“Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” ~ Matthew 26:38 at Gethsemane
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” ~ Psalm 130:5-7
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” ~ Hebrews 12:2-3
Sometime last week I learned something different about the evening of Maundy Thursday into Good Friday. Traditionally this span of night has been called the “Night of Watching,” marking the night when God redeemed Israel, setting them free after the slaying of the firstborn sons of Egypt (Exodus 12:42). It was said that “just as God redeemed his people on this night, so he will one day redeem them again.” Remarkably, it was this same night thousands of years later that Jesus was arrested and led towards his crucifixion to redeem the world from sin. God is cool like that!
This night too was when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and told his disciples to keep watch and pray while he went off on his own to pray. The disciples could hardly stay awake a few minutes as they fell asleep three separate times. Jesus, on the other hand, prayed with such earnestness, grief, and despair that sweat drops of blood dropped from his brow to the ground. Jesus really got no rest on this night, for as soon as he finished praying Judas came with a crowd of soldiers to arrest him. God’s next redemptive act was already in motion.
What are you facing today? What are you so desperately waiting for? What has seemed like an eternity to come true and you’re about out of hope? Are you a slave to something? Are you desperately awaiting redemption or some newness in your life? Maybe you’re hopes have been dashed by a sudden loss of a loved one, job loss, or divorce. My circumstances have to do with recent job loss and career uncertainty. I can’t guarantee there’ll be an end to any of our own personal longings. There’s no telling whether our waiting will take a lifetime or 3 days like the resurrection. I do believe and have my hope in God, however, who has a history of redemption and renewal.
It will be 10 years ago this July when I first sensed my call into ministry and to go to seminary. I can’t even say I have complete clarity as to what God’s exact calling on my life was to back then or even today. Attending seminary and then two short solo pastorates after that have left me confused and at a loss. I am still waiting for everything to come into fruition with more fulfillment. Thinking about these things calls to my mind a song by U2 that is based on Psalm 40 where Bono repeats the question, “How long, to sing this song” over and over again. He is asking how long ‘til we get to sing a new song rather the one that seems to be stuck on repeat with all the pain, suffering, and injustice in the world. That question and song is viable considering what we experience in this life. The psalmist in Psalm 40 is rejoicing over God’s faithfulness and fulfillment. God has heard him and come through for him and he is redeemed and revived. It causes a new song to burst forth from within him. He waited ever so patiently, and he was not disappointed, but overjoyed!
Currently, my dreams at night are about driving me up a wall. More often than not I usually don’t remember most of my nightly dreams. These days, however, it’s like I can’t stop remembering them. They seem so vivid, and I mostly don’t like their content. The people and places are often screwy, even confusing, but there are themes too that seem to be always present. The most common themes are heart longings continually going unfulfilled; continually falling short and proven to be not good enough; other people getting things I’ve always wanted or getting in my way, blocking me from things I’ve wanted, waited, or worked hard for. I wake up from these nightly dreams and I cry out in my journal, “I want new dreams, Lord!” like the new song that bursts forth from within for the psalmist. “How long, O Lord? When will they ever be different?”
On this Night of Watching this year, this is where I am. I am watching and waiting and praying. I likely won’t be up all night tonight; nor arrested, tried, and hung on a cross. I doubt I’ll quite experience the exact same loss and grief the disciples did on this night. They didn’t have the luxury as I do to know more of what things meant and exactly why they were happening. Rather, I am more comforted by the events of this night and the acts of Jesus no matter my circumstances year after year.
I do propose though two ways of watching during this night and week heading towards Easter—1) Waiting/Watching more than watchmen wait for the morning and 2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, considering him who endured such opposition so that we will not grow weary and lose heart. Watching more than watchmen wait for the morning means earnestly, patiently waiting for God’s fulfillment. This isn’t by any means a passive waiting either. We remain on our post, doing our job(s), fulfilling regular/daily responsibilities, keeping hope and fervently praying, etc. We don’t let up on any of this (we watch long with all our might) until our shift is complete and God comes through. We wait more than watchmen wait for the morning; waiting still, even when our shift is over (or seems like it is or should be). Secondly then too, Jesus’ endurance and sacrifice is always there to help give us continued resolve via the love he showed and as he endured so much more than we ever will.
Let’s maybe do something different as well tonight. Many of us will attend Maundy Thursday services and commemorate Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples and maybe even partake in Communion as well. Often though, we don’t commemorate what else happened this night. Jesus prayed with great fervor. He called his disciples to stay awake, keep watch, and pray along with him. Jesus was also betrayed, arrested, and taken away to be tried, beaten, and hung on a cross. I think we’re tempted to just get together, sing songs, hear a good message, gather around the table together, and then go home after a pleasant remembrance service at church. Let’s not disengage the other things of this night as well though. We’re called to keep watch and pray too, possibly long into the night considering the events facing Jesus on this night and the pain, suffering, and injustice still very much alive today as well. Maybe if we engage these other elements too we’ll have an even greater resurrection experience come Sunday, or whenever God once again brings redemption in our lives. As we always remember and trust in the Lord, we can be sure that we will not be disappointed (Psalm 22:5), and also one day sing a new song (Psalm 40:3) and dream new dreams (Psalm 126:1).
One last thing, you might enjoy this poem about this Night of Watching by Cynthia Prentice, of Arlington, Texas that you can read by following this link.