Lent is a time for discipline, for confession, for honesty, not because God is mean or fault- finding or finger-pointing but because he wants us to know the joy of being cleaned out, ready for all the good things he now has in store. - N.T. Wright
SCRIPTURE & DEVOTION: Mark 14:32-51; focused on Mark 14:32-42
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ”Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet, not what I will, but what you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
On falling asleep and waking up
The betrayal of Jesus is a story made all the more heartbreaking by the inability of his disciples to stay awake and keep him company in the last hour before he is taken away by the authorities to stand trial prior to his death. They were his friends; most of them had been with him since the early days of his three-year public ministry. Theirs was a brotherhood closer than family; they had been together nearly all day every day, united by a common intent to follow and learn from their great Teacher who had come to bring the good news about God’s coming kingdom to all people.
But now, in a heartbeat, everything is about to change. Not one of them understands what is going to happen in the next few days that will change the world forever. All they know is that the hour is late; their stomachs are full from the evening meal; it is hard to stay awake as they sit and watch and wait in the quiet stillness of that garden, where nothing seems to be happening except that Jesus is praying a short distance away.
Of course, this is not the first time that God’s people have “fallen asleep” and allowed themselves to become separated from him. Over and over throughout their history, they have drifted away from him, lured by the customs of surrounding cultures, lulled into a sense of complacency and inattentiveness. Time and time again, they have rejected his precepts and disobeyed his will. Like the sleeping disciples, they have been unaware of approaching danger and of their own vulnerability until the hour of destruction is upon them. From the temptation of Adam and Eve in that first Garden, to the time of Noah and the great flood, to those bitter years of captivity and slavery in Egypt, God’s people have failed time and time again to stay close to him and focused on his will.
It is that very chasm of separation from God that Jesus the Savior has come to bridge. So many things about this story call to us in excruciatingly painful ways. We witness Jesus’ anguish in the garden at Gethsemane, knowing the suffering that is to come on the cross, and we want to shout at Peter and others, “Wake up! They are coming to arrest Jesus! Do something!” We want to scream at Judas, “How could you do to Jesus what you are about to do? He loved you!” We, like the disciples, can only watch, confused and powerless, as the drama unfolds. N.T. Wright in his book Lent for Everyone, Mark, Year B, puts it so beautifully and powerfully:
…“The point is to stay there, to let the story wash over you again and again like a huge tidal wave, knocking you off your feet, rinsing you out, breaking you down, leaving you with mothing but awe and sorrow and gratitude and love. He did it for us. He did it for me. For you. For the people nearby and far away. Jesus has gone to the darkest place in the world, the place where all that he can say is, ‘My God, why did you abandon me?’ And he has gone there, with all the plots and accusations and paranoia and frustration and hatred and misunderstanding and failed hopes and broken dreams of the world clattering about his head. He has gone there because it was, and is, the only way the world can be rescued. The only way you and I can be rescued. The only way by which God’s love can take the worst on to itself and leave us free.”
After that long night of despair and denial and the next two devastating days encompassing Jesus’ trial, execution, and burial, the disciples finally experience their awakening. At the resurrection of Jesus, the purpose of his mission of salvation and redemption becomes clear at last. The disciples awaken as from a night spent in restless bad dreams to the dawn of a gloriously changed, new reality. We have the same opportunity this Eastertime. With so much happening in the world today that is beyond our control, it is sometimes hard to remember that light will indeed replace the darkness, just as surely as the risen Christ emerged from the tomb. May we, too awaken with the courage to believe the words of Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Lord, Isaiah reminds us that it is too small a thing that You came for Your people - You are a light for the Gentiles - for all people. May we live in Your light and the new reality of eternal life found in You.