It’s Thursday morning of Holy Week. If this week is comparable to walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we are approaching the deep, dark and dangerous part. We are close to the end of our Lenten journey.
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, AMEN.
PRAYER FOCUS: Let Not My Will, But Yours Be Done
It was just three hours. But for the rest of their lives they would regret them.
Peter, James and John were his best friends, his most trusted Disciples. They had been with Jesus since the beginning. They were sometimes slow to get what the Master taught; and they were prone to pride—jockeying even tonight for “Who is greatest among us?” But they had never before failed him like this.
And the night was just getting started. Before the rooster crowed on the next morning it would get much, much worse…
The Gospel accounts of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane illuminate our Lord for all eternity. They provide us with a moving, compelling and accurate record of the last hours of Jesus of Nazareth. They tell a story of strength and weakness, light and darkness, faithfulness and failure, and ultimately, glorious victory on a scope we haven’t the capacity to imagine.
We encourage you to spend a few minutes today reading at least one of them.
Let’s focus on our Lord and his prayers in Gethsemane. We see Jesus praying like a man who means it. He expresses great dread over what is about to happen. He confesses to his most trusted friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
These are not the words of a man who thinks he has it all in the bag. These are more the words of a man who is struggling to hold it all together. And why not? Jesus knows exactly where this is all heading.
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew)
Jesus pauses–and finds his friends asleep. He asks, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” Disappointed, he returns to his prayers.
“Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark)
He finds them sleeping again. He returns to his praying for the third time.
“Father, not my will…” (Luke)
These are not only not the words of a man who thinks he has it all in the bag, these are the prayers of someone who needs help. Jesus wants another way. He asks his Father-God to let this cup pass. He gets silence in reply. He calls out “Abba”—Dad—and he prays like even the Messiah has never prayed before. He knows he needs more strength, more power.
Jesus is crushed by anguish. So he prays with such great intensity, such great fervor, that his sweat falls to the ground like drops of blood. Luke later records that an angel from heaven appears to him and strengthens him.
But the cup remains. And the obedient Son would soon drink every bit of it.
“Not my will…”
When Peter, James, and John awaken it is too late. Judas is arriving with the temple guards, armed and wearing the full mantle of their authority. He greets Jesus with a kiss. Nothing the Disciples could do would alter the terrible course of events now in motion.
But they might have prayed with their Master, their Lord, their friend, just one more time. If only…
The Disciples would flee. Every one of them. Peter would run away AND deny even knowing his Lord and Master–not once but three times. We know that kind of failure. Perhaps you do, too?
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
It has ever been thus. All of us have weak flesh. Like Jesus, all of us need strengthening to meet the tasks our Father-God sets before us. Like the Disciples, we can all seek and receive forgiveness when we fail. And that, dear friends, is why we need to pray.
It’s Thursday of Holy Week. The events commemorated on this day are somber at best. But we are not without hope. And we are not without help. Let us pray, with our Lord and Savior, “Not my will…”