St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 1st April 2021
Led by Rev Calum I MacLeod
I sought the Lord and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34: 1
Let us worship God
The lesson is Matthew 26: 36-46
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 37He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ 40Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’43Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.44So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’
The themes which attend the Passion (from the Latin for ‘suffering’) of Jesus Christ coalesce in the haunting setting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Loneliness, anguish, doubt, thoughtlessness, betrayal; all are present in this most mysterious scene with Jesus’ threefold encounter with God (‘let this cup pass’) and threefold encounter with his sleepy companions (‘stay awake.’)
The inability of Peter and the others to comply with Jesus’ request to stay awake seems almost comical, were it not paired with the profound spiritual angst of the prayers Jesus offers immediately before his arrest. It presages the culmination of what Marcus Borg calls ‘failed discipleship,’ in the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and the denial of Jesus by Peter (which itself has a threefold nature.)
What were they thinking about? one wonders. Were they unaware of the crucial(!) nature of what was to come when they left that place? Did they indeed ‘see but not perceive and hear but not listen or understand?’ (Matt 13: 13)
And so with resignation in his voice, Jesus moves on to the inevitability of being handed over to those who will kill him.
In the words of the poet Paul Kane:
The land is gall – nor milk, nor honey flow,
and false friends keep watch unawake.
A prayer of Peter Abelard (1079-1142) for Maundy Thursday.
This is the night, dear friends, the night for weeping,
when powers of darkness overcome the day,
the night the faithful mourn the weight of evil
whereby our sins the Son of Man betray.
God of love,
it is because of your immense love for us that
you stooped to be our servant and willingly suffered to give us life.
In all our thoughts and actions
may we be your servants and reflect your love.
We pray in the name of your servant son, Jesus Christ.
O Lord hear our prayers for ourselves and others as we join together in the Lord’s Prayer:
which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil;
for thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory
for ever and ever, Amen.
Be of good courage, render no-one evil for evil,
but hold fast to the good; honour all of God’s people,
and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the Communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you
and all whom you love
this day and for ever.
Felix Mendelssohn Sonata IV in B flat (2nd movement)