“We are born knowing how to cry, but it takes another to teach us how to cry well and with purpose” “Your wails are meant to be heard” (This Here Flesh , Cole Arthur Riley, 106)
When I read this in Cole Arthur Riley’s inspirational book over the weekend two images came to mind. One was of the Jews praying at the Wailing wall in Jerusalem, particularly this photo which has been circulating around Facebook over the last week. The second image was of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane just before his betrayal.
It suddenly hit me – Jesus prayed tears of blood. That is pretty forceful weeping, and I imagine that just like at the Wailing Wall, his prayers were not silent but loud with wailing and deep emotion as he howled in pain and sorrow. He wept with the pain of a tortured soul crying out to God. Not, I suspect, because he was afraid to face the agony of the sacrifice he knew was coming, but because he did not want it to be necessary. He wept out of love for a world that he knew was meant to be good and beautiful and loving and yet was so badly broken that it required the sacrifice of God to bring it healing and wholeness.
As Jesus begins this last agonizing journey of lament, I can see him crying tears of agony for the people of Ukraine, and Myanmar, of Sudan and Ethiopia and Afghanistan. I can see him crying for every despised and abused Black person, and LGBTQIA person, so many places and people that still call for his deep soul-wrenching lament of blood-like tears. I also see him crying for the earth that groans under the weight of pollution and destruction, weeping tears of blood for us who are meant to be loving and caring and yet are not.
Then I am hit again. How could the disciples sleep through that kind of praying? How could they not be out there praying and weeping blood like tears with Jesus, consumed like he was by the horrors of the brokenness and suffering of the world around them? Perhaps, they stayed awake for a short while, boosted by the adrenaline of the exciting Passover meal they had just enjoyed. But they were really looking for a king very much like the Roman emperor. A God who wailed and howled and wept at the extent of pain and suffering in the world just put them to sleep.
Would we sleep through that kind of praying too? It seems to me we do that every time we turn our backs on someone who is suffering and in pain, and every time we are indifferent to the growing pollution and impact of climate change around us. “Their wails are meant to be heard.” And yet we like the disciples seem so often to be asleep.
I can’t believe it has taken me almost 50 years of following Jesus to recognize not just the incredible agony of Jesus weeping in the garden but also its reason. And I cannot believe it has taken me just as long to recognize myself in the sleeping disciples. The significance of Jesus weeping in the garden of Gethsemane should be just as important to us as his crucifixion and resurrection are. His disappointment at our inability to stay awake with him is so vivid. Why can’t my followers enter into the pain and suffering of this world as much as I do he seems to be saying. Why don’t they have the depth of courage and the same passion of their convictions I do.?
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and we all see ourselves shouting Hosanna and waving palm fronds as we rejoice with Jesus and his triumphant procession into Jerusalem. But it is not long before the atmosphere changes and many of us are no longer shouting Hosanna to the king, but “crucify him,” and I wonder if our indifference to the depth of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane and its importance for the new world God is giving birth to is the place that we lose him. We have such short attention spans, especially when it comes to pain and suffering. We want to join Jesus in his joy filled moments but not accept the pathway of pain that we often must pass through to find that joy.
So what can we do to wake ourselves up?
First we need to join Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and face up to the depth of pain God experiences every single day because of the suffering of our world.
Second we need to commit to staying awake to the suffering around us. Not just for a few moments but every day, all day. Sometimes we fall asleep because we deliberately close our eyes to pain and suffering and I am concerned that when another tragedy catches our attention we will forget about Ukraine and all the other suffering places in our world. Yet this is the God we follow and through the example of Jesus, we are shown exactly how radical following this God is.
Third we need to walk together with those who are already on this pathway as well as those who are struggling to stay awake. The older I get, the more upset I become about the injustice and pain in our world and the more I want to make a difference – even if it is only through writing and challenging others to walk with me. I thank God every day for the diversity of voices that are rising around me – for the Black and Hispanic and Indigenous voices. For the LGBTQIA persons, and the growing number of eco theologians and Christian environmentalists.
So as you get ready for Holy Week, I pray that you too will be prepared to stay awake with Jesus in the garden and fill yourself with the same passion he has for those suffering in our world.
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