Gethsemane: Will No One Stay Awake with Me?

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Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

03/16/2022

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Gethsemane: Will No One Stay Awake with Me?

Matthew 26:36-46; Matthew 6:5-6

Gethsemane: the place Jesus went to pray before his crucifixion and death. It may well have been the place, other than Bethlehem when he was born, where Jesus was most human. Last week, Jesus, knowing full well what was going to happen, set his face to Jerusalem. He made the decision to go, set out on the road with his disciples, and overcame obstacles and opportunities to get there. For the next few weeks of Lent, we are going with Jesus to Gethsemane as he prepares for his final week on earth to see what lessons there are for us in that place. Each Sunday before the service, we’ll be playing the song Gethsemane from “Jesus Christ Superstar;” the words are printed as an insert in your bulletin. Through the words of the song, we will focus on what really happened that night in Gethsemane.  

Gethsemane takes place on Thursday night into Friday morning, following the Jewish Passover meal we know as the “last supper.” Jesus has shared the bread and the wine, creating the celebration of Holy Communion we observe today. He sent his betrayer, Judas, away to do what he was determined to do. Inside, the meal is finished and Jesus is there with his eleven remaining disciples. Outside, the sky is dark. It’s crisis time, a time for serious prayer. Jesus leads the remaining disciples to the Mount of Olives, to the garden of Gethsemane. This morning our focus is not on the words that Jesus prayed, but on how he prayed. 

Gethsemane was a place where Jesus had gone before. John 18:12 says that Jesus often met there with his disciples and Luke 22:39 says it was his custom to go there. But this time things are different. This is the first time we are told that Jesus went there to pray. There is no question that Jesus was a man of prayer: prayers of gratitude, prayers for healing, prayers for his disciples. Normally, though, in times of prayer, it was Jesus’ nature to want to be left alone. He withdrew to the desert and went up mountains to pray, dismissing the crowds that followed him and even his disciples, in order to be alone with God. When Jesus gave instructions for how we should pray, he stressed that prayers should be private. Matthew 6:6 records Jesus saying: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

But, on this night, Jesus does something unexpected. He directs eight disciples to remain at the entrance to the garden, but invites Peter, James, and John to go further into the garden with him. Then he asks them, while he prays, to “Wait with me and stay awake with me.” Peter, James, and John were his three closest disciples. They had been specially selected by Jesus before to accompany him before on several occasions, most recently at the Transfiguration. Each of them would play a major role in the formation of the early church after Jesus’ ascension. But, most of all, they were the disciples he loved the most, the ones he hoped to rely upon for comfort and strength. Because Jesus’ prayer on this night was different from any other prayer he had ever prayed. 

Why did Jesus want company this time out of all the others? Perhaps, as one commentator writes, it was that Jesus preferred to be alone when he prayed out of love, but this time he was praying out of fear and needed to borrow strength. Perhaps it was because, as others speculate, Jesus was praying out of sadness and wanted the comfort of friends. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus’ soul was troubled, and Matthew describes him as being “deeply grieved.” Or, perhaps it was because Jesus was about to show, for the first time, hesitation and weakness in the face of death, and he needed to feel their confidence in him. Whatever the reason or reasons, we see a real touch of humanity in the fact that Jesus is prepared to take these three disciples into his confidence and allow them to see into his soul. Jesus doesn’t just ask them to wait while he prays … he wants them to stay awake and be with him.  

Matthew’s account of what happened in Gethsemane relates that Jesus prayed three distinct prayers and after each prayer turned to Peter, James, and John to find the friendship, comfort, and strength he needed – only to find the three of them sleeping. The opening words of the song Gethsemane reveal his pain and disappointment: “Will no one stay awake with me? Peter, James, John?” On the surface it may be difficult for us to understand how the three could let Jesus down so easily. But, then again, perhaps their reaction is more human than we would care to admit. 

