Stay Awake

April 9, 2020

 

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”

 

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 

 

And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

 

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 

 

And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?

 

It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

 

- Mark 14:32-42 (ESV)

The Maundy Thursday drama, in Mark's Gospel, moves from a table of 13 to a prayer group of four. Jesus and the three leading disciples.

 

The closest of them all. His inner circle.

 

Implying that if anyone is going to get it right, it is these guys.

 

Of course, Peter, possibly the closest of them all - Peter just made two bold promises: “I will not fall away” and “I will not deny you”.

 

Yet, even before the true temptation, the true testing comes – it’s only Jesus and the three – he breaks the first of these promises by falling asleep when he was asked to watch.

 

In rebuking him, Jesus does not even use his apostolic surname, Peter, meaning “Rock”. Instead he mouths his old name…."Simon”.

 

“Simon…. are you asleep?” Could not watch one hour?”

 

Despite their high intentions and their earnest commitments. Despite following Christ for three years and being in his inner circle, they are unable to obey.

 

In the dark of night they fall away.

 

The moment Jesus has been preparing them for. The moment he needs them the most. They fall asleep at the wheel.

You know, it is hard to follow Jesus.

 

It is hard to stay awake for Jesus.

 

You and I, we get lulled to sleep by the comforts of this life.

 

The Tempur-pedic mattresses, the Mr. Pillows, the down comforters of life.

 

Luxury. Houses full of stuff. Bank accounts bloated with dough. The 21st century American lifestyle.

 

We are lulled to sleep because we can’t stand to see more pain. When we are awake, we see all the suffering. When we are alert our eyes are heavy.

 

The cable news channel – a daily reminder of pandemics, fear and death.

 

Our friend has cancer. Our neighbor just went through a divorce.

 

Racism, poverty, injustice…issues to large, a burden too heavy to carry.

 

Of course, when we are alert, when we are awake, we are also aware of our own humanity.

 

Our own inability to obey, to follow.

 

Those nagging sins, those strong desires, those past mistakes. Sometimes they are there like a throbbing pain, other times like a haunting nightmare.

 

And so instead of facing it all, we fall asleep.

 

We numb.

 

We devour prescription drugs or drink ourselves silly. We endlessly scroll social, binge watch TV, consume porn, or find an affair. 

 

Asleep. We fall asleep.

Of course, the Gospel writer Mark wants us to see the contrast between the snoozing disciples and the woke Jesus.

 

Jesus is committed to following the will of God.

 

But unlike later martyr stories, Mark’s account does not portray One who faces death with peace.

 

Jesus has no martyr complex. He does not want to die.

 

Maybe it is because it is to the ones who are most fully alive that death comes most unbearably. [1]

 

While the Gospel of John showcases Jesus’ divine nature, often times making us wonder if we could even follow such an example,  Mark reminds us that Jesus is human too.

 

The text plainly sets his human will against that of the will of the Father.

 

Jesus’ will be that the hour pass from him.

 

Perhaps he too wishes to be asleep.

 

He wants the cup removed. He does not want to be put to the test.

 

Yes, of course, he wants to fulfill God’s purposes for him – don’t we all? – but in some other way, if possible.

 

Some other way…

 

Despite this desire, though, something else within him finds expression in the prayer, “Yet, not what I will, but what you will!”

 

Fully human, Jesus knows the inner struggle of the will.

 

But he refuses, perhaps by the power of the Holy Spirit, to abandon the will of God.

 

The immediate consequences of surrendering to God’s will over his own, the immediate consequences of staying woke, is arrest.

 

Arrest and crucifixion.

 

But the final outcome lies beyond the resurrection.

Watch - Jesus tells his closest followers.

 

Remain here and watch. Be alert. Be present.

 

To the agony of Christ in whatever person or situation, whatever place or time he might show up.

 

The Spirit is willing, but the flesh...the flesh is weak.

 

Watch.

 

Rise,” Jesus says, “let us be going. See my betrayer is at hand…"

 

Are you awake?

 

Are you awake to follow?

 

 

 

1. Frederick Buencher, "Not What I Will".

 

Cover Image: Praying-at-Gethsemane, He Qi.

 

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