Maundy Thursday Noon-day Sermon...
Roger’s sermon from several weeks ago on Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount read “let your yes be yes and your no be no” or as the Message Bible puts it, “Don't say anything you don't mean. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. Just say 'yes' and 'no.'” This text proves rather revealing in light of today’s story. Peter, assuming he heard the story Matthew tells of the Sermon on the Mount would have done well to listen to that lesson. In our text, Jesus looks at his disciples and says they will all desert him. But if Peter heard Jesus’ words on Matthew’s mountaintop, in the book of Mark - they didn’t sink in, for Peter is quick to refute Jesus saying “Even though all become deserters, I will not!” And our author Mark (who is quick to finish every story in his fast paced novel) leaves no room for the reader to speculate on the potential irony or even be alerted to any foreshadowing. Jesus quickly corrects Peter regarding the weakness of his character and offers him and the others listening specific details of how Peter will betray him. It’s a rather humiliating moment for Peter one can only assume and so Peter responds by adamantly disagreeing with Jesus again, and he’s not the only one, all the disciples assure Jesus that should they need to die with him, their loyalty he can always count on.
Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
But in Mark’s gospel, the disciples never do anything right. They are consistently questioning Jesus, lacking in faith and missing the point. And this story is no exception.
Even the three “special” disciples, Peter, James and John, the ones who just a few verses earlier in chapter 13 were talking with Jesus privately, even they let their leader, their teacher, their friend down in his time of need. Completely distraught, Jesus asks them to accompany him to pray. They go to Gethsemene, Jesus falling on his face prostrate before God just a little ways away from Peter James and John who all fall promptly asleep. Four cups of wine at a Passover meal will do that to you. Jesus returns after having practiced what he preached, begging God to take away the cup, and yet not succumbing to the temptation to follow his own will: a true, biblical prayer of lamentation. Boldly speaking to God of fear and anger and boldly agreeing to follow his “Abba” Aramaic for “papa” father God in obedience. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” is still ringing in Jesus’ ears when he returns to his friends. “Simon, are you asleep?” Jesus asks rhetorically. The three men must have known that Jesus was very upset. He hadn’t called Peter “Simon” since Mark chapter 1 when he first met him! The nickname “Peter” was given to him as a gift of life, potential, and friendship. What a slap in the face to be called Simon again after so many years! But even that moment of shame couldn’t keep the three friends awake for when Jesus returns from a second time in prayer nervous and afraid, he finds them napping with heavy eyes. But Peter, James and John can’t find the words to make things right, or the actions either it would seem, for the third time Jesus returns to them after praying he finds them in deep slumber on the ground. It was final and official. The disciples, illustrated in these three men, were asleep; eyes closed to what Jesus had been preparing them for; lids too heavy to raise up to heaven for lamentation, help or praise.
Exasperated and knowing a crowd was gathering, Jesus recognizes that already the disciples are pulling away from him. He calls Peter, James and John, his three closest friends to get up and come on.
All twelve disciples have assured Jesus that they will not deny him even if it means death for them, his three closest friends slept through his most distressing hour of need, Peter claimed to stick it out with Jesus ‘til the end but we already know that the “Et tu Brute” of the disciples crew will not pull through; and now arrives Judas.
With a kiss, a tender, prolonged kiss: prolonged by a twinge of doubt in Judas’ mind perhaps or prolonged to make sure Jesus is properly identified, Jesus is betrayed by an honest confession from his student seeking to understand God’s new kingdom, “Rabbi, my teacher,” Judas says and greets him affectionately with a kiss.
A moment of chaos ensues, the guards seize Jesus and someone draws a sword and cuts off one of the High Priest’s slave’s ear. And though my heart goes out to the poor slave, a victim of erradic behavior, for a moment I’m also inclined to think “hurray!” someone has finally stood up for Jesus. Someone is objecting. They’re not all going to just let him get whisked away – taken to jail, unjustly, without cause! For a moment we think someone’s done something right. But Jesus rebukes the crowd. He denounces the need for weaponry and chastises the priests for their secrecy and hypocrisy. And although we don’t know much of what happened next, we know Jesus is for some reason silenced…
and the disciples flee.
