(Jesus) came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
Ever feel like your prayers don’t make a difference? I do.
My aunt Gayle’s used to keep sign in her house. It was hung in the archway between the kitchen and dining room. It was short and simple. There were only three words on it – “Prayer Changes Things.”
Maybe that is what prayer supposed to about: not just to give us what we want – as if we deserved it, but to change things….to change us.
Jesus prayed that his Father remove “This cup” of suffering from him. He didn’t get it. But he found resolve to face the cross that was coming. Maybe that should be our prayer too. “Deliver us from evil,” we cry out. Jesus urges us to pray that we “not come into the time of trial.”But evil persists. The innocent die. And just making it through seems so tough we want to close our eyes in grief. Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray.
We should pray that when the cross comes into our lives – as it will – that we will be ready for it…awake…alert. Pray tonight that we will have resolve; courage; and steadfastness – to see that cross through to the end. And if we don’t (and when we don’t); pray that we look to the One who bears all things – for us.
The longer I live in this world and its valley of tears, the less I am convinced the cross is somehow the end of an equation God uses to solve our sinfulness, and the more I see the cross as the place where God is – where Jesus is – in the world. When we ask and pray, “Where is God in all of this?” God is at the cross – wherever we are dying and suffering; wherever the world is dying and suffering.
Jesus invites us to pray. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. So stay awake, get up and pray. Prayer can change the world – but it starts here. With you and me. Here. Now. Tonight. As we join Jesus on the way to the cross – we join the pain and suffering of the world in theirs.
Tonight we have the opportunity to pray in different ways around this room:
- You might draw. I’ve set out a few images (A copy of Lucas Cranach’s altarpiece in Wittenberg and the Luther Rose). Maybe you might draw something in the church; or maybe there something else on your mind you would like to express…
- There is an opportunity to contemplate the cross at an icon;
- Perhaps you’d like to light a candle (or candles) in honor of someone (I’ve lit one already for Brussels, and another for Ankara).
- At the prayer circle you could write a card to God – with whatever is on your mind.
- There is an opportunity to confess your sins and hear the promise of forgiveness.
- Tonight, on the night Jesus washed his disciples feet, you may come to have your feet washed and wash the feet of others; meeting them in the cross of their lives.
Then we will gather around the alter for the meal Jesus gives us – his own body and blood given for you. Given for a world at the cross. Then we will watch the altar be stripped; as Jesus is taken from us. But we know where he is – wherever there is pain and suffering.
Prayer changes things. Stay awake and find out how. Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray: not as our escape from trial, from evil or from the cross. But our ability to meet it.
Your prayers make a difference. Because tonight you are awake enough to make a difference. Because Christ has first met us; in the pain and suffering and death of our lives; in the pain and suffering and death we see all around us. Even when we fall asleep.
I want to close tonight with something I posted on Facebook Tuesday morning after I watched news of the latest terrorist attack:
Geoff Sinibaldo 3/22 7:34 am
“I’m praying for Brussels, for the injured and for all the families in the midst of chaos, death and suffering. I’m praying for all the emergency workers, police and intelligence agencies on the ground trying to make sense of it all. I’m praying for leaders whose challenge today will be to bring calm and quell fear. I’m praying for my own anger as I take a deep breath. I’m praying for my kids as they walk out the door. I’m praying that justice rolls down like waters. I’m also praying for those who believe killing others solves problems. I’m praying for Easter to come and meet us.”