First, it had been a long day. So much had happened that short week. It began with Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem with crowds waving branches and shouting Jesus’ name. Then there was the incident at the temple when Jesus drove out those who were buying and selling on temple property, and where he overturned the tables of the moneychangers. This was followed by a number of final teachings – parable after parable – not just to the disciples, but to crowds of people in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Then on this day, the twelve disciples gathered with Jesus in the upper room where they shared a meal … an ordinary meal in the middle of an extraordinary week until Jesus said that one of them would betray him and that Peter would deny him. When Thursday began, the disciples believed that the kingdom of God was coming, and they were on the front end of a revolution. The Roman empire would be brought to its knees and Israel would crown a new king, its Messiah. But Jesus isn’t acting like a king, and in Gethsemane perhaps they recall the numerous times Jesus told them of his arrest and crucifixion. It’s all so confusing and frightening and stressful. Sleep helps us ignore what we don’t want to see. 

But then again, perhaps their sleep came from extreme confidence in Jesus. Sure, he had said some troubling things about his future, but for three years they had seen him perform miracles. Water into wine. A few fish and loaves of bread into enough to feed over 5,000. Healing the lame, blind, and diseased. And, most of all, Jesus had even raised people from the dead. How could the Jewish leaders, or even Rome for that matter, kill someone with that kind of power? And what did they have to offer Jesus? And so, like children who know they are safe when they hear a parent nearby, they slept.    

In the end, we don’t know why they slept. We just know that three times Jesus came to them and found them sleeping. What we learn, in our Scripture reading from Matthew 26, is that Gethsemane has lessons to teach us about how to pray. Private prayer is fine and necessary, but there will come a day – or days – when we face crisis time, a time when everything is on the line. We’ve prayed in silence, we’ve prayed in solitude, we’ve prayed in secret, and, despite all our prayers, we are still afraid or sad or weak. In such times, Gethsemane reminds us that there was a night when Jesus felt the same way. We don’t need to be embarrassed by our fears or doubts, because Jesus wasn’t. Jesus didn’t go off by himself, thinking that others would think less of him if they saw how he felt. He gathered three of his disciples around him and asked them to be with him. We need to be more like Jesus – willing to admit when we need the support of others in prayer and willing to ask others to be with us in prayer, either just listening as we pray or praying with or for us. That’s a Gethsemane moment.

Maybe you’ve faced crisis time and you reached out and asked but, just like Jesus, you were abandoned by others at the very time you desperately needed help and support. You were misunderstood; you didn’t want to just be left alone to get over it by yourself but you wanted the support of others. Gethsemane teaches us that even as the disciples slept, Jesus continued to pray. He didn’t give up, he didn’t walk away, he kept praying. And he kept going back to those all-too-human disciples. Sometimes our requests for support aren’t heard and when that happens it’s easy to give up. From Jesus we learn to continue to ask, to continue to stress our need for help. That, too, is a Gethsemane moment. 

And, finally, we’ve all been where Peter, James, and John were. Tired. Stressed out. Excited about our own prospects or worried what will happen to us. Our focus on ourselves and our needs makes us oblivious to the cries of another. It’s not what we mean to do, but it’s human. Jesus, even though frustrated, doesn’t give up on his disciples. He keeps coming back to them and the four leave the garden together. The lesson from Gethsemane is that we are human – and as humans we fail one another. But we can get it right in the end if we continue to listen. Peter, James, and John followed Jesus out of the garden and were with him after Gethsemane. They stayed, they finally understood, and in the end they remained committed. Getting up when we’ve fallen down, going on when we don’t have all the answers, staying together as the church despite the circumstances, is another Gethsemane moment. 

It’s crisis time and everything is on the line. Jesus, in Gethsemane, needs to know he is on course, doing what God wants him to do and he needs friends to help him through it. If Jesus needed others to be with him, wait with him, watch over him, and even pray for him, then how can we say we don’t need the same? John Wesley said that we can no more subsist without prayer, than the body can live without air. Gethsemane teaches us the importance of leaning on one another, caring for one another, sharing our burdens, praying together, and staying together. Gethsemane is our defining moment as the body of Christ.    

Let’s pray: God, help us to learn that it’s not weakness to rely on one another in prayer. Help us to ask for prayer when we need others and sit with others when they need us. Forgive us when our focus is too much on ourselves and not enough on others, and when we do let someone down remind us not to give up or walk away but to seek that other person out and remain with them. Help us learn from Gethsemane that needing prayer and friendship and understanding in hard times is not weakness, but strength. In Jesus’ name. Amen.    

