Friday, April 06, 2007

The Vigil

I have a little personal tradition that I carry out each year, one that I'd like to share with you... but first, to get things in context, let me refer you to a familiar story:


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!"

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." Then everyone deserted him and fled.

Gethsemane is by far one of the most moving moments in history. Jesus Christ - knowing what fate is about to befall him, went to the Mount of Olives to pray. He took his closest friends with him, but they fell asleep. Another close friend comes along and betrays him... then when the crunch came... everyone abandoned him to his fate.

Yet despite all this... and despite the fact that he could have easily escaped (even from the Mount of Olives which is pretty big), he chose to stay.

He chose to stay.

For you and for me and for his Father... he chose to stay.

Something personal I like to do on Maundy Thursday (the day the Church calendar remembers the events just described), is to take a walk after midnight, through Moorfields Park:

I like to do this because when I was a child, I used to imagine it happening there... it was so real to me, I could point out different parts of the park and tell you where everything took place.

After this I travel through Bull's Head Yard, on my way to the local church:

It is along this alley that as a child, I used to picture the soldiers and guards dragging Jesus off down after his arrest. Curiously... it's the same run down set of buildings that I used to imagine the nativity might have taken place in.

Eventually I come to the church... by which time, it is about 12:30am. Nobody is usually around.... just me and God. What I try to do while I'm there, is to try and "be" with Jesus... albeit some 2,000 years too late. I just feel that he did so much for me... that the least I can do, is try to pray for him and "keep watch" with him in those few precious moments between the Last Supper and his arrest... the moments of despair and loneliness that he must have felt. Yes, I know it's silly. I know that in the human way of thinking... asking for something that has already happened is pointless. However, there are just two things that I would say to counter those arguments:

  • I believe God is not bound by time... a prayer after the event, in good faith... is better than none at all.
  • My love for God... forged on the basis of his love for me, requires me to treat him with a closeness that only the sincerest of friends and family deserve. If you saw your mother or father suffering, you'd want to help them... so why should it be any different with Jesus?

Eventually (sometimes it's 30 minutes later, sometimes an hour or so), I come out of church and return home via the route I came. I usually sit in the park for a few minutes and try to picture it all over again. Then I get as much sleep as I possibly can, before joining the March of Witness in the morning... where I usually look a little like a zombie, after having stayed up so late. In fact, having stayed up so late... just to share this with you... bed is where I should be going. So that is my little tradition. My hope is that it might get you thinking about what thoughts went through Jesus' head and heart that night... and to encourage you to appreciate them a little bit more.

God bless


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