Lenten Reader -- Day 16
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36-39) ----------
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:43-44)
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed a third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:40-46)
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Jesus said, “Keep watch with me.” If you have ever sat with a loved one while waiting for that person to die, perhaps you know something of how the three men who waited with Jesus might have felt.
He had told them, repeatedly, that he was going away. But now they see him in anguish, and they can see that it was all starting to happen, in perhaps a more terrible way than they had imagined.
They could not understand what would come in the days to follow, so the waiting was full of dread, the dark kind of sadness that feels unbearable.
Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” But instead they fell asleep.
Still, if we disparage the disciples for their inability to stay awake at this time, maybe we have not spent enough time thinking about this scene, and maybe we have never before prayed to the point of exhaustion. Some have, and they can see it in this moment.
There is a point at which circumstances cannot be examined any longer. There is a point after which a person can pray no more. This is when the Holy Spirit must take over for us “with wordless groans,” perhaps even while we sleep.
Jesus asked God three times to take away the suffering that was coming, not just the torture and ridicule, but the unbearable thought of facing all of God’s wrath at once, the Father’s hatred for sin all falling at once on the head of his innocent Son. But Jesus followed his request with “may your will be done.”
When we ask God for something three times, and he does not give us what we want, we are often angry and begin to question his goodness. And when our friends fail us, we may want to go find new friends. But Jesus, even in the middle of this, the beginning of the most terrible time there ever was on earth, went back to encourage the friends who had failed him and to face his mission before God: the price of our salvation.
Loving Father, I find that I am often tempted to gripe and grumble when I encounter painful circumstances. I may complain about bad luck or about not getting the breaks in this life. Ultimately, though, these are just indirect ways of challenging your goodness in my life. I confess that I wonder why you allow such pain to occur to me and to others, and I readily confess that I can come up with nothing approaching a good answer. But I know that I can take my grievances directly and openly to you. I can admit my confusion and my disappointment to you. When I am open and honest with you, I know I am approaching the only One who can really do something in such times of need. Thank you for your patience and kindness to those who bring their sorrows to you. In your name I pray. Amen.