By Robert F. Hull Jr.
In a powerful sermon, Fred Craddock points out that only the reader of Mark’s Gospel really sees Jesus in Gethsemane lying prostrate on the ground and hears him praying for the hour to pass from him (Mark 14:35, 36). Peter, James, and John are all asleep, and because we are awake and reading, we are tempted to be very hard on these three. How could they have fallen asleep, when all Jesus asked of them was to stay awake for a little time while he went away to pray? We can be unforgiving when we are granted the power to see more clearly than the characters in the story can see.
But sometimes the hardest thing is just to stay awake. Staying awake—keeping watch—isn’t really doing much of anything. It’s just not falling asleep. It’s just paying attention when we’re too tired even to care. It’s just being faithful to promises made so long ago we can barely remember what we said. It’s just hanging around to turn off the lights and lock the doors after everybody else has clocked out and gone home. But sometimes the hardest thing is just to stay awake.
And we are devastated with guilt when we fail our spouse, our child, our friend, our Lord—as the disciples must surely have been grief-stricken when they failed, not once, but three times, to keep awake. That was only the beginning of their failures. According to Mark, immediately after Jesus was arrested, “they all forsook him, and fled” (Mark 14: 50, Revised Standard Version). Did they later wonder if Jesus would forgive them? Do we wonder if he will forgive us?
This table is the place to come to when you have fallen asleep in your faith, forgotten your promises, failed yourself, your loved ones, your Lord. If we ask in repentance and faith, he forgives.
Prayer: Most merciful God, who removes our sins as far as the east is from the west, forgive us when we have failed to keep faith with you and with those who look to us to keep watch during their times of grief, pain, and forsakenness. May this loaf and cup nourish us with your living presence and strengthen us for tomorrow’s trials. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Robert F. Hull Jr. serves as professor emeritus of New Testament with Emmanuel Christian Seminary, Johnson City, Tennessee.