Tuesday April 21, 2020
39 Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. 40 There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”
41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him.Luke 22:39-43 (NLT)
You have probably heard the proverb: Every cloud has a silver lining. Or the saying: It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. Both of these maxims suggest that even when things are really bad, there is something comforting or hopeful that may come even though it may not be immediately obvious. Few things are so bad that no one benefits from them.
Our stay-in-place, sheltering-at-home actions of the last several weeks certainly are close to the top of the list of things that are cloudy or windy in an exceptionally bad way. Our entire way of life has been turned upside down, our schedules are demolished to be replaced with uncertainty, our livelihoods have been threatened by loss of income. Many, many Americans have become ill and too many have died. We are not able to see an end to our isolation since we are entirely dependent on the behavior of a virus that is both new and novel. We know that things will eventually get back to “normal,” but right now we can’t know when this will happen or even what “normal” will look like.
There is also the saying: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Is there any way to make lemonade in this time of uncertainty and anxiety? One thing that can be a real positive is the time we have to be alone. We humans are hard-wired to desire companionship; we are social creatures. Yet there is something valuable in spending time alone, time spent in prayer, study, reflection, or just observing God’s hand in the world.
Our scripture for today recalls just such a time for Jesus. He knew his time on earth was soon coming to an end. He knew, at least in part, that his death would be painful and difficult. Jesus and his disciples had just shared a Passover meal together. Jesus had just shared the first Lord’s Supper with his disciples. They had finished their meal and were on the way to the Mount of Olives. While they were walking, Jesus admonished his disciples to not give into temptation. Why did he make this statement to them at this particular time? He may have been feeling a form of temptation himself – “Take this cup of suffering away from me.” This was his prayer as he knelt alone and poured out his heart to God. But his prayer did not end there; instead, he continued: “I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Jesus needed to get away from the crowds, away from even his disciples, in order to prepare himself for what was to shortly occur. This was not the first time Jesus needed to be alone; the gospels recall several instances. For example, Luke 4:42 says: When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them.
Luke 5:15-16 tells us: But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
Again, in Luke 6:12 we read: It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.
Matthew 14:23 recounts: After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
Mark also contains reports of Jesus’ need to be alone: Mark 1:35: In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.
Jesus also taught his disciples the need for seclusion and isolation. In Mark 6:30-32 we read: The apostles *gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.
The social distancing that we are required to do during this coronavirus pandemic is hard for all of us. Yet there may be a lesson to be learned for all of us. We are a society that always wants to be busy, doing something, going somewhere, accomplishing something. Our lives have been filled – just look at our pre-pandemic schedules, almost every day was filled with a myriad of tasks and responsibilities. We hardly had time to take a breath.
Now we have more time than we know what to do with. Boredom is on the rise; depression is as well. We do not know what to do with these hours spent apart from others, not doing the things we once did. One way to fill these days, at least in part, is to use that time to reflect on the wonderful things we do have in our lives. We have all the comforts of our homes. We live in the greatest country in the world. We have under normal circumstances great individual freedoms. But more importantly, we have a loving, involved, caring, faithful, wise, and wonderful God.
This time of having less to occupy us may be a good time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. It may be a time to thank God for a time to slow down, take a breath, and talk to God. That was what got Jesus through some of his most difficult times. That may be just what we need right now. Pause. Breathe. Look around. Reflect. Pray. Give thanks.