The Gospel: The Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ - John 18:1-19:42
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to You, LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. Amen
Watch and pray. Watch and pray.
Stay awake and pray.
That you may not come into the time of trial.
These words come from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 26. They are taken from Matthew's recollection of what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before Jesus is arrested. A short time before he undergoes the horror of that night, and all that happens the following day.
Having read the Gospel of John for our service this evening you might wonder why I would feel it was necessary to go to another Scripture passage, to another Gospel, to use as a reference for my Message this evening.
John lays out the dramatic events of the evening, the long night of tribulation, and the events of the day of that fateful Friday of Christ's crucifixion. John describes those events in detail. We have the opportunity to hear and to imagine what Jesus went through. The details are vivid and horrifying. It is punishment in the extreme. That Jesus was able to bear what was happening to him on the cross, from nine o'clock in the morning until around three o'clock in the afternoon, is to some degree beyond our ability to comprehend.
Yet each year we come to this day and we seek to engage with what was happening and to struggle with why it happened.
I have to admit that, even when I am the one reading, I find that I have to make myself focus on all that is going on. I find myself being caught by phrases and images and my mind wants to spend time examining particular aspects of the events or moments. I find myself having to concentrate so that I can, to some small degree, grasp something that I can take away with me from the grandeur of the whole event.
This year for me has been a year of trying to grasp the why of so many things that have happened. Now, I have to say that I have been guided away from the why question by spiritual directors, seminary professors, and other Pastors.
Many times I have been guided to avoid asking why. To concentrate on the what or the how questions. In other words to ask questions that go something like this: "OK Lord what am I supposed to learn, what am I supposed to apply from this experience?" Or "OK Lord how does this shape me?" Or "How do I apply this learning to my understanding of the Lord and the world, or maybe even Satan?"
Lots of times I have been told and I have done it myself when counseling or engaging with someone in a spiritual journey conversation. Sometimes asking why leads to a dead-end. Sometimes asking why exacerbates the situation and compounds the frustration.
This evening I am going to go against all that good advice, direction, and training and I am going to examine very briefly the why of the crucifixion.
And that is why I am going to turn to Matthew 26: 36 - 41."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.”
Jesus seeks in the Garden of Gesthame to help the disciples understand that there is the possibility that they might avoid the upcoming trial of their faith if they can just watch - stay awake - and pray.
Even in the midst of the grief and sorrow of the Garden experience for Jesus is concerned for his disciples. Here in Matthew and then later through the trial, through the betrayals, through the degradation of his treatment at the hands of the soldiers, the political leaders, the spiritual leaders, and the crowd, even in the events of the crucifixion, Jesus does what he does because of his love for his heavenly father, because of his love for his followers, because of his love for the world or as we would say it in modern parlance for humanity.
When Jesus comes back from praying in the garden and finds the disciples asleep he is disappointed, I have always thought that he was disappointed that they couldn't stay awake and pray for him. That he was chastising them for their inability to stay focused and to be there with him and for him. I still think that is a valid interpretation of this Scripture. But for the first time, as I was reading this year, I was struck by the fact that he is really concerned for them.
He says to them that if they can stay awake they may miss the trial that is coming. Now I don't claim to all of what that entails, because obviously the disciples do not stay awake, they do not watch with him. They fall asleep and the events of the evening, the night, and the following day play out. Even faced with all that is about to happen, and we know that Jesus knows what is coming because he "sweats blood in his anguish," Jesus still expresses his concern and his love for the disciples. Watch and pray. Stay awake and pray for your sake.
I came across the second picture, that Steve is going to put up now, yesterday as part of my devotions. I really think this captures an aspect of who Jesus is and why he did what he did because of this perspective. I don't know that Jesus spent a lot of time looking down from the cross. The accounts of what he must be going through tell me he would have been in great agony and suffering. But I do believe that when he did look down from the cross he did it with compassion and concern for those who were standing there below him.
Jesus did what he did because of his love for his heavenly father, because of his love for his followers, because of his love for the world, or as we would say it in modern parlance for humanity.
Why did Jesus go through the trial, through the betrayals, through the degradation of his treatment at the hands of the soldiers, the political leaders, the spiritual leaders, and the crowd, even the events of the crucifixion? He does it all because of love.
Stay awake and pray. Watch and pray.
What more do we need as a challenge this Easter Sunday?
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Oh how well we know that to be true.
How can we engage in staying awake? How can we engage in watching? How can we challenge ourselves to pray?
Because of love?
In fact we love, we know about love, we know whom to love, we know how to love because he first loved us.
"We love because he first loved us." That short verse comes from 1 John. 1 John 4. That verse is surrounded by powerful reflections and refractions on Jesus and how he loved. To end today I would like to read 1 John 4:15-19, and then verse 21
"God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."