April 9, 2020
by April Herron
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” These are the first words of the prayer Jesus prayed in the place called Gethsemane, the day before his crucifixion, as he anguished over what was to come. His disciples were with him, but they could not stay awake. Earlier, the group had shared a ceremonial Passover meal, with Jesus blessing and breaking bread. On their way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus tried to tell his companions that the flock was about to be scattered. They insisted they would remain loyal, but sleep overcame them. Meanwhile, Jesus was aware that a painful death was coming ever closer.
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” I sympathize with this prayer. I have been praying something very like it myself, as the threat of COVID-19 appeared on the horizon, grew increasingly near, and began to impact all parts of life in the world as we have always known it. “Please just take it away, God. None of us can bear what’s coming. Make the virus disappear.”
I knew even as I prayed that I was asking God to wave a magic wand over something that is actually a natural process with causes, effects, and consequences. I knew a more reasonable prayer would be for competent leadership, rapid implementation of emergency plans, helpful responses by those in a position to increase the supply and improve the distribution of necessary equipment, scientific success in the search for effective medications and treatment methods, and new strategies for including the most vulnerable families and individuals within the world’s circle of care. But still, I prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass.”
I am grateful that Jesus spoke and God received this prayer, even though “the cup” was not made to disappear. It helps to assure me that God understands our human hurts and fears, and even experiences them along with us. It helps me feel less inadequate to the situation to know that Jesus would have chosen another path if he could have done so while still remaining true to his mission and purpose. From the desperate prayer of Jesus, I learn that my desperate prayer is not “out of line.” It is understandable and acceptable to the Father who not only held Jesus fast, but who also stands ready to hold all of us in loving arms, even as we go through something we would have far preferred to avoid.
“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” As we read Matthew 26:36-46, we discover that praying the same prayer three times as he did, with weeping and agitation, somehow brings Jesus to mental and spiritual resolution. Through prayer, he sees not that he is going to escape suffering, but that the hour he dreads has come. Events are commencing. He arrives at a place of clarity and action. “Get up,” he says to his disciples, “let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Jesus has prayed and God has given him courage sufficient to the moment.
In his book, “The Walk,” Adam Hamilton reflects on his own struggle with wishing God would simply prevent bad things from happening. He makes two extremely pertinent observations. The first is that God’s primary mode of working in the world is through people. (The implication is that if we want things to be different, we should use our God-given gifts and take action to advance helpful changes!) The second is that, at Easter, God decisively overcomes the injustice, violence, and death that we humans inflict upon ourselves and one another. Jesus was crucified. He had to “drink from the cup.” But that was not the end of the story.
Our story is not over either. We can speak honestly and freely to God in prayer. We can trust God to bring life out of even the worst of circumstances. There will yet be an Easter dawn when we can gather together in the meditation garden at Rolling Hills UMC and sing together, “Morning Has Broken.” There will yet be a day when we can gather in the sanctuary and sing, “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.”
April 9, 2020