Stay awake with Jesus tonight, and learn to follow his path not only through trial and sacrifice, but to the life God brings through this path to you and to the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
John 13:1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; all seen through the lens of Matthew 28:36-45, Jesus in Gethsemane.
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
All Jesus wanted was that they stay awake.
In the olive grove outside of Jerusalem, late on Thursday night, he took Peter, James, and John into the trees, where he prayed. He hoped they’d stay awake with him. They didn’t.
Maybe we can. There is so much of today’s liturgy we can’t do this year in our separation. We can’t confess our sins together and each receive individual absolution at the altar. We can’t wash each other’s feet, though you can at home if you’re with others. We can’t gather together as Christ’s body and share the Meal Jesus gave tonight, and that hurts most of all. And we can’t experience together the starkness of stripping down the chancel at the end of this liturgy.
But we could try to stay awake with Jesus tonight. We don’t hear the Gethsemane story Thursday when it happens, only on Passion Sunday. But that time on the Mount of Olives later this evening offers a vision of how we might walk with Jesus, not just through the next few days, but the rest of our lives.
Let’s go to Gethsemane now.
36 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 with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 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.” 40 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? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 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.” (Matthew 28:36-45)
Gethsemane is a return to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Some of his first words as a preacher were “follow me.” We don’t often think of them tonight, or during these Three Days. But they’re central to everything happening here. Jesus called people to follow his path, the way of God’s love. He told them it would mean taking up a burden like a cross. It would mean the loss of things dear to them. Maybe even their life. We’ve softened his call to follow over the centuries, but in these Three Days the implications of “follow me” become clear.
If you follow Jesus, it means going to the Upper Room and learning to do what he did there. It means going to Gethsemane and learning how that will be yours to endure. It means going to that forsaken hill of death outside Jerusalem and learning how it’s your hill. But it also means going to a garden early Sunday morning and being awake for God’s promise.
For Jesus, and for those who belong to Christ, these days are all about learning to follow. And for that, you need to stay awake.
If you stay awake, you will see a path of servanthood for you in the Upper Room.
Watch closely this moment that centers our worship tonight, when Jesus strips off his robe and, dressed as a slave, kneels and washes the feet of his followers.
After he does this, Jesus is absolutely clear: I did this so you would follow me in the same. Be willing to stoop down in love and do the most menial task for another person. Or, just do this commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
If you stay awake for this hour in the Upper Room, you see what following looks like for you. It means being a servant in your love, just as Jesus was a servant in his.
And that means sacrifice for you.
When Jesus changed the Passover ritual dramatically, it must have shocked those at the table. Mary, Peter, Thomas, what did they think? The Passover bread is passed, and he says, “Take this, it is my body for you.” The Passover wine is passed, and he says, “Drink this, it is my blood poured out for you.” What on earth was he doing?
If you stay awake, you’ll see he’s saying following me means taking my whole life into you, my sacrificial love and suffering. When you eat this bread and drink this wine you are joined into what I am going to do tomorrow. You become part of my suffering and death, and it means forgiveness and life for you and the world.
Because now you are my body. That’s what Paul taught us, but Jesus says it here. He takes you, he takes me, breaks us open, and hands us to the world, saying, “Take this one, she is my body for you.” “Take this one, he is my blood for you.”
In this Meal, in your following, you become Christ’s Body and Blood for the world, your body and blood broken, poured out, in your sacrificial love, for God’s healing of the world.
Go to Gethsemane tonight and stay awake. You’ll need help for such hard following.
Jesus wanted the disciples to stay awake because he knew he was going to struggle with this path. He knew he’d be talking to the Father, in the mystery of the Triune Life, about this cup he was to drink. This sacrifice of his own body and blood, the sacrifice of God’s life for the world.
And he didn’t know if he could follow this path. That’s what you need to stay awake for. See how hard it was for Jesus. Learn that even the Son of God struggled with the costs of a servant life, a life of sacrificial love, a path that led to even losing his life.
If you’re awake and following Jesus this far, on this path, you’ve already realized it’s going to be very hard. But now you see you’re following someone who knows how hard it is, who agonized over this path as much as you do. And who ultimately said, “Not my will, but yours.” Who found the spiritual strength to be God’s life for the world, and who offers that strength to you.
But please notice something about what Jesus asks you tonight.
What he commanded you, and me, was to serve the person in front of us. One person, before whom you kneel and wash feet. One person, to love as you have been loved. One person, where you will sacrifice yourself out of love.
Don’t fret about following Christ’s path “for the sake of the world”. Just imagine what it would be to follow Jesus for the sake of that one person you’re with right now. And to keep doing it for all you meet. That’s where you’re called to be a servant. To love. To sacrifice. It will mean Gethsemane moments of prayer and you’ll need the help of God’s Spirit.
But let Jesus handle the whole world. Just follow where you are.
And remember who has stayed awake with you in these days.
Mary Magdalene and some of the other women who were followers, disciples, apparently had trouble sleeping Friday and Saturday night. They were up well before dawn Sunday morning. They were awake. And they wanted to follow where Jesus was.
So they went to the tomb. And they saw that God’s love is too strong to stay in a grave.
That’s where the path of Christ finds its joy, in resurrection on the other side of servanthood and sacrificial love. We’re not there yet this Holy Week.
But stay awake. Watch Jesus and learn. Pray for the strength to follow. And in the early morning darkness very soon, you’ll see something astonishing about God’s love and life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen