Remain Here and Keep Awake
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and On The Death Of The Beloved by John O'Donohue
and The Palm Parade: Mark 11:1-11, The Plot to Kill Jesus and the Anointing: 14:1-9, Jesus Prays in Gethsemane: 14: 32-42
It is so good to be together this morning. I can’t imagine getting through this year, this week and whatever is ahead, without you, without a community of compassion and kindness, a community of faith, peace, hope and love. Thank you for connecting in whatever shape you are in, with whatever emotions you are holding, whether you are livestreaming or Zooming with your screen on or off, with your heart broken or somewhat intact, whatever you bring today, you are welcome here.
As we come to this time, I invite you to take just a few moments to breathe in and breathe out and to let yourself feel whatever you are bringing today. Maybe you have been moving so fast or just getting through or maybe you are numb and whatever has brought you here has kept you going, but we don’t want you to bury or hide it, feel, as we have learned that our pain needs to be discharged or there can be harmful consequences. So as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” I turned to these words in the book of Romans this week. And I shared them in a prayer with faith leaders from all over the state.
I know I am not the only one with sighs too deep for words and I feel weak and weary and I have struggled to know what to do exactly, what actions to take right now and what exactly to pray for. Because I have sorrow, sadness and sighs that are simply too deep for words. I have found myself sobbing intermittently, sighing deeply and sometimes loudly.
And I am learning in this time of trauma, that to sigh is also to exhale. Have you noticed that? Sigh right now. Try it. At least if we are sighing we are breathing. So let us be together today in the spaces and places where there are no words and only sighs.
On Monday, many of us came together for a vigil on Zoom and it was beautiful that people felt comfortable to share real feelings- of rage, of numbness, of helplessness, of fear, feelings of sadness, of ongoing worry about what kind of world we are living in. Will anything be different this time? How do we hold onto hope that our not giving up will get us somewhere else?
We have experienced a lot of loss and heartache this year and in a way this is just too much to take in. How do we grieve and keep going? What is required of us at this time when it’s difficult to know how to give more? What does God need from us and where is God in moments like this?
In our tradition, this day begins us on what we call Holy Week where a long and powerful narrative unfolds. As you heard from the story in the version found in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus joins some of his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, which literally means the Garden of the Olive Press. Still today it is a sloping hillside covered in olive trees. We read that Jesus was distressed, agitated, grieved to death. And all he asked of them was to remain with him and to keep awake.
Given the circumstances, one could have easily imagined Jesus requesting a little bit more problem solving time- who else could be reached, what might be fixed, what more can we do, what more can be done? But Jesus doesn’t ask for any of this. Instead, he asks those around him, those who care about his same mission, to remain with him and to keep awake.
Some in Christianity would justify Jesus’ actions here, by saying that he was simply living out God’s plan, that this all had to happen as part of what God needed, for some upgrade of a sacrificial lamb, where his life is taken early so all of us who come after will have another life or something holier than we would have otherwise. But I would like to offer a different view today.
Because especially given this week, many of us see this philosophical framework as one that glorifies and makes a virtue out of violence, out of being oppressed. It uplifts and even sanctifies tragedy. And this doesn’t match what Jesus taught. It seems more likely that Jesus died because he challenged the Empire and the status quo of his time, that he died because he dared to imagine a world where health and wholeness of body and mind and spirit were available to all. Many scholars agree that Jesus “was killed primarily because he was seen as a spiritual threat to the imperial power of Rome…” So this means that Jesus knew he had just two choices: stop doing what he was doing, healing outsiders, preaching justice and love and challenging violence as a tool of the state and spend the rest of his life in hiding or carry on and likely die.
He chose to carry on toward Jerusalem.
And as part of the procession, he stopped in Gethsemane with his crew, the place called the garden of the olive press and asked them to just be present with him, to remain with him and to keep awake, to be with him in his pain, his question, his commitment.
I can’t help but wonder if he picked that spot to symbolize what was to come. An olive press works by applying pressure and then the olive paste is separated from the liquid oil and vegetation water from the solid material. As if to say, sit with this. Carrying on will be hard. Stop and pray. Remain here and keep awake. Pressure has a way of separating us, of separating things. Pressure has a way of clarifying and crystalizing- revealing what and who will rise under pressure, who can remain, who will pray when it’s hard, when great forces are applied.
As they sat there, Jesus throws himself to the ground and asks God if there might be a way to avoid this. “remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
He needed to be able to say that out loud with a trusted group. I am not sure I can do this, but I want to- be with me in this, right here. In my tears and fears and the sinking reality that death is near. Remain here and keep awake. Be with me in this pain.
What if this story, a core story for us, isn’t about God’s plan to use violence as a tool for good things, but instead about how God remains present in suffering when we human beings commit horrific acts when our hearts are shattered? What if this story is about how God is awake with us and awakens us to other ways, when violence leads us astray? What if this story is about what is possible collectively when we refuse to let blood and tears be the end? What if this story is about how we insist that death and pain won’t have the final say? What if it’s about holding onto hope that our not giving up will get us somewhere else? What if it’s about grieving and keeping on?
Right now, this is Palm Sunday to me- a reminder to remain with the procession and keep awake to the truth of what is. Hanging on like the disciples we are assured to be a part of a movement. Jackie and I, along with area clergy colleagues met with the Pastor of our UCC church in Newtown. We prayed, we cried and heard wisdom. We are now a part of a terrible club, a group of communities now ravaged by gun violence, left with carnage and old talking points about rights and thoughts and prayers.
What if this year we could take this Palm Sunday to heart and to action? Keeping awake to the world that we know is possible and is also not yet. When we are ready our mourning can magnify a movement. As I shared on Wednesday at the special meeting of the Boulder City Council, let us keep pushing, reminding, moving, showing up with our hearts, our bodies and more to let this wound be a window to another world, a new way of being together.
What if this story is telling us in part that sometimes what is required of us is refusing to turn away from what is, being willing to remain here even when we aren’t sure what to feel and to keep awake even when it’s painful?
Not denying what is, doesn’t need to mean doing or giving more, simply showing up for individual and communal healing is perfect. This week I found myself at one of the neighborhood vigils. I attended one every night. And at one of them we stood in a big circle and a couple went to the middle. And at the end, invited us all to howl. It was our own David and Sallie. Beloved of God, whatever you need, whether it is howling or dancing, stay with it. Remain here. Keep awake. Be willing to join others in accepting the truth, the heaviness and hurt. Being willing to move toward what will be hard and heart wrenching. Being willing to be lost, inconvenienced, disappointed, heartbroken on the procession led by Jesus who taught us that we are to turn our weapons into garden tools, who challenged the Empire and the status quos, who challenged violence as a tool of the state. He did all of this and at the same time he dared to imagine another kind of world. He lived another way. Remain here and be present for the world that is and beloved of God, don’t give up on the world that is not yet. Remain here. And keep awake.