2006 Lenten Sermon Series
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he 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.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42, NIV)
IN CHRIST, SUFFERING IS A HEALING AND A CURE
Suffering is a hard thing. We suffer in so many ways, whether we’re in physical pain, or facing emotional problems. Whether we’re anticipating something bad happening to us, or facing persecution head-on, all of these things assail us because of final reality: death is the curse waiting for us ever since sin first entered the world.
Why is it that sin can cause such torment? Why do we face such things day after day that seem to pile up on us? We face this suffering and death because one man, Adam, was encouraged to eat from a tree that had been forbidden to him. It was the deception of the serpent that said, “Did God really say…?” that introduced death. It was this one act that filled what Bonhoeffer in a poem, “Powers of Good,” calls “the cup of grieving”, one act that filled the chalice of death (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 400) .
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read about Jesus praying to the Father—the one who sent Jesus to drink from this cup or to take the cup away from him--should it be his will. Instead, Christ drank from the cup, tasting the bitterness of death, so that when we drink from that cup it may be sweetened.
Is this prayer of Jesus really important? It’s important enough for three of the Gospel writers to mention it. Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount Jesus asking for the cup to pass from him. Let’s look at the prayer and seek to understand why.
Jesus begins with, “Abba, Father, Everything is possible for you” (Mark 14:36). Jesus acknowledges that the Father could lift the suffering from him. The Father is able to remove Jesus from this pain and suffering, but to what end? The Father had to turn his back on his Son on the cross. He had to disregard that pain and suffering—that cup of death.
Could anyone else do what Jesus prepares to do? Jesus answers this question just a few chapters earlier. When the same James and John were with Jesus before, they asked to sit at his left and right hands in Jesus’ glory. Jesus responds to them, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
James and John, sleeping alongside Simon Peter in today’s lesson, still did not realize what it was they had asked. They still did not realize what it meant to drink from the cup. Nor did they understand that the two people who sat at Jesus’ right and left hands as he entered his glory were two thieves—two men also condemned to die—who were hanging from crosses with Jesus. Yes, my friends, this was where Jesus drank from the cup—where he swallowed the bitter taste of death. This is where Jesus was baptized, with the sweat of blood that poured from his own brow. This is where Jesus entered his kind of glory, hanging from a cross, a curse for all to see, naked, surrounded by thieves.
Let’s go back to the prayer one more time—to see how Jesus concludes it. He had acknowledged that the Father can do everything, therefore asking him to take the cup Jesus would be drinking, but Jesus did not end with that. He ended with “not my will, but thy will be done.” Jesus knew that the suffering was hard. He knew that at that point in the garden he had still not experienced the full measure of pain he would feel. But he still knew that the Father’s will—that none should perish, that all should have eternal life—meant that the Father’s will was for him to continue on and die for the sake of all mankind. How would this accomplish that? Jesus would have to change death altogether. He would have to affect the cup so that death’s sting was not so caustic.
Just as Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan changed baptism altogether, Jesus changed the cup of death by drinking from it. Death scares almost everyone I talk to. Why wouldn’t it? I’ve watched loved ones die. It seems as if the longer it takes, the more pain everyone around the dying person feels. And we can feel our mortality through other things in our lives—times when we feel alone, or when we’re assaulted and assailed. I’ve felt my own mortality. I’ve dealt with high blood pressure, broken bones, and physical ailments. I’ve also had my heart broken. I’ve had a parent leave my life altogether. Look at your own life? Have you ever looked at it and prayed, “Father in Heaven, if it be your will, let this sorrow/illness/heartache/pain pass from me”? It’s hard to finish it the way Jesus did, though: “But not my will, but thy will be done.” That’s part of what we face. We want our own way. We want things neat and tidy. We want it on our terms in our timing and our timing is RIGHT NOW.
But look for a second at what the author of the book of Hebrews writes (12:6): “b ecause the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Some people treat this as if God piles the suffering upon us until we’re dead. But Bonhoeffer discusses this text. He writes, “Father, grant to the souls thou hast been chastening that thou hast promised, the healing and the cure” (Bonhoeffer, 400).
These words aren’t spoken in fear of a God who comes to steal, kill and destroy, but a realization that God has made a promise to his creation. From the very beginning, in Genesis 3, God promised that the scene being set in today’s Gospel lesson would be set. But not just that it would happen like this. No, that it would happen like this for you. The promise is that death would still happen, but it would not be final—because Christ was raised from the dead for you. You and I will look death in the eye. We will feel our time slipping away, but the cup we drink from is no longer as bitter as it once was—the cup that Christ swallowed on the cross is not the end. Three days later, Christ was raised. Jesus was raised from the dead so that you may live—for into the cup of death, Jesus poured life.
On Thursday of this coming week, Jesus gives his disciples a new cup to drink. What’s in the cup? What’s in that chalice? What do they drink at their supper—their LAST Supper? On Thursday, before Jesus is to die, he institutes HIS Supper with HIS chalice that brings life, Holy Communion. And we can confidently drink from this cup, knowing that, as we drink, this seals our promise every week that Jesus will return, that he will bring us to himself, he will take away the cup of darkness, the cup of suffering, the cup of death—forever.
Until then, be on guard. The serpent will continue to assault you. Satan will continue to try to pull you away from the God that loves you. He will constantly ask you, “Did God really say…?” But know for sure that you drink a cup of salvation. You drink the cup of life. You drink the cup of a living God that makes you alive in Christ. Amen.