Can you not stay awake with me one hour?

Can you not stay awake with me one hour?

Can you not stay awake with me one hour?
Can you not stay awake with me one hour?

The question of Gethsemane is the question of Lent. The question Jesus asks at the end of these 40 days boomerangs to meet us right here, on Ash Wednesday.

It’s the question Jesus cries out when he discovers his disciples sleeping…sleeping after asking them to stay awake awake while he prayed, that fateful night before his crucifixion.

They didn’t, of course. They couldn’t. Or maybe wouldn’t.

They couldn’t abide with him while he prayed his way through that dark night, before his death… his soul aggrieved and agitated, as he begged that the cup of death might pass him by.

They could not stay awake. Even as he suffered.

–––––

All of Lent leads us to this moment. Leads to Gethsemane. To: can you stay awake?
Because the easiest thing to do is to sleep. To turn it all off. To refuse to hear the story. To refuse to take the journey. To refuse to find ourselves at the foot of the cross. Where we inevitably find ourselves weeping.

Because to stay awake IS to weep. And to weep is to have been involved. And to have been involved is to most certainly be changed.

And the last thing most of us really want is to be changed. To have our hearts broken open.
And so, we get involved in all kinds of projects to avoid that breaking. Projects that we think are all about awakening, all about spiritual growth. Projects like Lent.

––––––-

You see, I’m really not so sure about Lent. I’m really not sure that Lent is always very good for us. Because Lent can make us think that we can do a whole bunch of things that will get us a deeper connection with God. That with enough devotional reading and sugar avoidance, we’ll arrive in the promised land, we’ll have made it.
We can so easily get so busy with our Lenten projects. So busy that we end up not hearing God’s eternal whisper:
Wake Up. Wake Up. Wake Up.

Because that’s all of it, really… the whole spiritual life: waking up.
Coming face-to-face with reality as it really is, rather than endlessly sugar-coating it and dressing it up in pretty clothes, and trying to convince ourselves that everything Is Okay. Because it isn’t. And I’m going to smear ash on your forehead to remind you: It’s not all okay. You’re not okay. I’m not okay.

In my experience: admitting that “it’s not all okay,” and that we can’t seem to make it all okay, no matter how hard we try…well, that’s the first step toward freedom.

Because telling the truth–the truth that we can’t do it on our own–allows space–finally–for God. The God we box out with all our efforts at self control, self sufficiency, and self promotion.

When it comes right down to it, there’s really not all that much room for God in most of our lives. And I think we tend to be pretty content with this, because our God is a God who somehow ended up dying on a cross. And that’s really a pretty terrible thing. It’s not something that makes much rational sense. Not something that feels very safe or comforting. Not something that inspires us to enthusiastically join up as followers.

In fact, the Cross–well, it’s really just about the worst thing. This God of ours doesn’t really seem to know how to be God. Doesn’t seem to know that God’s job is to be mighty and powerful.

This God of ours appears to be a mess. A straight up failure at being God. A godforsaken God.

And yet. Hear once again some of my favorite of Paul’s words…

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Just as foolishness and weakness are paradoxical good news… so too, then, are ashes. So, too, is the truth that we can’t earn our way to God. That we’re mostly just too tired, weak, and worn for earning.

The good news is that so often right at that moment when we can’t, when we fully admit that we
Just
Cannot
Do It…
…Jesus reaches out his hand to us through the shards of our shattered religiosity. Jesus reaches down, clasps our hands tenderly, and says: “come home, come home.” Come_on_home.

And so we go. Because nothing sounds better than home. We go, singing the song of saints throughout the ages:

Precious Lord,
take my hand,
lead me on, help me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
lead me on
to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord,
lead me home.
We don’t really have to try so hard, you see. We just have to be hungry. Hungry for home.Just plain old hungry.

That’s why we fast. To get hungry. To get hungry enough to know we need the bread of heaven. To become awake to our deepest needs…
Our need of God Our need of one another. Because in the end, isn’t church just a bunch of beggars showing other beggars where to find some bread?

–––––––––

We need this journey of getting hungry and waking up…if we’ll allow Lent to be that. But it’s hard to do alone. We’re going to Gethsemane, and then to Calvary. And you’ll probably need someone to weep with there, at the foot of the Cross.
So let’s walk together. We don’t have to go it alone. Will you walk with me?

Amen.

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The Rev. Sean Lanigan is the associate rector at St. Peter’s Church.

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