Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
The disciples just got through telling Jesus they would never abandon him, but then a few hours later they do that very thing. It’s not that they’re not physically present with Jesus, but they’re not showing up for him as he has asked. They fail to pray with Jesus in his hour of need.
Then there is the matter of God the Father and Jesus. One thing Jesus could count on throughout the gospel narratives is a close connection with the Father. Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus leans into this relationship, praying and fasting and taking time away from the crowds to listen to the voice of God. But here, in the hour of his greatest need, God is silent. Jesus is on his own.
Abandonment is a terrible thing, but is something many of us wrestle with – especially now in this time of social distancing. Some of us are literally alone. Others of us have people in our proximity, but are emotionally isolated. Or worse, we are surrounded by relationships that are broken, dysfunctional, even toxic. In some cases isolation would be a blessing.
But even more disturbing is the experience of abandonment by God. We pray and cry out to God, but can discern no response. It’s a terrible thing, but something most Christians experience from time to time. If you know what I’m talking about you can imagine what it must have been like for Jesus, facing death on a cross and hoping for relief – but receiving none. Jesus faced arrest, trial, and death – alone.
And so as I read this passage my mind goes to the very last words Jesus speaks in the gospel of Matthew, which we will read in a few days as we follow the Moravian Daily Texts (see link below to sign up for this bible reading plan). Having been through this soul-crushing experience of abandonment Jesus makes us a promise,
“And remember, I ams with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Jesus knows what it’s like to be disappointed by other people in his hour of need. Jesus knows what it’s like to cry out to God and hear nothing in return. It was an experience so painful Jesus promises that his disciples that we will NEVER have to endure the same, even when our actual experience suggests otherwise. How can this be?
Well, I think there are all kinds of ways our God (Father, Son, Spirit) can speak to people. Some people hear the voice of God on the inside via the Holy Spirit. It’s not usually an audible voice, but a discernible one nonetheless. God sometimes uses people to communicate with other people. God speaks to us through his Word in scripture. God speaks to us through song, or liturgy, or worship. Honestly, the list is far too long to document in this space, but you get the idea.
Are you feeling abandoned right now? Have you been crying out to God and hearing nothing in return? If so, know that I’m praying for you. And since I’m not excluded from this experience, please pray for me too. We need each other right now.
Lord give us ears to hear when you call. Amen.