On Sunday in unprogrammed worship, the gathering word was from Matthew 26:36-39.
“Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ 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.’”
As I sat there in the community of silence, I pictured Jesus agonizing in prayer, with his disciples nearby, supporting him (or not). The darkness of the garden matches his shadowed spirit. Sorrowful. Full of sorrow.
What I brought to my meditation that morning was a preoccupation with death. We just lost Hal’s 95 year old mother two weeks back, and then a few days ago we received news of the death of a close friend our own age, Dwaine Williams.
We had expected the one death and were privileged to be at her side when Mom gently stopped breathing and went home. We cried but we also experienced relief that the suffering was over. We felt joy in the sense of her home-coming. In a few weeks, family will gather from different parts of the country to share memories and honor her life.
But with Dwaine, it feels totally different, and our grief has a strange tenor. I’m having to intentionally affirm my faith in God’s loving sovereignty as a way of combating a sense of tragedy. And I struggle with knowing how to respond to Becky, Dwaine’s wife and my dear friend of many years.
So sitting in the silence of unprogrammed worship, seeing Jesus at prayer in the dark garden, my vision shifted to Jesus at the right hand of the Father, still praying, interceding for his people. I saw his eyes going throughout the earth, seeing deeply into the pain and struggles of all of us, and holding that pain tenderly in prayer.
And I heard him say to me, “Stay here nearby. Keep watch with me.” An invitation to co-labor with him in intercession. Even when I don’t know how to pray. Even when all I can do is hold the pain and lift it up to the One who does know how to pray.
This is Holy Week. This is the week we remember Gethsemane and Calvary. Dwaine’s memorial service is on Good Friday. That seems appropriate. And we know that Resurrection Day is coming.
The darkness of the garden will continue in the weeks ahead, but we do not grieve as those without hope. I’m comforted to know that I can keep watch with Jesus, join in his intercession for those who will experience pain in the weeks and months ahead. I will undoubtedly need help to stay awake, but my intention is to sit still, watch and pray. With Jesus.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.