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."
The Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
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
Message: We all have those phrases from our childhood don't we that come back to us. More often than not when we are saying them to our children.
One that comes to mind for me is: "What do you think you are doing?" I remember one particularly vivid memory from when I was around 15 to 16 years old. My parents had committed to renovating my grandparents house. We were living there as a family of six at the time. My grandparents had passed on, my parents were facing some financial challenges and had the opportunity to buy their small two-bedroom house.
One of the projects slated to happen was the removal of the wall between the dining room and the living room. The only complication was that there was a double-sided fireplace in the middle of the wall.
One Saturday morning my parents went out grocery shopping and I in my youthful enthusiasm thought well there is no need to pay someone to take out that fireplace. I can do that. That will save Mum and Dad some finance. Yeah, I can do that.
So it set to with a wheelbarrow and a small short-handled sledgehammer and a chisel. I started out working on removing the bricks, loading them into the wheelbarrow and carting them outside to stack them alongside the garage.
It was an old fireplace and the mortar was not all that strong and within a couple of hours, I had made great progress. I managed to remove a solid chunk of the fireplace.
I heard my parents pull into the driveway and I expected that I would be lauded and applauded for my ingenuity and initiative. My Dad walked into the room and his response was not what I expected. Let's just say his voice rose a couple of decibels and his tone was less than congratulatory. "What do you think you are doing?" he shouted at me. My Dad was sounding judgmental and critical of what I had attempted to do. Taken aback I stuttered and stumbled over my explanation that I figured I was being helpful. That by taking out the fireplace I thought I was helping to move the project along.
In my innocence and lack of building or renovating experience, I had begun deconstructing the fireplace from about waist height and up. So that the chimney was hanging unsupported in the ceiling and up into the roof. My Dad was quick to explain to me that the weight of the remaining chimney could at any moment bring the ceiling or indeed the roof collapsing into the house.
I was assigned the task of getting up on the roof and beginning to remove the chimney brick courses from the top. The way that I should have done it in the first place. This story has a relatively happy ending. The roof and the ceiling remained intact while I worked away at removing the weight of the chimney. Then I returned to the dining room and removed the bottom courses until we reached floor level. We lived with the gaping hole in the wall between the dining room and the living room for several weeks. Unbeknownst to me my Mum and Dad had not been planning to have a competent builder/contractor come in for several months and they had been talking generally, about what they might possibly do, sometime in the future. When they had budgeted for the work.
I am not sure I ever recovered my Dad's opinion of my competency or his assurance that he thought I could be trusted to be left alone ever again.
I would like to suggest that the question: "What do you think you are doing?" or its corollary question "What is the meaning of this?" occurs a lot in our lives. Or perhaps I should say they have occurred a lot in mine. Either with people asking the question of me or with me asking the question of someone else.
Since I have been Ordained. Since I have been a Priest I have heard that question a lot. Perhaps the question hasn't been phrased quite that way. Sometimes I have heard it as: "Don't you think we should....?" "Shouldn't we be...?"
Often I have found in talking to the person asking the question there is a sense of disappointment. There may even be a sense of judgment and criticism involved in the asking of the question.
Many times the question has to do with an aspect of liturgy. Sometimes it has to do with our form of worship. As a liturgical church, we do a lot of things to which people have attached significance or particular meaning. Now, sometimes that significance is related to an experience they have had in their past. Perhaps it is related to a particular group of people. Perhaps it has to do with a particular moment in their spirituality.
This past year, many of the things that we have done in the past, which hold particular significance for us, have not been possible. Tonight is an example of that. Tonight we should have engaged in the ritual of the washing of feet. Tonight I chose to do something different. Tonight I washed my hands on behalf of us all as a symbolic representation of what Jesus talks about in the Gospel.
I am sure that someone somewhere asked the question: "What do you think you are doing?" I am sure that someone somewhere was asking: "What is the meaning of this?"
I hope that tonight we will be challenged to think again for ourselves about why we do the things that we do in our religious and spiritual practices. That we might ask ourselves "What do you think you are doing?" or "What is the meaning of this?" Not in an accusatory or judgmental way. But hopefully in a sincere and devout seeking to understand what it is that we are doing. In the Gospel reading for this evening, we see and hear the disciples asking those questions. Jesus challenges their established understanding, he challenges their established practices. He challenges them to begin walking with him in a new understanding of the opportunity that is before them. My prayer for us all is that as we journey through this Holy Week, and through the joyous celebration of the Sunday of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, that we will enter next week with a gift. That we will experience something new, something refreshing and enlivening, because of this challenging and different Holy Week and Easter.
My prayer is that our hearts will be softened. My desire is that we will be more open to the Lord Jesus' call to us. That we will find, in asking the questions: "What do you think you are doing?" or "What is the meaning of this?" that we will discover for ourselves the heart of what we believe and what we will seek to practice in this coming year.