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.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:36-46 NRSV)
This scene at the Gethsemane really captures the desperate loneliness and abandonment Jesus must have felt as he prepared to face his horrible arrest, trial, torture and death. In his fear, grief and despair, Jesus asks God to take his cup, his fate, away… the cup isn’t taken. He asks his dearest friends to stay awake with him for one hour… they fall sleep, three times. In Jesus’ darkest hour, he feels utterly alone. He has no friends to accompany him, even to remain in prayer for him. His friends cannot comprehend his anguish.
We are heartbroken to read such words. We are quite dismayed by the disciples’ lack of effort or attention! We wonder how they could sleep during that agonizing time. We wonder how they could abandon Jesus at his time of great need, especially after all he had done for them. And then we wonder about ourselves… I wonder about myself…
~Can I stay awake even one hour?
Jesus’ life on earth showed us how God’s incarnate word is present among and within us now. We may read these Old Testament stories with a little envy, thinking that we have not been gifted with signs from God in our present time. But God IS present, active, and moving in all of creation, and in and among all of us, as God was and is in Jesus.
I think that’s where I can be asleep. I often miss the presence of God in my daily living. How often I miss the significance in the mundane. I miss the word of God as spoken through a friend. I miss the lessons of life found in nature. Or in my activity, I miss the silent whisper of the Spirit in the breeze. As Jacob once said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16). In my inattention, do I miss out on the opportunities to help, accompany, or pray with Jesus?
~How often do I abandon Jesus in his time of need?
We are so richly blessed to know that through Jesus, we are God’s beloved children. We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38-39). We know that there is nothing we can do to earn our way into heaven. We are loved and forgiven, not by our own merit, but because God IS love. So we are to live our lives in grateful obedience, out of the sheer joy of being God’s beloved children for eternity.
But I know there are times I probably count on this extravagant mercy when I could do better or do more. Because I trust that Jesus loves me SO much, I know that I will remain beloved, even when I disappoint him. I count on his forgiveness when I know I have failed him- but does his mercy in some way ‘free’ me to fail him more often? “I can’t do this for you, Jesus, but thank you for loving me anyway.” Do I become lax or lazy because I am SO loved? Each time that I do, I am abandoning Jesus in his time of need.
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus is asking, “Could you not stay awake with me one hour?”
Where do you notice that you have been asleep to the presence of Christ? Does Jesus’ forgiveness, mercy and love perhaps make you a little lax in your obedience? How might you have abandoned Jesus recently in his time of need? Is there a practice that will help to keep you more attentive? Today, will you especially be mindful of the agony that Jesus endured?