Wake Up Sleepy!

9:20 AM

As a parent watching your children do something significant for the first time is a special gift. Speaking their first words, taking their first step, riding their bike for the first time without training wheels, etc. But sometimes it doesn’t go quite as expected. We serve communion every week at Ekklesia, and anyone is welcome to participate. Most of the time our younger children are in the nursery during our service, but for some reason Aubri, our middle daughter, sat in the service one week with me when she was about 4 years old. When it came time to receive communion everyone filed up the isle, and we followed. Aubri is very observant—particularly when it comes to figuring out how things work—so I watched her taking note of exactly what each person did as they cupped their hands to receive the bread, and after dipping the bread in the cup placed the elements in their mouth. When it was her turn, she cupped her little hands as if she knew exactly what she was doing, & our friend serving said, “Aubri, this is the body of Christ broken for you”. I did noticed that she stared suspiciously at him. But without prompting she dipped the bread into the cup, and as she heard the server say, “This is the blood of Christ shed for you", an expression of horror emerged on her face. She immediately shoved the soaked bread my way saying, “No Way!”

I did find some relief (at least at that stage in her life) that if everyone in the room was drinking blood, she would not follow the crowd.

But as I read Matthew 26, I thought of Aubri’s shock, and I wondered how many of us have become dull to or, like the disciples, fallen asleep to the shocking message of the Jesus and this in-breaking of God’s kingdom and our practices of Christ’s teachings.

I’m not sure why the disciples could not stay awake that night--was it because they’d been up for a very long time? They were full of bread and wine and that would make anyone sleepy. Luke says they were overcome with grief.

While I don’t fully understand why Jesus found the disciples sleeping not once but three times, I can relate. I too become full on this meal of bread and wine, these practices of our faith, these words and stories of Jesus, and like the disciples I fall asleep. I find myself not awake to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. I slumber while others work to build this kingdom of God, and I sleep while people in our community and world suffer in agony awaiting its fullness.

The disciples had seen Jesus sad before, but surely they noticed a difference on this occasion.

Jesus in this dark hour obviously overwhelmed with sorrow only asks them in verse 38 to “stay here and keep watch with me”. That’s all. Be with me. What a simple request. In seminary I learned a term in a pastoral care class called “non-anxious presence”, and basically it describes the act of being present, being with another person or persons who is experiencing great pain—and not feeling uncomfortable being there with them—not being anxious, not feeling like you have to do anything to fix it or saying anything to make it better. Just being fully present.

I think Jesus’ request, actually Jesus’ need to have a few close friends be with him in his most agonizing hour tells us a lot about ourselves and how God works…well, or how God hopes things will work when dealing with our imperfect, as the Gospel writer puts it: our “weak” fleshy selves.

Jesus is in great pain, and in this very important moment of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, Jesus himself is in need of the presence of fellow travelers.

When I was 23 years old and working in campus ministry at Florida State, I got an unexpected call from my mom that my cousin who was 27 at the time had suddenly died. It was some type of aneurism, and my aunt (my mom’s sister) wanted me to come back to Mississippi to do her funeral. Now my cousin had lived a very difficult, sad life which included drugs, arrests and other sad events. My uncle arranged for me to fly home that day, and as I talked to my family members I felt this heavy sense that they were waiting for me to arrive. They said things like, “we just need you to be here.” And honestly, I had very little connection with my cousin, and I loved my aunt, but we were not extremely close. For most of my mom's extended family, church attendance was not a regular practice. So I felt a little overwhelmed. I called my mentor and former campus minister, and told him what was happening. I told him it was like they are all waiting on me, what am I supposed to do? He said, “Well, you just show up. Colbey, you represent God in their lives. They see you as a representative of God, and when you show up, God shows up for them. They are just waiting on God to show up through your presence.” And it really was just that simple, and a special memory for me to be with my family.

As I’ve read Matthew 26, these sleeping disciples have reminded me not to slumber through this Holy Week and the next few days. May Jesus wake us up to the suffering around us and the people we come across each day waiting on God; may Jesus jar us awake over and over again that we might be present to the weary mother in the grocery store line struggling with toddlers to make it through the check out process and offer her assistance or a word of encouragement instead of judgment and distain. May we be awakened to unjust labor in our word or unequal opportunities for education in our community—and not just slumber past them because they "do not affect” us personally. While our world is in agony waiting on the fullness of God to arrive we cannot sleep.

In the Color Purple by Alice Walker the character Shug says, “…tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for Him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God."

She’s sort of right, isn’t she? I mean Sunday’s coming, and will we be jarred awake in the early morning hour by those words: “he’s not here, he is risen”?

Matthew 26:36-46 (Shared at a Holy Week Noonday Service at University Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, MS)

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