GOOD FRIDAY, March 31, 2018.
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 26:
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.
Can you not stay awake with me one hour?
Suffering is lonely work. And it’s lonely work to stay with somebody who is suffering—anybody, really. Haven’t you felt inclined one time or another to NOT call, NOT visit, someone who is sick, or bereaved, or newly out of work, or experiencing a breakup in their marriage or enduring an emotional crisis? To stop and connect with someone begging on the street?
And don’t you know first hand how quiet the phone gets when YOU are going through something like that? It just doesn’t ring. The people who used to call you… somehow simply don’t. The silence can be deafening.
Not only two thousand years ago… not only Jesus whose suffering has drawn us here today.
Perhaps you DID make that call, that visit. Perhaps some of the reluctance turned to relief. It was tough, but that friend or relative or stranger was not alone with their pain. And you weren’t alone, either.
That’s why we’re here. Hearing part of the “watch gospel” we heard last night.
We are not only watching with Jesus, we are listening to the words and music that express what other watchers have felt and thought in this situation. Today! We are supported, not just by each other but by generations of Christians who have gone before us. By artists—dancers, musicians, writers, singers—who have the gift and the practiced discipline of connecting with others even in this moment that is, at its core, lonely and personal.
That’s what we do as a community, what we have done ever since the first Eucharist which we commemorated just last night.
It’s what we do every weekday in this Cathedral when we say intercessory prayers three times a day. On Sundays during the Eucharist in the whole liturgy (“Christ has died,” we say) and in the prayers of the people—which are also a form of watching.
It’s a real effort to pray for refugees year after year. For Syria, year after year. To persist in being faithful. To hold hope when we don’t even know what we dare to hope for in any realistic sense. The world seems set against our hopes, and the world seems bigger, more solid, more obvious, than our hopes and prayers.
My aunt Jeanne’s husband Earl was a farmer. They were unable to have children, so his work on that farm took all his time and strength and more. He rigged up lights on the tractor so he could harvest wheat into the night. He would come to church, where she was the organist, on Sundays and, almost every Sunday, his head would drop down on his chest and he would simply sleep through most of the service. At the end of his life, he sickened with cancer and couldn’t come to church. On one of those Sundays I drove with her over the twisty and hilly little road to town, and saw she was taking a tranquilizer. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh, she said, people are all going to ask about Earl and I just can’t handle it today.”
Don’t think for one moment that I judged her! She was teaching me something new about watching… and that moment came to me as I was preparing this meditation—it is difficult to watch WITH OURSELVES, not just with other people.
Who is the suffering Christ for you today? Where are you struggling to stay awake? To watch for this hour?
Ben Stuchbery just talked about how what we watch, really watch, is transformed—and transformative. But if we don’t dare to watch, we miss this miraculous transformation!
When we dare to watch with Christ today—and this is something the Church does dare—we are the body of Christ wounded and not yet knowing what resurrection will look like. But we persist—we draw strength from each other. That strength is the NOW of the kingdom that is, as Jean-Daniel preached a couple Sundays ago, both ALREADY AND NOT YET.
Maranatha—Come, Lord. Come and help us stay awake. Amen.