I get to work with a youth group at an Episcopal church in Denver. I made an observation a while ago when we asked the question that often starts our time together. “Where did you see God this week?” My observation was that our kids see God as the perpetual force for good things in their life. The answers often revolve around how they performed well in sports, surprisingly passed the test they forgot to study for, and had a blast at their friend’s birthday party.
Today our Lenten reflection took me back to the story of Jesus praying and sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Disciples who accompanied him are apparently exhausted and continue to fall asleep. Jesus returns repeatedly to wake them up and ask, “You can’t stay awake with me for one hour?”
When you look at the events that followed, you see these same Disciples re-energized–especially Peter, who cuts off a man’s ear. But there was something about that moment in the garden that made it unbearable for them to be awake.
Am I asleep? Do I see God weeping? The desire of my youth group is also my own desire. It is to believe that seeing God means seeing something lighthearted, happy, and overtly positive. But the Disciples were not invited to see God in that state in the garden. They were asked to push through the discomfort and exhaustion in order to see God, weeping and sweating blood.
I am moved to reflect on what that realization means for us today. Where are we finding it unbearable to be awake to God? Is it in Ferguson? Is it in the midst of those crying out against racial injustice? For many of us, the images of people crying out in anguish brings forth feelings of extreme discomfort and we immediately go back to sleep so we don’t have to see it. We go back to sleep by numbing ourselves and finding ways to discredit the voices making us feel uncomfortable.
Of course I believe that God is present in moments of happiness. But I have noticed that it is incredibly difficult to stay awake when God is found in voices crying out because of deep violence, injustice, and oppression. I guess it doesn’t surprise me all that much that Jesus’ Disciples were mostly absent–physically or emotionally–at the Garden and the Cross. We much prefer the risen Christ to the weeping and crucified Christ. Today, we are being asked to be awake to both.