Summary: Using Christ’s agony in the garden as an illustration of our response to suffering.
Christ’s Suffering Calls us to do What?
A sermon for Year C, 2nd Sunday in Lent, Evening Prayer
Preached at St John the Evangelist, Cold Lake, Alberta, 1900 11 Mar 01.
Psalm 8, 84
A young girl was speaking with her Grandfather and asked, “Granddad, did God make you?” Her grandfather answered, “Yes, he did.” After thinking for a while longer the little girl asked another question, “Did God make me as well?” Again her grandfather answered her, “Yes, he did.” She thought some more, looked at her Grandfather closely, looked closely at her reflection in the mirror and said, “Granddad, I think He is doing a better job these days.”
How many times is this attitude made true in our lives? Not that we think God is doing a better job today, but that we assess whether or not his action in our lives is good or bad? What standard by which do we judge God?
This reading from the Gospel according to Saint Mark ends with a very funny statement – it seems so out of place, “Amoung those following was a young man with nothing on but a linen cloth. They tried to seize him; but he slipped out of the linen cloth and ran away naked.” It is suspected that this person is the writer of the gospel, John Mark himself, and this footnote is added as sort of a personal note as to his witness of the events in the Garden.
There is some symbolism here as well. Regardless of what we may cloth ourselves in – our success in our work lives, our families or our community, we appear before God as we really are, naked. For he knows the private thoughts of our hearts, before we even think of them ourselves.
We do not like grief and pain. I know that I frequently dread the first part of Lent – those days prior to Easter Sunday. I would much rather focus on singing joyful hymns on Palm Sunday with all the others outside of Jerusalem, and the joy of the resurrection instead of the weeks of mourning and grieving leading up to it. As each part of this mystery unfolds, this story that we all know so well, do we not ourselves walk along with the crowds who welcome Christ with palm leaves and shouts of Hosanna! And only a few days later with shouts of ‘crucify him!’. This is the most important part of the Lenten walk that we must take, for us to grow as Christians we must share with our Lord in this time – both as the accuser and as the accused, as the mocker and the mocked, and finally as the one hanging on the cross. The events in Gethsemane lead Christ into his walk along the via dolorosa – the path of sorrow that ends on Golgotha.
In this reading from Saint Mark, with whom do we identify more? Jesus as he prays in such anguish that Luke tells us that he sweats drops of blood and finally only gains sufficient strength through the grace of the Father to say “…Yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.”. Or do we see ourselves in the disciples – either as Peter boldly saying “I will never disown you” regardless of what any of these other apostles do, or as James and John sleeping through the hour of their Lord’s greatest need, “…were you not able to stay awake for one hour?” Or do we become even more aggressive, as Peter did and physically attack, finding it easier to fight for Jesus, than to die for Him. Unfortunately, I am too often asleep in the garden while my Lord needs me. At the best of times, we see “…as in a mirror darkly…” as Saint Paul said, and we sleep as our Lord prepares to die on our behalf.
Christ first asked, ‘…take this cup away…’ And then, and only after being strengthened through intense prayer he gives himself over totally to the Father’s will. This path, he knew, would end in agony for him. In our situation, this giving ourselves over totally is often countered by us being caught up in humankind’s myth of control. I think that we as a culture have forgotten much of our place in this world as we have moved away from the farms that form the family heritage for many Canadians. As a tiller of the earth or a raiser of animals you gain an intimate appreciation for how little control over our world we actually have – If there is not enough rain for the wheat, can you will the sky to provide more? If the sun does not shine brightly, can you increase the length of the day?