Mark 14:22-42

(sermon note: 03-28-1 sermon note)

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.’

Today’s reading reminds me of the one about a woman named Mildred who was the church gossip and self-appointed monitor of the church’s morals. I know, someone with the name “Mildred” is destined to become a church gossip! Well, Mildred kept sticking her nose into other people’s business, even if several members did not approve of her extra-curricular activities. However, they feared her enough to maintain their silence. One, she accused a new member, Frank, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told Frank (and several others!) that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. Now Frank was a man of few words. He stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn’t explain, defend, or deny. He said nothing and just walked away. However, later that evening, Frank quietly parked his old pickup in front of Mildred’s house…got out and simply walked home…and left his old pickup there all night. And that was the last of Mildred’s gossip.

Good old Frank sure knew how to turn the situation around and give snooty Mildred a taste of her own medicine! He didn’t need to explain, defend, or deny his actions. He simply needed to help Mildred to stop being so nosey and mind her own business. No one likes a gossip. No one needs a gossip! Sometimes the only way to get a gossip to stop doing what they believe is their God-given mission is to give ‘em a little bit of their own medicine. No one likes being gossiped about either!

If only the disciples in today’s reading had the same sense of clarity as Frank, then perhaps a different Passion narrative would have unfolded. We heard Peter and the disciples deny that they would deny Jesus throughout the night of his arrest. First, Jesus said to Peter, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And Peter responded vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And sure enough, Peter goes on to deny knowing Jesus three times throughout the evening. Now the denial of the others is a little more subdued but still very much a denial. Peter’s denials were denials of words while the other disciples’ denial was a denial of action. By continuing to fall asleep on the night of his arrest showed they denied his command and authority. Jesus commanded them to stay awake and yet they continuously refused to stay awake! There is a denial and a defiance in their actions! They denied his importance in their lives by refusing to stay awake just as Peter had in refusing to acknowledge knowing him.

Now imagine how the narrative may have played out had Peter and the other disciples not denied Jesus. Peter would likely have been arrested and persecuted for his affiliation with Jesus. The disciples would likely have alerted Jesus to the soldiers in the garden sooner, perhaps even assisted in an escape. Of course, Jesus had no intention of escape and he needed Peter to establish his church long after his death and resurrection. It wasn’t Peter’s time for persecution and the alertness of the disciples couldn’t change what Jesus himself wanted. Jesus knew it was his time to die so their alertness was ultimately moot. Most importantly, Peter and the disciples could have maintained their character had they chosen not to deny Jesus. And I would contend that they would have known God better had they chosen not to deny Jesus. Their witness would have been bolder and more assured had they not denied Jesus. But their doubt only weakened their witness…we think less of Peter and the disciples because of their denial.

Of course, their denials probably motivated the resurrected Jesus to come back to them and reveal his glory to them. “If you’re not going to acknowledge me before, it’s going to be impossible NOT to acknowledge me now!” The resurrected Jesus came back to Peter three times, giving him three chances to acknowledge him and, in a sense, correct the three denials. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…today is Maundy Thursday, not Easter Sunday!

I think Peter and the disciples weakened their witness in denying Jesus on the night of his arrest. And I think we’re supposed to learn from them to strengthen our own witness. Fear and doubt are terribly powerful motivators in this world. Peter was afraid of what may have happened to him had he acknowledged Jesus that night. The disciples doubted the importance of Jesus’ words to stay awake. They all were motivated by fear and doubt, the very things that Jesus died to eliminate. Jesus died to conquer sin and death and fear and doubt. Jesus eagerly went to the cross so that we longer have to be afraid or doubtful. We have a different witness than Peter and the disciples. Our witness is one without fear and doubt! We know God better than they did…at least their pre-crucifixion understanding. They came to know God better after the resurrection, but they had weak pre-crucifixion understanding.

Friends, we have a strong witness to who Christ is and who God is! Our witness is free of free and doubt! Like Frank, we don’t have to explain or defend or deny the light that is within us! The prophet Jeremiah says, “Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” (9:23-24) Because we believe in the resurrected Christ, we can boast of God’s steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. Heck, even death couldn’t hold God’s love and justice and righteousness from us! The Proverbs tell us, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (8:17)

Indeed, Peter and the disciples didn’t know Jesus that fateful night because they were filled with fear and doubt. So I suppose it was only fitting that they would deny him. Let us learn from their witness and rejoice in ours that is free of fear and doubt. And let us give thanks for our witness. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.