Except for one.
The one in the expensive linen cloth that he put on especially for tonight. The one who perhaps had planned to stick up for Jesus, put those priests into their place once and for all. The linen cloth would show he had money, power; it might buy Jesus some time. If those fishermen of his would keep their word and stand behind their teacher then he could offer some prestige to their cause, validate it, make it seem more normative, beneficial to the community. But as the others ran, his knees rattled, and his nerves failed. The confidence with which he had dressed that night faltered, but not fast enough for him to turn and leave. Instead, the next thing this lingering onlooker knew, his expensive linen dress was gone and he too was running home: naked in the dark. Exposed.
They’re all exposed. Exposed for where their true loyalties lay, exposed for who they really were: cowards. Afraid of the sword, afraid of the religious leaders, afraid of the government.
But I am too.
We all are. This is no secret. Every one of us has a little bit of Simon, a little bit of James and John, a little bit of Judas and even a little bit of that man who hung in the back of the crowd in his nicest Easter clothes. If you think the right suit or the right jewelry or the right job or the right words will hide the fact that you too are a traitor just like the rest of us, you’re wrong. For there’s a little bit of each of these friends, these deserters, in all of us. This is no secret.
But there’s a little bit of Jesus in us too.
There’s a little bit of us in the garden crying out to God, “Say it isn’t so.” But it is. The world is cruel, full of hate and violence and torture and abuse and manipulation and systematic evil. Jesus says, “not my will but yours.” And God’s will was to send Christ to earth to live amongst us, to usher in God’s kingdom, to be fully human and fully divine. Unfortunately that meant fully victim to the world’s vices including execution by crucifixion.
“I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don’t want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,”
That’s how Andrew Lloyd Webber interpreted Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. The same man who wrote of Joseph’s story in the Genesis narrative. Joseph who was facing lifetime in prison, but unbeknownst to him, would soon save a nation upon his release.
“Close every door to me,
take those I love from me,
children of Israel are never alone.”
The despair and the hope, felt by Joseph thousands of years before Christ was understood by Jesus who was fully human and completely scared, and is still known by us today in our wars, our divorces, our illness, our poverty and our despair.
We all have a little bit of the disciples in us and we all have a little bit of Jesus. But with our despair at the ways of the world and even the ways in which we participate, comes the hope of Easter morning. It is around the corner, it is true. Some of us reach it quicker than others. For Jesus, he had one day left. One day of interrogations, of sentencing, of execution: Friday. Then a day of death and then the day of resurrection. But we’re not to Friday yet, or even Saturday. We’re still in Gethsemane, praying, crying out to God to take away our cups, or at least to take away our fear. We’re still discovering we’re human, exposed before God who knows the very aching and motivation of our hearts. We’re still discovering that the world will disappoint us, that our friends will desert us, our spouses fail us, our children run away.
Today is only Thursday and we are still in Gethsemane. And though our Easter dresses and suits and hats and linen cloths hang pressed and ready for Sunday, when the joy of Christ’s resurrection will motivate us to live out God’s kingdom…today we still sit exposed before God. Fortunately, Jesus is sitting with us. It’s Thursday, the most solemn day of Holy week. We’ve three days left to keep our promises, three days to keep giving up our vices. Three more days to die before we are resurrected.
Come Easter morning, with Gethsemane behind us and God in front of us, I hope we don’t stay scared, don’t stay where we are. I hope we run, not away from Christ, but into God’s loving arms, for whether we are dressed in our most expensive clothes carrying our weapons or our Bibles, none of this worldly or religious piety will bring us any closer to God. Let your yes be yes or your no be no.
Easter is around the corner. But for today, let us live in the moment and confess it to God, our Abba Father, our tender Mother. Let us recognize that some of us spend more time in Gethsemane than others, but through Christ, Easter can always be a present reality. And with Christ, we too will walk away from the Garden to live the will of God.