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Gethsemane: Will No One Stay Awake with Me?

Matthew 26:36-46; Matthew 6:5-6

Gethsemane: the place Jesus went to pray before his crucifixion and death. It may well have been the place, other than Bethlehem when he was born, where Jesus was most human. Last week, Jesus, knowing full well what was going to happen, set his face to Jerusalem. He made the decision to go, set out on the road with his disciples, and overcame obstacles and opportunities to get there. For the next few weeks of Lent, we are going with Jesus to Gethsemane as he prepares for his final week on earth to see what lessons there are for us in that place. Each Sunday before the service, we’ll be playing the song Gethsemane from “Jesus Christ Superstar;” the words are printed as an insert in your bulletin. Through the words of the song, we will focus on what really happened that night in Gethsemane.  

Gethsemane takes place on Thursday night into Friday morning, following the Jewish Passover meal we know as the “last supper.” Jesus has shared the bread and the wine, creating the celebration of Holy Communion we observe today. He sent his betrayer, Judas, away to do what he was determined to do. Inside, the meal is finished and Jesus is there with his eleven remaining disciples. Outside, the sky is dark. It’s crisis time, a time for serious prayer. Jesus leads the remaining disciples to the Mount of Olives, to the garden of Gethsemane. This morning our focus is not on the words that Jesus prayed, but on how he prayed. 

Gethsemane was a place where Jesus had gone before. John 18:12 says that Jesus often met there with his disciples and Luke 22:39 says it was his custom to go there. But this time things are different. This is the first time we are told that Jesus went there to pray. There is no question that Jesus was a man of prayer: prayers of gratitude, prayers for healing, prayers for his disciples. Normally, though, in times of prayer, it was Jesus’ nature to want to be left alone. He withdrew to the desert and went up mountains to pray, dismissing the crowds that followed him and even his disciples, in order to be alone with God. When Jesus gave instructions for how we should pray, he stressed that prayers should be private. Matthew 6:6 records Jesus saying: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

But, on this night, Jesus does something unexpected. He directs eight disciples to remain at the entrance to the garden, but invites Peter, James, and John to go further into the garden with him. Then he asks them, while he prays, to “Wait with me and stay awake with me.” Peter, James, and John were his three closest disciples. They had been specially selected by Jesus before to accompany him before on several occasions, most recently at the Transfiguration. Each of them would play a major role in the formation of the early church after Jesus’ ascension. But, most of all, they were the disciples he loved the most, the ones he hoped to rely upon for comfort and strength. Because Jesus’ prayer on this night was different from any other prayer he had ever prayed. 

Why did Jesus want company this time out of all the others? Perhaps, as one commentator writes, it was that Jesus preferred to be alone when he prayed out of love, but this time he was praying out of fear and needed to borrow strength. Perhaps it was because, as others speculate, Jesus was praying out of sadness and wanted the comfort of friends. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus’ soul was troubled, and Matthew describes him as being “deeply grieved.” Or, perhaps it was because Jesus was about to show, for the first time, hesitation and weakness in the face of death, and he needed to feel their confidence in him. Whatever the reason or reasons, we see a real touch of humanity in the fact that Jesus is prepared to take these three disciples into his confidence and allow them to see into his soul. Jesus doesn’t just ask them to wait while he prays … he wants them to stay awake and be with him.  

Matthew’s account of what happened in Gethsemane relates that Jesus prayed three distinct prayers and after each prayer turned to Peter, James, and John to find the friendship, comfort, and strength he needed – only to find the three of them sleeping. The opening words of the song Gethsemane reveal his pain and disappointment: “Will no one stay awake with me? Peter, James, John?” On the surface it may be difficult for us to understand how the three could let Jesus down so easily. But, then again, perhaps their reaction is more human than we would care to admit. 

