Surely not I, Lord?

Last night I went to a ‘Tenebrae’ service.  Tenebrae is Latin for shadows, and is a very simple service that started and ended with a hymn, but the main part of the service was devoted to the extinguishing of a series of candles as passages and prayers were read.  As a lover of visual things, and use of the senses, I found it a powerful and moving service.

But I was struck by one particular phrase in one of the readings.  Matthew 26 (probably from the NRSV) chronicles the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples.  As they are eating, He says to them, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’  This comes as a shock to His disciples.  The passage continues:  “And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’”  Peter said it.  Judas said it.  The others said it.

Surely not I, Lord.

And that phrase just struck me.  What do we know about the people who said it?  We know that they all abandoned Him within hours.  Surely that’s a betrayal?  Peter was about to deny Him (despite his vehement protestations).  The other disciples were about to turn tail and run.  And of course Judas was The Betrayer.  Judas knew what he was about to do, and yet still said, ‘Surely, not I?’  The others uttered it too, not seeing that desertion would come so soon.  The horror of the disciples at the thought of betrayal turns to the awful realisation, that dawns with the next day, that they have done precisely that.  Their confidence in their own courage to follow their shepherd come-what-may dissolves in the heat of the moment.  Weapons are drawn in the garden and the sheep are scattered.  As the shadows from the torches in the garden dance around Jesus, His disciples flee.

What about me?  How often do I think, “Surely not I, Lord”, when abandonment is just around the corner?  How often do I think, ‘Surely not I, Lord”, when denial soon follows?

Surely not I, Lord.

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