Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
April 5, 2020
Our text for today, as we finish looking at the events of Jesus’ final week of earthly ministry, is his prayer in the Garden. It’s a time of temptation. Jesus is worried. He knows what will happen and grieves. He’s troubled. A lot of us may be like Jesus on this night, as we worry about the future and this unseen enemy that we all face. May we learn from his prayer.
As we’ve done throughout this Lenten Series of looking at the events of Jesus’ final week of earthly ministry, we will use a painting. This painting come from the African country of Cameroon. We see Jesus praying while his inner-circle of disciples nod-off. Let’s imagine what Peter is thinking as he falls asleep.
Too much wine, perhaps. Or maybe I’m so sleepy because I’m just so very tired. This week is taking its toll. Watching our every step, wondering when the other shoe will drop, afraid that the commotion stirred up about Jesus will result in something terrible. I’ve been on edge ever since we got here.
But oh my, that parade! Who would have thought that this man I met on the shores of my fishing spot would turn out to be three years of non-stop surprises?! The entrance into Jerusalem was more amazing than all of it combined. I felt sure that I was part of something that was going to change everything! Now I’m not so sure. Not everyone, it turned out, was so pleased about Jesus’ arrival here. We’ve been under scrutiny for days.
Then tonight at the table, Jesus revealed that one of us was about to hand him over. My gut turns over with the thought of it. Could we, who’ve become family, my family, turn against one another under pressure? Fear threatens our very bonds!
So why put ourselves out here in the open? I need to stay awake, keep watch! I’ve got my sword. I know Jesus told me not to bring it, but come on! All he seems to think we need to do is pray. He asked us to pray with him. Yes, I pray, I’m praying, I’ll fervently pray! But is it enough? How can God help us if soldiers arrive? And yet… I’m so sleepy.
Soloist sings: Enter
Enter the story
Enter the place you belong
Not just looking on
For this is your story
Enter the story
Enter the passion
Enter the place we belong
Not just looking on
For this is our passion
Enter the passion
[tag] Enter the story…
Enter the passion…
Enter his passion.
There are many paintings of Jesus praying in the garden in addition to this one from Cameroon. One of my favorites hung in the Session room in the congregation I served in Utah. I always felt it was an appropriate picture for a board room. Board rooms often have photos of the company founders, or the company president. Such paintings remind us of our heritage. Having Jesus in a church board room reminds us of who’s really in charge. It’s not the Session. Jesus Christ is the head of the church.
In this painting, Jesus overlooks Jerusalem. A few lights can be seen in houses below. Just above the horizon, a full moon hangs in the sky but it is partly covered by clouds or fog and you get the sense that landscape might soon be totally dark. By the way, since Passover occurs at the full moon in the Jewish month of Nisan, this part of the that something sinister will soon happen. Looking back on this final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we have been given hints all along that something isn’t right, something is going to happen. Now, we’re at the decisive point. Does Jesus go through with this plan or not?
Leaving the bulk of the disciples behind, Jesus takes the three disciples that consist of his inner-core and heads into a garden. For those steeped in Scripture, a garden recalls the perfect adobe of Adam and Eve, but also the temptation that occurred there. And certainly, now, Jesus is to be tempted once more, perhaps ever a greater temptation. Does he follow his Father’s will and endure the shame and pain of a crucifixion? Or does he slip out of town and head back to Galilee? This is a pivotal point. Does he go forward and experience the horror of an abandoned death? He can still back out, but that won’t be the case once Judas arrives.
Matthew and Mark both identity this garden as “Gethsemane,” a Hebrew word that means oil press. Luke says it’s on the Mount of Olives, which is a fitting places for an oil press, and John’s gospel says this occurs across the Kidron Valley, which cuts between the temple and the Mount of Olives. So essentially, all the gospels are in general agreement on the rough location of Jesus’ prayer. And they agree that he prays fervently.
Jesus positions the three disciples close by. While he wants to be alone with the Father, he also wants to be close to friends. He asks them to stay awake. Yet, they immediately fall asleep. Was it the wine? Was it the exhausting schedule? Are they worried and depressed and the only way they can shut their brains off is through sleep? Jesus steps away and prays, then comes back to check on the disciples. He does this three times. Each time, they’re asleep. This compounds his troubles. He will have to go through the experience all alone. After his third trip back to the disciples, he arouses them and announces the arrival of the betrayer.
What can we learn from this story? Let me suggest three things. First, to prepare ourselves for trouble, we need to take our concerns to God in prayer. Prayer is important even when we know the answer we’ll receive might be no. God the Father wasn’t going to remove his cup, yet Jesus prayed. We might pray, “Lord, take this cancer away.” Sometimes God does, sometimes God doesn’t. But in praying and in bringing our personal concerns to God, we are drawn in closer to our Creator, and that’s a benefit that can help us cross troubled waters.
At a time like the present, we all need to be in prayer, for ourselves, our friends, and the world. We need to pray for our leaders, for those who are sick, for those who have lost loved ones, for those who have lost their jobs, and for those who are treating and fighting the virus. But we also need to pray for ourselves, our own struggles and for our own peace of mind. For we can endure almost anything if we have God on our side.
A second thing we can learn from this story is that there is a benefit of being supported in prayer. While God will hear our prayers, there is something to be said about having others praying with us. Like they were in the garden, separated by some distance, and like us now dealing the COVID-19 and being separated by six feet, we need to remember that we don’t have to lay hands on one another for our prayer to be effective. We must be willing to ask or to be asked to pray. And when someone asks us to pray for them, we should consider it an honor and fulfill their request. It helps to be supported in our prayer.
And finally, we learn that even when we fail come through (and we’re all human and won’t always do what we should), we should remember that God doesn’t abandon us for petty failures. Look at the disciples. None of them could keep their eyes open on this most important night of their lives, but Jesus didn’t throw them under the bus. Instead, he faithfully kept his promise and even though Peter would go on to deny him, Jesus would use him to build his church. In fact, these three—Peter, James and John—would all become major players in the church following the resurrection. So even if we fail, don’t lose hope. Keep going and trust that God is with you.
These are tough times in which we’re living. Let us do what we can to support one another. We begin our preparation in prayer. Amen.
 Amy-Jill Levine, Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 133. See Genesis 2 & 3.
 William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark: NICNT (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1974), 516.
 See Matthew 26:26, Luke 22:39, and John 18:1.
 John’s gospel doesn’t have Jesus praying in the garden, but while still at the table. His prayer isn’t even for himself, but for his disciples and is found in John 17.
 Levine, 132.