Recently, I read this book where the main character's best friend's husband passed away suddenly from an unexpected brain aneurysm. The best friend, a young mom of 3, called the main character and begged her to come spend the night in the hospital with her. "I don't think I can get through this without you by my side," she wept into the receiver. Of course, the main character dropped everything at an instant and went to be with her friend--just as I would for my best friend.
Not only that, but the woman's 5 other best friends drove across several states to be with her the next dew days. When they had to shut off the husband's life support, they stood in the hospital room praying and crying--but, in the words of the author--there was a broken but beautiful joy within the walls of that room because of the solidarity that comes from grieving together.
I read that story and thought of the night Jesus was crucified. Not necessarily because of the death, but mainly because of the concept of grieving together.
When Jesus knew he was going to be arrested, tried, and beaten, he called upon His best friends, the disciples, to pray with him. He took them to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he said, "Sit here while I go over there and pray...My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." (Matthew 26:36,38)
He asked of his disciples two simple tasks: to watch over him and pray as they waited.
A few verses later, after we see Jesus fall facedown to the ground and beg the Father to "take this cup from him" if it is His will, (v. 39), we read as he returns to his disciples sleeping on the ground of Gethsemane.
Matthew 26:40-41 says: "Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. 'Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour?' he asked Peter. 'Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'"
After this, Jesus leaves again and prays. When he returns, he finds the disciples sleeping again. Instead of awaking them, he goes and prays on his own a third time. Over and over again, he just prays "If at all possible, take this cup from me, Father. If it is not possible to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Over and over and over again, praying for relief but also accepting the Lord's will with open hands.
I can practically feel Jesus's frustration and sorrow. Can you imagine if you had asked all of your closest friends to join you as you wept and prayed and petitioned unto the Lord, then found them sleeping on the job? I would be so hurt. I think about the story of the woman and her husband's death--what if she had walked out into the waiting room, after asking her friends to pray for her and her husband and children, to find them fast asleep in their chairs? What would they even say? "Oh... we're sorry we fell asleep. It's just that your sorrow wasn't enough to keep us awake or focus on praying."
However, as much as I want to scoff at the disciples, I am them. I'm a messy and broken sinner who tries so hard but falls asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane every day. I think about their failure to stay awake and pray with Jesus and I think, "Honestly, same."
But every time I think about this passage, the one sentence that sticks with me so clearly is this: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." I'm so easily enamored by the world and the false hope it portrays--the glimmering mirage of what could be, if only we could have this or do that. But the truth is that none of these things matter if we hope in the promise of Christ's return, a hope that is not false, a hope that is everlasting and eternal.
I love writing short, reflective sentences beside Bible passages as I read, learn, and pray through God's word. One of the sentences I have written by this passage in Matthew is this: Lord, let me not be found sleeping. This is, in sum, my heart's deepest prayer. All my earthly desires aside: this is it for me. I just want to know Christ and make Him known and do kingdom work in whatever facet that might be for the rest of my life. The dreams I have are nothing when held up to the effervescent light of who Christ is, and who I am through Him.
Be encouraged by this: None of us are ever going to get it right. Romans 3:23 says "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," but despite this, we shall all be redeemed by His deep and abiding love for us. Not by our own work, not by how many people we have saved, not by how we have performed on earth. We are saved by Christ's redemptive love--and in turn, this love redeems us. It changes us and makes us into new creations who long for His presence in our lives.
I wrote this poem after reading Matthew 26 on Good Friday last week, sort of a reflection from my heart as I dwelt on the words of Matthew.
This story begins with a sleeping man
His eyelids as heavy as the burdens he carries
While he sleeps, he is saved by the Man
Who shed blood so that he might continue to slumber
When he comes to, he learns of the sacrifice
His burdens forsaken, his heart as heavy as his eyelids once were
He falls to his knees and he sobs:
"Lord, let me slumber no more
So that I may never forget this atonement
This shed blood for my selfish sake
And let me serve You with my very last breath
So that I might be found in You.
So that I might be found in You."
May we all go and be found in Him.