A Time for Staying Awake

Sermon Series: Lent 2000 - Reliving the Passion

A Time for Staying Awake

March 16, 2000 - March 19, 2000

Mark 14:32-42

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Harry Heintz


Sleep is a wonderful gift. But sometimes it falls upon us at the wrong times. Like at work. I found a list of best excuses if you get caught sleeping at work. Here are a few. You might try one if the boss catches you sleeping on the job.

  • I was just meditating on the new mission statement and envisioning an exciting new paradigm for the company.
  • This is just that 15-minute power nap that they taught us at that seminar you sent us to.
  • This is the eighth habit of highly effective people.
  • It’s okay—I’m still billing the client.
  • I was just trying to get my contact lens in without using my hands.

Jesus needed sleep. Some people think that he was above such routine and mundane needs. In fact, while he was fully God he was fully human. Always was he fully God and fully human—he didn’t have a little switch with "God" at one end and "human" at the other. Oh yes, his humanness is on display in Gethsemane. He knows all of our needs and all of our struggles—he experienced them as one of us. At the end of a hard day of ministry he was tired. In fact, he knew how to take a good nap. He once caused some serious consternation for his disciples when he took a nap on a boat trip across the Sea of Galilee. A storm arose and the boat was getting swamped. And he was asleep. They went below decks and woke him in no uncertain terms: "Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?" My translation of that would be, "Lord, how can you sleep when we’re about to die?" (Read the story in Mark 4:35-41.)

The roles are reversed now. Jesus feels the storm arising and the boat sinking and finds the disciples are indifferently asleep. Now it’s his turn to say, "Disciples, my dear friends, how can you sleep when I’m about to die?"

It was late when they arrived at Gethsemane. It had been a long day and it was not yet done. Note that these three were all on record as being hale and hearty, ready to follow him anywhere. No quitters they. James and John had asked for special seats in his kingdom. He asked if they were ready to drink the cup of suffering with him. James and John blurted out, "We are ready." (Mark 10:35-40) Peter had said just a short time before, "Even though they all desert you, I will not." (Mark 14:29) So they once said. Now they sleep—Peter, James, and John.

Sleep is a wonderful gift. Rachel and I took a trip to France a few weeks ago to visit some of our family. That six hour time change was brutal on our sleep patterns. The trip was well worth it, but there was a jet-lag price to pay. Dr. William Dement, a sleep expert, wrote a book entitled, "The Power of Sleep." He says that a good sleep lengthens and enhances our lives. When we think of sleep disorders, we think of people with problems getting to sleep or staying asleep. Every night over 50 million Americans stop breathing because of sleep apnea. Most revive, but not all. It is a blessing to fall asleep readily and sleep well. Add this to that list of best excuses when caught sleeping on the job: "Lord, we were lengthening and enhancing our lives. You pray while we get some rest."

And pray he did. We just completed a sermon series on "Wrestling with God: Postures in Prayer." Correction: the series isn’t over. Here the God the Son wrestles with God the Father. The Redeemer wrestles with the Creator. God wrestles with God. This is a match for the ages. Stand in wonder—no one can explain this. His praying instructs us. This simple prayer has three movements. First, there is the address of intimacy. He addresses the Father with the affectionate word a child first uses to speak of a loving parent: "Abba!" It is the equivalent of "da-da" in English. It is easy to say. A little child upon learning it loves to repeat it. My grandson has been taught to call me "papa." I’m glad—it’s easy for him to say. When he first learned it, he would walk around saying, "papa, papa." I am pleased. Abba was not the formal and public way to address God. It was precisely the way Jesus addressed the Father in this hour. He teaches us to pray in intimacy.


, he speaks his request boldly. He doesn’t even bother to say please. "Abba, you can do anything—remove this cup of suffering from me. I don’t want it." Such honesty reminds us of Psalm 88. It is the Jesus way to pray. God can handle our honesty.


, after his bold request, Jesus submits it to a higher plan. "Yet, not what I want, but what you want." Many of us will remember the classic translation, "Not my will, but thine be done." There is something profound going on in this prayer, which I cannot fully explain. Jesus makes a bold request. Then he places that request in a larger framework, the overriding will of God. It leads me to say that it’s all right for us to make bold requests of God. Then we need to place our bold requests in that greater framework. When we pray, "according to your will," let’s be careful not to use that powerful phrase as a good luck charm or as a "cover our bets" qualifier in case we don’t get what we asked for. It is a prayer that placed Jesus’ impending suffering in its rightful place, under the will of the sovereign Father.

Jesus models praying with perspective for us. In this weekend that has St. Patrick so much before us it is wise to remember his great prayer, a prayer of magnificent perspective. "Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in the hearts of all who love me, Christ in the mouth of stranger and friend. . . praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord. Amen." That prayer rightly puts our lives in Christ’s presence, under the Father’s overriding will. "On earth as in heaven." So be it.

This passage finally is not about the disciples’ drowsiness—it’s about the mission of our Lord. So costly. So demanding. So sorrowful. There was an assignment given him by the Father that was not given to the disciples, not given to a team or committee or task force, not given to any other. It was his and his alone. And that which he had long known—he now knows as he never had known before. It’s his hour approaching—it’s his cup to drink. Gethsemane—that garden in which he agonized in prayer—means oil press. That precious olive oil comes to us through the weight of a heavy press draining every ounce of life from the olive. He knew that a different press—heavier beyond any comparing—was even then being made ready to squeeze every ounce of life out of him—and make his precious life available to us. He felt its weight already.

For all his teaching about the passion coming, the disciples didn’t understand. Who can blame them? When Jesus faced it, he wasn’t exactly eager to go forward. Two things are happening side by side in that garden. Three disciples are snoozing and one Lord is agonizing. In this Wednesday’s reading in "Reliving the Passion," Walter Wangerin reflects on Gethsemane and has us pray:

My death, O Lord!

My sin, my hell, and my damnation were in that cup.

My gratitude is unspeakable.

My wonder is silence.

My life is yours. Amen.

"Remain here and keep awake."

It’s too bad they fell asleep on the job. Jesus told them to stay awake. It disappointed Jesus. But then, the next leg of the journey was not theirs—it was his, his alone. In my preparations for this message, I’ve been eager to let out on those three—how dare they fall asleep at such a time! No, I can’t be too hard on Peter, James, and John for sleeping during that hour when Jesus told them to stay awake. I was sleeping too. Weren’t you?

To contact Harry Heintz about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180