Summary: Jesus calls us to follow God’s will, even if we are scared. And sometimes following means that we have to fall on our knees, push aside our own agendas, and ask in complete humility that God’s will be done. That’s the lesson of the garden.
On the day I happened to begin writing this sermon this week, I was very tired. I had been tired the night before, and I had even gone to bed early, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was just plain worn out! You know the feeling I’m sure. It might be that we are in day twelve of late nights and early mornings. Or maybe we are coming off a particularly busy time at work. Then there’s all the energy that goes into taking care of the family and keeping the house clean. Or perhaps the weariness stems from a time of great stress. Sometimes we don’t even know the cause; we just know we’re really tired.
As we continue today seeking to follow Christ more fully as his disciples, we are nearing the end of our journey. And as with many long journeys, this morning we come face-to-face with the realization that sometimes the going gets tough and we get tired. Whether because of a long and arduous journey or just because of life, there are times when we wear down. And when we get tired, we let our guard down. We become susceptible to temptation. We make decisions without thinking about them and end up causing ourselves a lot of pain. Or maybe, like the disciples waiting on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, we just fall asleep on the job. So when we get to this point in our lives; when we are tired, or distracted, or discouraged, how can we stay true to the path? How can we continue to journey with Jesus in the midst of all the hardships?
Back in 2004, I was enjoying a summer off before beginning seminary. In early August, I attended my cousin’s wedding up in Lynchburg, Virginia. After the wedding, my family and I took off down the Blue Ridge Parkway for a week of vacation in the mountains. Our goal was to travel the whole Parkway. We had been studying for weeks and had it all planned out; what sights we would take in, where we would spend the night, everything. So we set off, and the first several days were great. It was sunny and beautiful and everything was going according to plan. Then, late in the week, Hurricane Charley came. At its strongest, Charley was a category 4 hurricane. But by the time it made it to the mountains, it was just rain; a lot of rain. And it rained and rained and rained. We had made it into the North Carolina mountains by then, and we decided we had seen enough. It wasn’t worth enduring all the rain, so we cut our vacation short and headed home.
In our scripture reading for this morning, Jesus and the disciples find themselves in the midst of a hurricane, in a sense. Jesus has just finished telling the disciples again what is about to happen to him. Jesus even turned the final meal he and the disciples have just shared together into an enactment of his death. The reality is hitting home. The storm is gathering, and in the face of it, the disciples begin to lose hope. They fall asleep as Jesus prays in the garden, then later, after Jesus is arrested, Mark tells us “all of them deserted him and fled.” It’s like those coal miners who used to take a canary down into the mines with them to test the air. When the canary started to die, it was time for the miners to surface and think things over. That’s the way it was with the disciples as they neared the end of their journey with Jesus. They didn’t like what they saw up ahead, and it’s often the same with us. When the going gets tough, well…we’re outta here!
Yet, in the midst of the gathering storm, let’s look at what Jesus did. There’s a powerful lesson here for all of us. Despite the maelstrom going on in the background of this morning’s passage, we have here one of the most serene scenes in the whole Bible. With his disciples safely nestled out of earshot, Jesus steps into the Garden of Gethsemane and begins to pray. The fear is almost tangible. The silence is so thick it’s like a blanket. Jesus was at a point of tremendous pain. He realized just how close he was to the agony of the cross. But Jesus did not turn back; he did not run away. Though he was surely overburdened and weary, Jesus did not sit down and go to sleep, hoping to awake to a different reality. In the midst of it all, Jesus does the only thing he can think of; he prays. Jesus committed himself to prayer. And this wasn’t just any old prayer; Jesus prayed very intensely!