We say we'll keep watch, but we fall asleep.
This week as I pause in the holy hush of Jesus' willing death on the cross, I need to look and see and understand my vigil falls desperately short.
Consider these passages from Mark, Chapter 14:
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.
Eugene Peterson, in The Message, paraphrases it this way: “He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony.”
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here, and keep watch.”
Jesus then moved away from the three and began to pray. When he returned and found them sleeping, he said, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn't you stay awake for even an hour?”
(Selections from Mark 14)
Twice again, Jesus went away to pray. And twice again, he returned to find his friends asleep. He had asked them to keep a vigil with him, and they had failed at even this simple assignment.
I remember being absolutely stunned when I first encountered this passage in the story of Jesus' crucifixion. It was shocking to think his best friends would ditch on him like that. Self-righteously, I indulged in the idea that I'd never do that; I'd never fall asleep during the holiest of vigils, the night before my Savior's death!
But as I journey and grow wiser in my faith, I understand his followers, The Twelve. I get it. Because, how many times have I failed my Lord? Too many to count. And how many times have I listened to a sermon and decided it was for someone else, but not for me? Too many times, way too many times. How often has He asked me to keep watch? Warned me to be alert to the enemy of my soul? Gently chastened me when I wound another?
Asked me to stay awake in the garden?
A simple request. A profound honor. A no-brainer. Just. Stay. Awake. But I don't; we don't, not always and not at the most critical moments.
So I suggest we cut the disciples some slack this Holy Week and think about what they didn't have.
Those guys did not have the New Testament Pocket Guide with Study Notes at the bottom of each page. You laugh! But it's true. Yes, they had the Lord, in the flesh, the Great I Am in their midst. Jesus taught and blessed and performed miracles and washed their feet and served The Last Supper. They had front row seats to all of it.
But the Gospel, the Good News, was still unfolding. The story of the perfect lamb, as prophesied in the Ancient Teachings, was about to come true. They were a part of the story, but they didn't have the entire picture, like we modern-day Believers do.
Jesus, at the end of their time together in the Upper Room, explained what would happen in the hours ahead. He tried to warn them, to tell them a time was coming when he would be destroyed and they would disperse in fear and confusion like sheep without a shepherd.
He even knew the ways in which they'd fail!
Jesus told the men a Comforter would come; the Holy Spirit.
But think about it. Those guys couldn't look it up by Chapter and Verse, and then cross-compare it with other translations.
It was a final meal with feet-washing, followed by a profoundly vulnerable time of Jesus putting them into the care of God as a benediction. Combine this intimate time of sharing with fear and political unrest and angry mobs and betrayal just hours away.
They had face-to-face access to The Savior but they didn't fully grasp His words. They were ordinary humans with flaws and doubts and God chose them to be part of the Plan of Redemption.
They only knew He had called the Passover Meal His own body and blood – broken and spilled for them. How strange that must have been, and really kind of scary. And confusing.
Let's float them a little grace this Holy Week approaching Good Friday. In the doing, we might also be able to receive grace for our own inadequacies.
As Anne Lamott so transparently puts it, “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
And so, rather than being disappointed about the garden napping, I see the disciples with a stirring of recognition.
Jesus saw Peter, James and John at their worst – and He loved them anyway. However often they failed Him, He would never fail them.
And when I am unfaithful to watch and stay awake, He still loves me enough to die for me.
Make of me a faithful vigil in the heart of darkness, I want to be a sentinel through all the dark hours. When the deep darkness falls, let me be your star. Name me One Who Watches Through the Night. Reveal to me the holiness of lingering with mystery. Employ me in the holy art of waiting. O teach me to live with a vigilant heart.
>Litany of the Hours