He left several bequests to his friends, distributing among them his possessions. We are apt to ask what he had to leave. He had no houses or lands, no gold or silver. While he was on his cross the soldiers divided his clothes among themselves. Yet there are real possessions besides money and estates. One may have won the honor of a noble name, and may bequeath this to his family when he goes away. One may have acquired power which he may transmit. It seemed that night in the upper room as if Jesus had neither name nor power to leave to his friends. To-morrow he was going to a cross, and that would be the end of everything of hope or beauty in his life.
Yet he quietly made his bequests, fully conscious that he had great possessions, which would bless the world infinitely more than if he had left any earthly treasure. One of these bequests was his peace. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you." It was his own peace; if it had not been his own he could not have bequeathed it to his friends. A man cannot give to others what he has not himself. It was his own because he had won it. Peace is not merely ease, the absence of strife and struggle; it is something which lives in the midst of the fiercest strife and the sorest struggle. Jesus knew not the world's peace, -- ease and quiet; but he had learned a secret of heart-quietness which the world at its worst could not disturb. This peace he left to his disciples, and it made them richer than if he had given them all the world's wealth.
Another of his possessions which he bequeathed was his joy. We think of Jesus as the Man of sorrows, and we ask what joy he had to give. It seemed a strange time, too, for him to be speaking of his joy; for in another hour he was in the midst of the Gethsemane anguish, and to-morrow he was on his cross. Yet in the upper room he had in his heart a most blessed joy. Even in the terrible hours that came afterwards, that joy was not quenched; for we are told that for the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame. This joy also he bequeathed to his friends. "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you." We remember, too, that they really received this legacy. The world wondered at the strange secret of joy those men had when they went out into the world. They sang songs in the darkest night. Their faces shone as with a holy inner light in the deepest sorrow. Christ's joy was fulfilled in them.
He also put within the reach of his friends, as he was about to leave them, the whole of his own inheritance as the only begotten Son of God. He gave into their hands the key of heaven. He told them they should have power to do the works which they had seen him do, and even greater works than these. He told them that whatsoever they should ask the Father in his name the Father would give to them. The whole power of his name should thus be theirs, and they might use it as they would. Nothing they might ask should be refused to them; all the heavenly kingdom was thrown open to them.
These are mere suggestions of the farewell gifts which Jesus left to his friends when he went away, -- his peace, his joy, the key to all the treasures of his kingdom. He had blessed them in wonderful ways during his life; but the best and richest things of his love were kept to the last, and given only after he was gone. Indeed, the best things were given through his death, and could be given in no other way. Other men live to do good; they hasten to finish their work before their sun sets. God's plan for them is something they must do before death comes to write "Finis" at the end of their days. But the plan of God for Jesus centred in his death. It was the blessings that would come through his dying that were set forth in the elements used in the Last Supper, -- the body broken, the blood shed. The great gifts to his friends, of which he spoke in his farewell words, would come through his dying. He must be lifted up in order to draw all men to him. He must shed his blood in order that remission of sins might be offered. It was expedient for him to go away in order that the Comforter might come. His peace and his joy were bequests which could be given only when he had died as the world's Redeemer. His name would have power to open heaven's treasures only when the atonement had been made, and the Intercessor was at God's right hand in heaven.
There was one other act in this farewell of Jesus. After he had ended his gracious words, he lifted up his eyes in prayer to his Father. The pleading is full of deep and tender affection. It is like that of a mother about to go away from earth, and who is commending her children to the care of the heavenly Father, when she must leave them without mother-love and mother-shelter among unknown and dangerous enemies.
Every word of the wonderful prayer throbs with love, and reveals a heart of most tender affection. While he had been with his friends, Jesus had kept them in the shelter of his own divine strength. None of them had been lost, so faithful had been his guardianship over them -- none but the son of perdition. He, too, had received faithful care; it had not been the Good Shepherd's fault that he had perished. He had been lost because he resisted the divine love, and would not accept the divine will. There must have been a pang of anguish in the heart of Jesus as he spoke to his Father of the one who had perished. But the others all were safe. Jesus had guarded them through all the dangers up to the present moment.
But now he is about to leave them. He knows that they must encounter great dangers, and will not have him to protect them. The form of his intercession for them is worthy of note. He does not ask that they should be taken out of the world. This would have seemed the way of tenderest love. But it is not the divine way to take us out of the battle. These friends of Jesus had been trained to be his witnesses, to represent him when he had gone away. Therefore they must stay in the world, whatever the dangers might be. The prayer was that they should be kept from the evil. There is but one evil. They were not to be kept from persecution, from earthly suffering and loss, from pain or sorrow: these are not the evils from which men's lives need to be guarded. The only real evil is sin. Our danger in trouble or adversity is not that we may suffer, but that we may sin. The pleading of Jesus was that his friends might not be hurt in their souls, in their spiritual life, by sin.
If enemies wrong or injure us, the peril is not that they may cause us to suffer injustice, but that in our suffering we may lose the love out of our heart, and grow angry, or become bitter. In time of sickness, trial, or bereavement, that which we should fear is not the illness or the sorrow, but that we shall not keep sweet, with the peace of God in our breast. The only thing that can do us real harm is sin. So the intercession on our behalf ever is, not that we may be kept from things that are hard, from experiences that are costly or painful, but that we may be kept pure, gentle, and submissive, with peace and joy in our heart.
There was a pleading also that the disciples might be led into complete consecration of spirit, and that they might be prepared to go out for their Master, to be to the world what he had been to them. This was not a prayer for a path of roses; rather it was for a cross, the utter devotion of their lives to God. Before the prayer closed, a final wish for his friends was expressed, -- that when their work on earth was done, they might be received home; that where he should be they might be also, to behold his glory.
Surely there never has been on earth another gathering of such wondrously deep and sacred meaning as that farewell meeting in the upper room. There the friendship of Jesus and his chosen ones reached its holiest experience. His deep human love appears in his giving up the whole of this last evening to this tryst with his own. He knew what was before him after midnight, -- the bitter agony of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, and then the terrible shame and suffering of tomorrow. But he planned so that there should be these quiet, uninterrupted hours alone with his friends, before the beginning of the experiences of his passion. He did it for his own sake; his heart hungered for communion with his friends; with desire he desired to eat the Passover, and enjoy these hours with them before he suffered. We may be sure, too, that he received from the holy fellowship comfort and strength, which helped him in passing through the bitter hours that followed. Then, he did it also for the sake of his disciples. He knew how their hearts would be broken with sorrow when he was taken from them, and he wished to comfort them and make them stronger for the way. The memory of those holy hours hung over them like a star in all the dark night of their sorrow, and was a benediction to them as long as they lived.
Then, who can tell what blessings have gone out from that farewell into the whole Church of Christ through all the centuries? It is the holy of holies of Christian history. The Lord's Supper, instituted that night, and which has never ceased to be observed as a memorial of the Master's wonderful love and great sacrifice, has sweetened the world with its fragrant memories. The words spoken by the Master at the table have been repeated from lip to heart wherever the story of the gospel has gone, and have given unspeakable comfort to millions of hearts. The petitions of the great intercessory prayer have been rising continually, like holy incense, ever since they were first uttered, taking into their clasp each new generation of believers. This farewell has kept the Christian hearts of all the centuries warm and tender with love toward him who is the unchanging Friend the same yesterday and to-day and forever.