Thursday, April 05, 2012

Maundy Thursday Homily devotion sermon: On This Night

On This Night

Mark 14:37-38            Then Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

When I was a lot younger and ministering in Scotland, I used to come in from a hard day’s work in the parish, sit down to my dinner, and watch the evening news. It became an important part of my life and every night, between 5 to 6pm, I was engrossed in local, national, and international reports. I spent the whole hour try to cram in as much news as I could because after 6pm, the phone would ring and I would either be going out to yet another church meeting or a parishioner’s home for an emergency call. That whole hour became my lifeline between the real world and church world.

Late at night, I would catch up with my favorite sitcoms, documentaries, or sci-fi shows. They usually lasted for an hour and helped me to unwind. I could release the tensions of the day by watching a show that I liked. It was not only entertainment, it was a very easy way to chill out and relax, or as they say today to chillax. Watching television for an hour without having to think, make decisions, or settle issues was a daily blessing.

These days, because I am much older, I’m not into the evening news. It’s more like the evening snooze that I enjoy. Most of the time when I get back home, I start watching an hour long program and then find myself waking up just as the credits are being screened at the end. Like most of my peers, I’m so tired at night that I cannot even watch TV for an hour. I used to laugh at my Dad when he was my age or Evelyn’s parents who did the same. I now understand their weariness and tiredness and the need to snooze and nap. The older you get, the sleepier you become. I guess it’s God’s way of slowing us down and getting ready for His peace.

When Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, He needed His disciples to watch over Him. He was vulnerable and scared, anxious and fearful. He knew what He had to do, but He didn’t want to go through it. When he says to Peter that “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” he wasn’t just chastising the disciples for falling asleep; he was also expressing what Christ himself had just experienced: His spirit was willing to accept what God required, but His body was frightened about what that would entail.

When I read about the disciples falling asleep, I easily recognize my own humanity. They’re tired, full of food and rich wine. The last thing that they want to do is stand guard. It’s a beautiful moonlit night and they’re outside in the fresh air watching the stars. All they want to do is nap and snooze, sleep and dream.

But there’s an even greater display of humanity going on in the Garden of Gethsemane. A young man, at the age of 33, is wrestling with God and fighting off the temptation to run. Like anyone of us, Jesus doesn’t want to die, and yet he also knows that without His death, no other human being will ever be given everlasting life. He wants to please His Father in heaven, but Jesus also pleads with Him for a different solution. He wants to do the right thing, but Christ also struggles with how that will be accomplished. His Spirit is very willing, but his body is very weak.

Tonight, on Maundy Thursday and this terrible night we call Tenebrae, a darkness enters into the world, our church, and our souls. For on this night, we remember that night when Jesus, the Light of the World, was betrayed by Judas, the servant of darkness. Christ represented the life and love of God, whereas Judas displayed the deceit and depravation of humanity. That night touches us because we know in our hearts of hearts that we betray Christ each and every day with our arrogance, our pride, our self-centered ways, and self-opinionated ideas.

Thank God that Jesus made the right decision! Praise the Lord that Christ took up that cup of bitterness, judgment, and wrath and swallowed it completely. It was meant for us; it was not meant for Him. We are sinful creatures, whereas He is the sinless Christ.
Our bigotry betrayed Him; His beauty blessed us.
Our conceit condemned Him; His crucifixion captured us.
Our fallen humanity leads to Hell; His faithful holiness leads us to Heaven.
Our sins slaughtered Him; His sacrifice saved us!

Centuries ago, the great revivalist Charles Wesley wrote these opening words for a hymn that is still sung in Britain during Holy week.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain
for me, who caused his bitter death?

Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my Lord, should die for me? 
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my Lord, should die for me? 

On this night, Jesus decided, of His own free will, to die for us. Amen.

Reflective silence before the Communion.

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