Ever since Jude was born, Erin and I have incorporated the practice of family evening devotions into our life. As a part of our devotions we always say a prayer that is a familiar piece of our Episcopal tradition out of Evening Prayer and Compline. After a while of saying it, it has become ingrained in memory like so many familiar prayers (the Collect for Purity, the Postcommunion Prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer) and like many a memorized piece, emerges out of nowhere in my thoughts in random moments and everyday activities. Last night, as the church gathered in the bishop’s garden, high above the glittering city below, and as we remembered Jesus’ own vigil above a similar city of power, the words came floating through my mind.
“Stay with me” we sang, calling to mind our Lord’s plaintive plea to his disciples. “Remain here with me. Watch and pray.” And, then the story we heard at Palm Sunday was read again. The disciples couldn’t do it. They couldn’t pray, or watch, or wake. It was a truly sad moment. Their friend and beloved teacher asked one thing – that they keep watch with him on the most difficult night of his short life. “Stay with me” he said. Watch.
Having kept watch with the dying and the bereaved as I am sure so many of you have, I know what a taxing and tiring thing it can be. I know the urge to escape, to sleep, even to flee. Jesus says, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Our desire is to be faithful, to uphold one another, to love in as self-emptying a way as possible. But, we do fall short, just as the disciples closest to Jesus did. We fall short in our devotion to Jesus, but perhaps more easy to recall, we fall short in our service of one another. Even Jesus knew this. One senses in his pleas to the disciples, an echo of his prayer to God. “If it is your will, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus names what we already know, that it is only through the presence and with the power of God that we can in fact wait, and watch and serve one another in the downward way of the cross. In Jesus’ cry at his crucifixion, there is an echo of this sentiment. “My God” he says, “why have you forsaken me?” His cry sums it up. God, do not leave. I cannot do this alone. I cannot be faithful without you. I cannot love without you.
So, as we tried to keep watch last night, as we tried to remember what serving one another is supposed to be, the prayer came back to me, and it has been my prayer through the night and it will be my prayer throughout today.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
The Maundy Thursday service has always been very moving & inspirational for me. Last night’s service was no exception, the music throughout the service was amazing & going to my very favorite garden, looking up to the heavens, & hearing the beautiful music and voices was such a bonus.
A huge thank you to everyone for making last night’s service so very special!
What an incredibly sad prayer — but tender and sweet. The Lord must receive so many appeals of great sadness How does hear them all and not become sad himself.