First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

The Garden: Risking Temptation

Entering the Passion of Jesus: Picturing Ourselves in the Story: 
The Garden: Risking Temptation, Mark 14:32-36; Ephesians 6:11-17
Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020
Plymouth First United Methodist Church
Pastor Toni Carmer


Too much wine, perhaps. Or maybe I’m so sleepy because I’m just so very tired. This week is taking its toll on me. Watching our every step, wondering when the other shoe will drop, afraid that the commotion stirred up about Jesus will result in something terrible. I’ve been on edge ever since we got here. 

But oh my, that parade! Who would have thought that this man I met on the shores of my fishing spot would turn out to be three years of non-stop surprises?! The entrance into Jerusalem was more amazing than all of it combined. I felt sure that I was part of something that was going to change everything! Now I’m not so sure. Not everyone, it turned out, was so pleased about Jesus’ arrival here. And we’ve been under scrutiny for days.

Then tonight at the table, Jesus revealed that one of us was about to hand him over. I’m noticing who is missing here in the Garden, and I’m wondering if maybe he was right. My gut turns over with the thought of it. I do not want to face that these people who have become my family could turn against one another under pressure. Fear threatens our very bonds!

So why put ourselves out here in the open? I need to stay awake, keep watch! I’ve got my sword. I know Jesus told me not to bring it, but come on! All he seems to think we need to do is pray. He asked us to pray with him. Yes, I pray, I’m praying, I’ll fervently pray! But is it enough? How can God help us if soldiers arrive? And yet… I’m so sleepy. ©

Enter the story
Enter the place you belong
Not just looking on
For this is your story
Enter the story.

Today we place side-by-side the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday.  If we were here together, we might have tried walking around our worship space waving palm branches, following our children and singing “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna.”  That’s what your worship planners had intended for this morning: a joyful celebration that you and I share each year with varying degrees of enthusiasm as we each take a palm branch and wave it around in our own unique way.  Some of us get into it and add a little dance step or two to the rhythm. Some tolerate it with a smile, feeling a bit awkward. But we can’t help but sense the joy and anticipation that the disciples and so many others experience that day as Jesus comes into Jerusalem.

It is good!  At this moment, they are sitting on top of the world, even as Jesus is sitting on top of that donkey.

But in the preaching series we’ve been working through, our focus isn’t on that triumphant entry, but it is instead directed to a garden, late in the evening, after a meal where Jesus has told his disciples that he is giving himself up—for their sakes, and for the sake of the world.

It’s only been 4 days, between that triumphant entry in Jerusalem and this dark time in the garden. The mood has completely changed. The disciples are a little confused now.  They’re exhausted.  Maybe the wine they shared at the meal contributed to their tiredness. Or maybe it is because this was such a quiet place.  A place they think to be safe.  Away from the noise, away from the crowds, away from those who have been watching them, who they know are looking to cause trouble for Jesus. The Gospel of Luke says their tiredness is due to their grief.

It seems they all come along with Jesus to the garden, but some he’s left in one place…maybe there is a clearing there…a place where a small group can gather.  Then Jesus takes Peter, James and John a little further in.  These men are the same 3 who had gone up to the top of the mountain with Jesus and saw him transfigured…they saw Moses and Isaiah with him.  These three are his closest companions.  He asks them to sit down and pray, and then he walks in a little further, finding his own place.  

The words from the text we read this morning reveal the deep anguish Jesus is experiencing.  It seems that as he’s taught his disciples, as he’s revealed that he’s going to die, he has done so matter-of-factly. He needed to tell them, he needed for them to understand, but he also needed to personally step back just enough in those moments to provide for them and to not reveal any kind of regret or concern for himself.  Doing that wouldn’t be helpful.  That wouldn’t fill the need he sought to fill.  I think of those moments as a nurse and as a pastor and as a parent when I’ve had to take a deep breath and set aside the ache in my own heart in order to say or do what needed to be said or done.  Sometimes we have to do that.  It’s a part of being human.  And what we’re beginning to see in the garden is that everything that is about to happen will occur as though Jesus were an ordinary human being like you and me.  He’s not going to exercise his power—power we’ve seen as he’s healed one sickness after another.  Power we’ve seen as he’s walked on water, as he’s calmed the storm, as he’s raised the dead.  God isn’t about to establish the kingdom with a divine warrior, but through the blood of a new covenant.  A covenant whose very foundation is love. 

Jesus experiences the very human emotions of despair and anxiety.  He tells his closest friends, “I’m sad. It’s as if I’m dying.”  

I would hope, if one of my friends were to be so honest with me to tell me such a thing, that I’d be there for them.  If my friend said this to me and said, I need a few minutes, I need to go over there and pray, to get myself together, but I’ll be back—I would hope that when she returned she wouldn’t have to shake me out of a deep sleep to talk about what’s going on, but I’d be able to listen to her, to give it my best shot to understand what she’s going through, and to hopefully be able to offer some words of encouragement.  

But that’s not what happens for Jesus.  His closest friends can’t keep their eyes open.  Three times he has to wake them up.  Can’t you stay awake with me? I don’t have a lot of time. Won’t you pray for me, for yourself, that you won’t fall into temptation?  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, Jesus says to them.

I think of all the times that these friends have said they’re IN; they will do whatever needs to be done!  They will BE there for him!  

Peter has said he’ll die with Jesus, that he will never desert him, even if the others do! (v. 31, 14:29).  But tonight he can’t stay awake, and in a very short time he’ll three times deny that he’s ever known Jesus.

James and John have said they’re ready to sit at his right and left hand when Jesus comes into his glory (10:37).  They are ready!!  But now, when he needs them, when he asks them to pray, they can’t even stay awake.  (“Huh? What?”)

Jesus calls them to task, but he doesn’t condemn them for their weaknesses.

Ultimately, we know that each of these disciples, and the others as well (with the exception of the one who betrays him), are not only forgiven, but they grow stronger in their faith, they’re given the gift of the Holy Spirit and each will contribute to the spread of Christ’s message throughout the world until the end of their lives.  

That’s a word of encouragement that is important for us to hear and to understand.  Our failures don’t condemn us.  Our weaknesses don’t limit our contribution to the kingdom. Even when we’ve lapsed for a while [we’re human, we do that]—God can use us, use what we are and who we are, in ways beyond our understanding.

Another word that I’d like us to receive as we consider this time in the garden, is that it’s okay to pray for ourselves. Jesus acknowledges the pain he’s going through, he gathers his community around him, and he offers God what he’s got.  He gives it all.  He offers his fear, he even bargains with God: “Take this cup of suffering away from me,” he says.  But even as those words leave his mouth, Jesus renews his commitment to stand firm in his calling.  I think of Paul who will later write of his vision of Christ saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  

When we pray, we’re admitting we can’t do life on our own. That we need God.  And that gives God a place to work, a place to grow us, to heal us, to make us whole.  Prayer can help us to put on the full armor of God’s resources, to get us through, to bless our lives.

Let’s look back at the painting and put ourselves into the picture. If I were there with Jesus, could I stay awake?  Am I willing to pray?  For myself and others? And listen for God’s word?

Here are some questions to consider:  

Where do you go, or what do you do when you face difficult situations?  
Do you have a “garden kind of place” where you can go, where you can be quiet, where you can pray?

Do you have someone you can go to, who will support and encourage you when you’re called by God to do hard things?

Is there a part of who you are that you once considered a weakness that God has turned into a strength?