Stay Awake

Earlier this week I posted meditations that I had contributed to the 2011 and 2012 editions of our church’s Lenten devotional. The first such book came out in 2010: it seems like my contribution to that inaugural edition fits well with Easter Saturday, the painful space between Crucifixion and Resurrection during which many Christians keep vigil. (Here are the Easter Vigil readings prescribed for this year in the Revised Common Lectionary.) I tried that discipline several years ago; I even set my watch to wake me up at 1am and 4am to continue the cycle of readings — but slept right through both alarms…

So instead of my usual Saturday morning links round-up, I’ll repost my 2010 Lenten devotional and wish you all — in its proper time — the joy of Easter.

“You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.” (1 Thess. 5:5-6, TNIV)

Read: Matthew 26:36-46

He Qi, Praying in Gethsemane
He Qi, "Praying in Gethsemane" - Creative Commons

Eyes closed, head bowed, voice silenced… On the surface, prayer looks and sounds more like sleeping than staying awake. (If you’re like me, you’ve even had the embarrassing experience of nodding off in the middle of prayer one Sunday morning.) Yet when Jesus came upon his sleeping disciples that fateful night, he coupled the commands “Stay awake” and “pray” (Matt 26:41, NRSV). For in fact, we are more awake when we pray than at any other time.

Eyes wide open, head held high, voice raised, we spend hour after waking hour rocked like infants to spiritual slumber by the back-and-forth routines of our lives. Work, play, and, yes, religion can become soul-numbing habits, leaving us unaware of God’s startling presence and unresponsive to his calling. He finds us, like the drowsy disciples in the garden, unprepared for the time of trial.

But eyes closed, head bowed, voice silenced, we are fully awake in prayer, ears itching to hear even the stillest, smallest voice of God. So that even if the cups of our various petitions cannot pass from us, we are ready to respond, with our Lord, “Yet not what I want but what you want” (v. 39).

Father, keep us from the sleep of this darkened world; make us instead children of the day, awakened to your love, your glory, and your purposes for our lives. Amen.

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