Maundy Thursday 2020

Matthew 26: 36-46

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

This must surely be one of the most heart-breaking readings in the whole bible. It’s been a long day, and a long evening. Jesus has shared the Passover meal with his friends, and during joyful celebrations, has tried to convey to them the enormity of what is about to happen. He’s tried to make sure they know that he is both servant and sacrifice. In John’s account we see Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the focus is on the stark imagery of broken bread and wine outpoured, which are to become symbols of Jesus’ body and blood.

After the meal is over, Jesus withdraws to pray. He isn’t alone, but he might as well be, as Peter, James and John, after a long evening, a good meal, and a glass or two of wine, cannot stay awake.

And so Jesus is alone, isolated. Isolation is a word that has become all too common right now. People across the country are self-isolating to protect themselves and to protect others. The thing is though, isolation is not good for us. We humans are social creatures. To thrive we need other people around us. Too much isolation can do us real harm.

And yet right now, a lot of people are alone. And alone at a time when more than ever we crave the company of loved ones. The future is uncertain, people we know and love may be ill, even dying, we may be scared for our own health and wellbeing.

Many of us may find ourselves crying out to God for things to change. For our loved ones to be ok, for our business to survive, for our job to still be there at the end of this, for our own protection.

Jesus has been there before us. He knows what it is to come before God, desolate and desperate, longing for things to be different. He knows what it is, to finally surrender to God, trusting that God will give him the strength to endure whatever lies ahead.

And because Jesus has been there before us, because he went through the horrors of what we now call Good Friday, because he trusted in his Father’s will, for love of God and love of us, it means that he is now, right there with us in our isolation. Whether we feel his presence or not, be assured that the Saviour of the world is with you in your own Gethsemanes and will stay with you, whatever the night and morning brings.

So let’s pause a moment and remember that Jesus is here with us. That we are not alone.
I’d like to finish with words from the hymn ‘The Servant King’.

There in the garden of tears
My heavy load He chose to bear;
His heart with sorrow was torn
‘Yet not my will but Yours,’ He said.
This is our God, the servant King.

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