Dr. Anne M. Cameron
March 20, 2008
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."
He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."
The hour grows late; shadows lengthen. Our bodies naturally move toward the sleepy rhythm of nighttime. If we are among the fortunate third of Americans who do not suffer insomnia, we drift off into blissful, restorative sleep.
So it was that night in dark Gethsemane when our Lord talked three of his best friends into going with him.
This night is a study in contrasts---our Lord disturbed, tense, only too aware of what is about to happen. And the three friends---strangely, oblivious. A study in contrasts. The agony of our Lord. The comfortable snoring of three friends.
Some of you may remember the art term chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro---it is an Italian word. It refers to the contrasting use of light and shade in a painting in order to create depth and drama. It came into play in the 16th century. At that time and even today many artists use it for religious subjects.
Michelangelo Caravaggio created one such painting called The Taking of the Christ. This painting depicts Jesus' betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. All of the figures are cloaked in darkness, yet the light glows on Jesus' face. Your eyes are drawn to Jesus. In the painting all eyes are upon Jesus, as he is handed over to the authorities.
This is a chiaroscuro night for Jesus. A study in contrasts. A storm brews just outside the walls of this desolate olive garden, where Judas plots and the Romans gather coins. Storms swirl nearby and yet these three settle into their way. The way of the late evening. The way of the flesh. They pull their cloaks around them to ward off the chill. They lean on one another and their eyes droop. They lay their heads down, and they sleep.
If you have ever kept watch in the night. . . If you have ever waited with one who is dying or with one who is birthing. . . If you have wrung your hands, pacing, outside the operating room door. . . You may wonder how Peter, James, and John can find sleep this night.
I think they sleep because they do not know what it means to stay awake. I think they sleep because they do not know what is at stake. They are unable to grasp the gravity of the situation. And so they leave Jesus alone. They abandon him to his struggle. Not only once, not only twice, but three times. Three times. It must have cut to the quick. It must have wounded Jesus, who was already so tormented.
A study in contrasts. The tormented Jesus and the sleeping disciples. The wakeful Christ and the unconscious three.
When you think about it, you realize the disciples' sleep is more than just the body giving in to fatigue. They distance themselves from Christ. They bury their heads under their pillows. Peter, James, and John could have stayed awake. If they had been paying more attention, sleep would have been the last thing on their minds.
This is often where we find ourselves. We sleep; we go through the motions. We avoid the storms. It takes a lot to get our attention. It takes a lot to keep us awake.
Don't we often sleep through storms brewing? A nagging physical problem. A troubled teen. A disgruntled friend.
We sleep through bad news. Conflicts near and far. Children dying of hunger. Working families with no medical insurance. We slumber while things fall apart around us, while storms brew just outside our neatly tended gardens.
Compared with where we ought to be, we are only half awake. When was the last time we looked deeply into ourselves and struggled---really struggled--- with what we saw? We sleep. We leave Christ out there, in the garden, on his knees.
John Wesley said this life we are all living is a dream. It is only in the moment of death when we will awaken, he says. Only then we will see things like they really are. Only then we will be fully awake.
"Keep awake," Jesus tells his friends. "Keep watching. Be vigilant, because you do not know the day or the hour." We do not know what is out there, waiting. We do not know what will happen next. Scripture warns us to be self-controlled and alert, because "your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8). The stakes are higher than we know.
The stakes are higher than we know, and yet, we are reassured. We are to be fully awake. In God's presence, with no fear or anxiety.
Scripture tells us, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. . .and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. . . This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8ff).
We step out of the shadows and into the light, fearful as this may be. We allow God's light to shine on us, in all our frailty, in all our sinfulness. We move toward the center of that chiaroscuro painting, to the light that glows on Jesus' face. We allow Christ's light to shine on our lives. To wake us up.
Because it is impossible to really see this light and stay asleep.