First, it had been a long day. So much had happened that short week. It began with Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem with crowds waving branches and shouting Jesus’ name. Then there was the incident at the temple when Jesus drove out those who were buying and selling on temple property, and where he overturned the tables of the moneychangers. This was followed by a number of final teachings – parable after parable – not just to the disciples, but to crowds of people in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Then on this day, the twelve disciples gathered with Jesus in the upper room where they shared a meal … an ordinary meal in the middle of an extraordinary week until Jesus said that one of them would betray him and that Peter would deny him. When Thursday began, the disciples believed that the kingdom of God was coming, and they were on the front end of a revolution. The Roman empire would be brought to its knees and Israel would crown a new king, its Messiah. But Jesus isn’t acting like a king, and in Gethsemane perhaps they recall the numerous times Jesus told them of his arrest and crucifixion. It’s all so confusing and frightening and stressful. Sleep helps us ignore what we don’t want to see. 

But then again, perhaps their sleep came from extreme confidence in Jesus. Sure, he had said some troubling things about his future, but for three years they had seen him perform miracles. Water into wine. A few fish and loaves of bread into enough to feed over 5,000. Healing the lame, blind, and diseased. And, most of all, Jesus had even raised people from the dead. How could the Jewish leaders, or even Rome for that matter, kill someone with that kind of power? And what did they have to offer Jesus? And so, like children who know they are safe when they hear a parent nearby, they slept.    

In the end, we don’t know why they slept. We just know that three times Jesus came to them and found them sleeping. What we learn, in our Scripture reading from Matthew 26, is that Gethsemane has lessons to teach us about how to pray. Private prayer is fine and necessary, but there will come a day – or days – when we face crisis time, a time when everything is on the line. We’ve prayed in silence, we’ve prayed in solitude, we’ve prayed in secret, and, despite all our prayers, we are still afraid or sad or weak. In such times, Gethsemane reminds us that there was a night when Jesus felt the same way. We don’t need to be embarrassed by our fears or doubts, because Jesus wasn’t. Jesus didn’t go off by himself, thinking that others would think less of him if they saw how he felt. He gathered three of his disciples around him and asked them to be with him. We need to be more like Jesus – willing to admit when we need the support of others in prayer and willing to ask others to be with us in prayer, either just listening as we pray or praying with or for us. That’s a Gethsemane moment.

Maybe you’ve faced crisis time and you reached out and asked but, just like Jesus, you were abandoned by others at the very time you desperately needed help and support. You were misunderstood; you didn’t want to just be left alone to get over it by yourself but you wanted the support of others. Gethsemane teaches us that even as the disciples slept, Jesus continued to pray. He didn’t give up, he didn’t walk away, he kept praying. And he kept going back to those all-too-human disciples. Sometimes our requests for support aren’t heard and when that happens it’s easy to give up. From Jesus we learn to continue to ask, to continue to stress our need for help. That, too, is a Gethsemane moment. 

And, finally, we’ve all been where Peter, James, and John were. Tired. Stressed out. Excited about our own prospects or worried what will happen to us. Our focus on ourselves and our needs makes us oblivious to the cries of another. It’s not what we mean to do, but it’s human. Jesus, even though frustrated, doesn’t give up on his disciples. He keeps coming back to them and the four leave the garden together. The lesson from Gethsemane is that we are human – and as humans we fail one another. But we can get it right in the end if we continue to listen. Peter, James, and John followed Jesus out of the garden and were with him after Gethsemane. They stayed, they finally understood, and in the end they remained committed. Getting up when we’ve fallen down, going on when we don’t have all the answers, staying together as the church despite the circumstances, is another Gethsemane moment. 

It’s crisis time and everything is on the line. Jesus, in Gethsemane, needs to know he is on course, doing what God wants him to do and he needs friends to help him through it. If Jesus needed others to be with him, wait with him, watch over him, and even pray for him, then how can we say we don’t need the same? John Wesley said that we can no more subsist without prayer, than the body can live without air. Gethsemane teaches us the importance of leaning on one another, caring for one another, sharing our burdens, praying together, and staying together. Gethsemane is our defining moment as the body of Christ.    

Let’s pray: God, help us to learn that it’s not weakness to rely on one another in prayer. Help us to ask for prayer when we need others and sit with others when they need us. Forgive us when our focus is too much on ourselves and not enough on others, and when we do let someone down remind us not to give up or walk away but to seek that other person out and remain with them. Help us learn from Gethsemane that needing prayer and friendship and understanding in hard times is not weakness, but strength. In Jesus’ name. Amen.    

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