(watch here: https://youtu.be/GknLzutz5-A)
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.”
But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.
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.’
Our reading for this evening reminds me of the one about a tourist who had capsized his boat while sportfishing off the Florida coast in Key West. He could swim, but his fear of alligators kept him clinging to that overturned craft. Spotting an old beachcomber walking along the shore, the tourist shouted, “Hey, there wouldn’t by chance be any alligators in these waters?!” “No,” the old man hollered back, “haven’t been any for years!” Feeling relieved, the tourist started swimming leisurely toward the shore. About halfway toward shore he asked the old man, “Say, how’d you get rid of the gators, anyway?” “We didn’t do anything,” the old man replied. “The sharks got ’em.”
Fear can keep us clinging to anything when we think our lives are endangered. At the same time, we can do some pretty foolish things without fear in our lives…like unknowingly swimming through shark-infested waters! I guess we have to find the right balance of fear if we’re to live healthy and wise. A little too much and we become paralyzed. Not enough and we foolishly put ourselves in danger. Somewhere in the middle is where God wants us to live…
This evening we’re remembering the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest, torture, and crucifixion. I appreciate our passage because it lifted up not only the meal Jesus shared with his disciples but also the time Jesus and a few of his disciples spent in Gethsemane after the meal. Of course, we commemorate the meal with the sacrament of Holy Communion when we each partake of the same meal that Jesus and his disciples partook of so many years ago. Every time we eat and drink of his body and blood, we are reminded of his ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to have one last meal with his disciples either! He would have gladly shared many more meals with them. But as I mentioned last Sunday in my message and what I wanted us to reflect on this week, Jesus valued his obedience to the Father far greater than any of his own personal wants and needs. Jesus understood the importance of obedience in allowing for God’s order to be revealed. Believe it or not, there is order to the chaos of this world–God’s order. Obedience is one of several ways for that order to be revealed. Love, kindness, reasoning, and justice are but a few other ways for revealing God’s order. But Jesus greatly valued his obedience to the Father so he shared one last meal with his disciples and willingly gave himself up to his captors and torturers and executors.
Just because he obeyed didn’t mean he was without fear that evening. Perhaps not fearful but anxious and sorrowful…”distressed and agitated” as our text says. Jesus knew what awaited him after the meal, after the time spent in the garden, and he was none too thrilled about it. Nor was he the only one anxious and distressed. Peter was pained to hear of all his master’s deserters and anxiously (er, “vehemently”) cried out, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Poor Peter, little did he know that he would famously deny him three times over the next several hours! But he was not without fear that evening. Somewhat surprisingly, there were those present in the garden who were without fear. Peter’s fears abated and he and James and John sure slept like babies, without a care in the world! Perhaps they found the right balance of fear…nah, they were just unaware. Kind of like that carefree tourist swimming through the waters!
But we know what awaits Jesus and his disciples in the days ahead and we can’t help but be fearful for them. What a tragedy to be a part of, let alone to behold! We tremble in fear! But remember, this is not how God wants us to live. This is why He gave us the last supper and the sacrament of Holy Communion, as a means of keeping our hopes alive amidst all the despair and fear around us. So many times in Scripture we hear Jesus say, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid! There is great hope in Jesus, even in his arrest and torture and crucifixion! I’ll leave that to be revealed in the days ahead as we reflect on those parts of the Passion narrative. But for now, we lift up the hope found in the Last Supper. Jesus gave his very body and blood as means of hope! We can forever have hope in these gifts! We cannot be afraid because of these gifts! God loves us so much and would do anything for us, even die for us! What a mighty gift indeed!
It is such a mighty gift that it can help even us in our own time of fearfulness and despair. We’re living in a time of great uncertainty, a time when many of us can become overwhelmed by fear to the point of being paralyzed. Don’t allow fear to overwhelm you! God is with us in this time! God gives us such hope in his Son and what he did for us so long ago! We are not alone nor have we been forgotten! God is with us!
Whenever I find Jesus’ body and blood isn’t enough in instilling hope, I seek hope in the wisdom of Scripture through passages like Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Trust in God. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He will find a way. He found a way of giving his disciples, and us, unending hope amidst a terrible tragedy. God’s words to Joshua are also a great source of hope: “I hereby command you: be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:9) God is with us in this time and in all times! We must be strong and courageous, not frightened and dismayed. Just as He found a way to offer hope before the tragedy of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, God will find a way to offer us hope in our time of uncertainty. We can always be assured of God’s words spoken through the prophet, Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29:11)
We are on the cusp of the great three days and though they be dark days, they are not without hope. We’ve been blessed with Jesus’ last supper and the gifts of his body and blood to keep us whole. Let us cling to these gifts in these murky waters of ours. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.