Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’ (Matthew 26:36-46)
In our story tonight from Matthew, the disciples just came with Jesus from the upper room where they shared the Passover feast – remembering God’s ongoing promise of liberation, the same upper room where Jesus then instituted his holy meal. The same meal he offers for us us tonight. Now they are off to pray in the garden, Jesus is preoccupied by his coming betrayal and abandonment as his passion approaches so soon on the horizon. He has come to this place to pray. The disciples are too tired to stay awake to pray alongside him.
Tonight, we’re going about things the opposite way – we are going to pray first, then share the Eucharist.
Perhaps we’ll fare better and not fall asleep like our disciple counterparts. But if you do fall asleep, fear not, rest easy, you are among friends, Christ is here and you are in God’s care. Sometimes the flesh is willing but the Spirit is weak. And sometimes we are simply too run down to carry on.
I’ve been watching the pastors I know (especially the young ones) post of Facebook how excited they are for Holy Week services. I find their enthusiasm refreshing.
Yet personally after being in a house full of sick people the last few weeks, some travel and being sick myself for a while – I’m just ready for Easter!
Jesus is already grieving what is about to happen. I’m sure at this point he knew his betrayal by Judas would lead to his death, and he had to be anxious about what that might entail. Jesus is the son of God, but he isn’t superman – and the real horror of what was about to come crashing down on him was closing in.
Three times Jesus asks His father – if there is another way to do this. Three times he submits.
And yes, the disciples fall asleep. But let’s not get sidetracked by our own fatigue on the night in which he was betrayed.
I think Jesus shows us something very powerful tonight, that comes as good news.
If you have ever been hard-pressed to make a difficult decision, to the point where you are deeply grieved, or if you have been overwhelmed by what you fear is the inevitable path chosen for you and there is no way forward except to grin and bear it – Jesus show us he has already been there before, and is ready, and willing to go there again. With you.
And here is how he does it. He prays. It’s such a simple prayer too. No flowery words or eloquent prose – just a straight up ask: “God if there is another way forward – show it to me, and if there is not, then let’s do this.”
Tonight we have the opportunity to pray – so that we ourselves may be changed.
There are stations throughout the church tonight….
1. A place to write your thoughts to God,
2. A place to light a candle of remembrance,
3. A place to contemplate as you gaze into an icon of the crucifixion,
4. A place to be washed and wash others,
5. A place to draw or take materials back to your seat and draw there,
6. A place to receive prayers for healing,
7. A place in your seat to pray on your own or to find some silence in a world full of so much noise.
I invite you to move around the room, and participate in the places that will best serve you (you don’t have to do them all).
I also invite you to do while you move around and pray tonight are three things:
1st. To think about the places in your life where you have a tough decision to make or know something is coming that is unavoidable – and simply turn it over to God.
2nd. To consider the deep pain of the world and the troubled times we are in and how God’s response to us is not a superhero to behold but the Son of God on a cross.
3rd. To enter the story of the passion again from the inside out. Place yourself there on the night he was betrayed. What might you have felt, seen or heard – and what would you pray for then?
Just try not to fall asleep.
But like I said before: if you do… Rest easy. You are among friends, Christ is here, and you are in God’s care.
Get up. Let us be going. Amen