I am exhausted.
Having spent most of Lent preparing for Holy Week and now…living through Holy Week with yet more preparations and so many services I am so tired.
And we’ve still got 2 days to go.
This exhaustion is not unique to me. Oh no. Ask any member of the clergy. Ask any member of the altar guild. Ask anyone who prepares flowers and the sanctuary for the myriad of services. Ask the servants of worship. Holy Week is a marathon of concentration, prayer, and activity.
Lent, Holy Week, and Easter are truly exhausting.
I think I can imagine how Peter, James, and John must have felt. It was the middle of the night. Jesus had asked them to go the Garden of Gethsemane with him. Although they had some idea of what was ahead, they weren’t sure what was going on. Why were they in the garden in the middle of the night? Jesus went to pray alone but instructed his friends to keep awake. Jesus checked on them three times…and each time they had fallen asleep. Jesus chastised them for not giving him their full support.
The disciples felt bad, I’m sure, but they were tired. The second time Jesus roused them, we heard “they did not know what to say to him.” They knew they should keep awake and PRAY FOR and PRAY WITH their friend. But they were so tired.
Back in November, our lectionary treated us to the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. I remember it because I gave the sermon that Sunday. You know….10 bridesmaids were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. But he was late and the maidens all fell asleep. When the groom arrived, only half of the bridesmaids had enough oil in the lamps to escort the groom. Jesus said the lesson from that parable was “Keep awake. For you know neither the day nor the hour.”
And once again, Jesus uses the exact same words when asking his friends to watch and pray with him.
But who can blame Peter, James, and John. It has been a very busy time for them. I think we often forget what happened after the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We are reading the Passion narrative from Mark this afternoon. The portion in Gethsemane occurs in the middle of chapter 14. The palm waving and Hosanna shouting are at the beginning of chapter 11. There are so many things which actually took place before we get to today’s story:
Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple.
There’s the lesson of the withered fig tree.
Jesus had several encounters with religious figures. They asked him where his authority came from. He related the parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard. Jesus told them to give to the government what is owed government and give God what is owed to God. The Sadducees attempted to trick Jesus with a question about a woman who married seven brothers. Jesus related the first and greatest commandment and the second one of equal importance
He noticed the widow giving everything she had to the temple and taught the disciples a lesson about that. Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple. A woman anointed his head with expensive oil at dinner one night.
Meanwhile Judas was convinced to betray Jesus by the officials.
And then there was the last supper.
So, it had been a very busy few days after they arrived in Jerusalem. And add to that the constant threat of danger from the authorities. It had to be so tiring.
And now….Jesus wanted them to keep awake in the middle of the night in a park and pray with him. I can just imagine how difficult that would have been.
In the middle of my time at the all night watch last evening, something came to me. In this first portion of the Passion narrative we just read – in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible we read - Jesus asks his disciples to “KEEP awake.” And if you go to Matthew and re-read the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, you’ll notice the same thing. The lesson of that parable is to “KEEP awake.”
Jesus does not ask his disciples to “STAY awake.” He asks them to “KEEP awake.”
But think about it.
Stay holds the listener at arm’s length. Stay is a command you might give a dog. Stay implies distance or something remote.
KEEP means to hold something…to know the importance or value of something….to fondly cradle something in your arms. If you KEEP something, you cherish it, you treasure it.
Yes, in our common English usage Stay Awake and Keep Awake actually mean the same thing. In fact, KEEP awake almost sounds a little stilted to our ears.
And I want to suggest that is exactly the point. In our exhaustion, in those moments when we just don’t want to be bothered with another thing, Jesus is asking us to KEEP awake. Jesus wants to us to cherish – to fondly desire – the ability to keep watch with him.
But that brings us to this question: For what, exactly, are we keeping awake? Jesus isn’t here needing support and prayer in the middle of the night. What does the request of KEEP awake mean to us today?
We are asked to KEEP awake spiritually. There are so many distractions in our lives that keep us from the love of God and keep us from following the commandments of Jesus which allow us to be true Christians in the very purest sense of the word.
At the beginning of this meditation, I told you was I tired. I then gave a stock answer about being busy with church things in preparation for Holy Week. But my exhaustion goes much deeper than that. It is a chronic condition I have suffered most of my life.
I want to please everyone. I want everyone to like me and tell me what a good boy I am.
Let me tell you. It is truly exhausting.
On this Good Friday, I suggest we all could take some time and reflect on what it is that makes us tired. What is it that may be preventing us from truly keeping our spiritual lives awake and vital.
Perhaps you have a secret you feel no one will understand. The time and energy spent on keeping people from knowing what that secret is will wear you out.
Maybe you have an addiction. That addiction might be to drugs or alcohol….the internet….unhealthy eating habits…..binge watching a 10 year long television series. The amount of time feeding that addiction or trying to kick that habit can be exhausting.
Are you in a relationship in which you give so much more than you receive? That is incredibly tiring.
Are you bullied or suffering from prejudice or discrimination?
Do you dread going to your place of employment each day because your job is not fulfilling to you?
Are you caring for children or an elderly member of your family? Even though such responsibilities can bring you great joy and fulfillment, that doesn’t make them any less tiring.
Do you suffer with chronic physical or emotional pain? That can drain you of all your energy.
Do you suffer from a general malaise that is hard to define? Do you feel like your life has no direction? Do you feel drained of the desire to do anything?
As the old adage goes….are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?
On this Good Friday, may I suggest you take a first step toward KEEPING awake? This is the perfect day to take those tiring habits, those exhausting problems, anything that makes you tired and place it at the foot of the cross.
I cannot tell you in good conscience that simply admitting your problems to yourself and to God will fix everything. Metaphorically putting your pain and suffering at the foot of the cross will not miraculously heal you of your maladies and make everything perfect. The metaphor of the cross is that once you have admitted you are tired and you want some rest, you know there are outlets to help you.
The knowledge that Jesus died for our sins on this day….The realization and acceptance of God’s plan of redemption for us – reconciliation between God and humans – is the first step in keeping your spirit awake.
Jesus asked his disciples to keep awake to support him and pray with him during his time of need. Jesus asks us to keep awake so that our souls may be ready to accept the help we need to conquer what is making us so tired. And in keeping awake, we are able to help one another in those exhausting times. Like Peter, James, and John, we must do our best to keep awake to support Jesus in his mission here on earth and carry out the commandments he gave us.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, as Jesus prayed for strength and courage to face his crucifixion, WE ask for strength and courage to keep our souls….our spirits….awake to face the challenges of each day and to help each other on our journeys. Amen.