It’s the week after Easter. Jesus is risen. All of the palms and lilies are out of the Sanctuary. We successfully navigated eight worship services in seven days (not including funerals and memorial services). Between everything, our church welcomed around 2,000 worshipers last week. The clergy and staff are always exhausted after the culmination of a high holy season. We were glad to have Monday off. If for no other reason than to sleep.
But now we are back, and I’ve found myself reverting a bit in the Jesus story. Backing up to the scene with him and his disciples on the Mount of Olives just before he is betrayed. It caught my attention when we heard it read in worship several weeks back.
The way Matthew and Mark tell it, the disciples have simply fallen asleep at the wheel. When Jesus comes back from his solitary prayer, seeking God’s intervention for what is about to happen, he is seemingly frustrated that they are resting when they should be keeping awake. He has to wake them up several times in fact. The two first gospels don’t give us a reason why they were snoozing. But in Luke 22 it says they were sleeping “because of grief.” I have read this story set on the Mount of Olives countless times, and I have stood there in Jerusalem myself. Yet I have never paid much attention to Luke’s explanation.
Because of grief. Of course. Now it all makes sense. The disciples were absolutely exhausted because they had spent the last several weeks listening to Jesus hint at something horrible and inexplicable. They knew something heartbreaking was happening, or about to happen. They couldn’t begin to truly understand that what happened at Golgotha would not be the end. But even if they did, it doesn’t take away from the grief they would know from experiencing it.
I am a joyful proclaimer of Christ’s resurrection, and celebrate that death will never have the last word. But sometimes it’s good to remember that even those closest to Jesus were overcome by the sorrows of their day, and needed to rest their minds and bodies to heal from it. With the brokenness of the world unfolding around us like it does, sometimes, even in Eastertide, we need to do that too.
In the end, it may be our capacity to be in touch with our grief that lets us see the beauty of the world that blooms from its despair.
The poet, David Whyte, pens it this way:
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.