Lent 5 – Hebrews 5:1-10
There is a popular t-shirt that says that God answers knee-mail and it shows a pair of jeans with the knees worn out.
Now the idea of that particular t-shirt is that the wearer prays regularly. That the person who wears this shirt prays multiple times a day; and that as a sign of this constant going to the Lord in prayer, there are marks on his clothes and presumably on his body, that reflect this.
Certainly a good and commendable prayer life for anyone.
But to be honest, how many of our prayers rise to that level?
I doubt many of us kneel in the morning or at evening to pray, and even fewer will kneel to say grace. Even here in the church, when it is time to pray, we will stand, not kneel.
We are certainly not wrong in our posture of prayer, but the reality is that not all prayers leave marks on our bodies. Some prayers are said quickly, others are said slowly; but not every prayer leads to the pounding of the chest or the clenching of the hands or the bleeding of the knees.
Yet, notice, that I said not every prayer rises to such a level; but there are most certainly those prayers that do.
How many prayers have you prayed that brought tears to your eyes? How many prayers reflected the full and complete recognition that all of your efforts have failed, and that you have nowhere else to turn but to the Lord in prayer? How many prayers have you offered up that left you wondering where the time went, for the prayer, both in words and in silence have long exceeded your normal time of prayer?
How many prayers have you offered up to the Lord of heaven and earth that left you overwhelmed at the magnitude of the situation that surrounded you?
Not many? Perhaps. But you have prayed in such a way, even if it is not every day.
To pray in such a way is a sign of the events that surround you to be so overwhelming that you are so overcome, and realize that the events about to happen are so dire, and so unpleasant that there is no other option than to pray for an intervention from God Himself. I pray that you have not faced this situation often, but the harsh reality is that we have all faced it at one point or another.
And so you are familiar with this type of praying yourself, for you have found yourself praying with a fervency and passion that has brought on tears, that has brought on fear, that perhaps has even brought on the prayer that what lies before you would pass from before you.
You have prayed prayers in such a way in hospital rooms as a loved one lay dying. You have prayed this way in funeral homes as you stared at the body in the coffin. You have found your hands clenched in prayer in the darkness of your room, asking God to remove the burden of guilt and sin from upon you. You have prayed this prayer in the silence of a crowded room, wondering how you were ever going to be able to walk away. You have felt your knees ache in prayer as you waited for a doctor to call and tell you what you already know to be true. You have prayed such prayers when what you so desperately wanted seemed helplessly out of reach.
And you have prayed perhaps the most difficult words to pray of all: not my will, but thine be done. Difficult words to pray for one very simple reason: you want your will to be done, you only hope that God’s will would be the same.
You pray regularly: grace at meal time, morning and evening prayer at the appointed hours for devotions, the Lord’s Prayer multiple times a day, collects and responsive prayers in worship; yet there are those other prayers that you pray, where you ask your Father in heaven that the cup that is before you would pass, buy not my will, but thine be done.
And when you pray in such a way, there is the secret reality that no one knows exactly how you feel or the urgency for which you pray. They may be praying very similar prayers for the same people or for the same situations; yet only you know exactly what you pray for and how you pray in such a way.
And that is a lonely way to pray.
Except you do not pray alone.
It is Maundy Thursday, Jesus and the disciples have just finished celebrating the Passover, and they have gone outside to the Garden of Gethsemane. Presumably the disciples think this is an after dinner walk; but for Jesus, He knows what is about to happen: that He will be arrested, put on trial, beaten and then crucified.
And yet, before these things happen, Jesus prays. He prays earnestly and fervently to God the Father that the cup before Him might pass. He, yes, even Jesus, adds the words: not my will, but thine be done. Jesus prayers are so passionate, that the Scriptures record that He sweats drops of blood.
This event of Holy Week is in a sense overlooked. After all, a lot of things are going to happen in the coming 72 hours, and some of them are pretty significant. This scene in the Garden of Gethsemane is overlooked because it is immediately overshadowed by the disciples falling asleep and Jesus reprimanding them, not to mention Judas and the band of soldiers coming to arrest Jesus.
But there is perhaps another reason we overlook this event; and it is because it shows Jesus in a very weak state. He comes to the Garden of Gethsemane, and He prays and He does so in such a way that if they were awake, the disciples should have been concerned for Jesus wellbeing.
For well does Jesus know what is about to happen. He knows all things, including the pain of the whips that will strike His back. He already knows the humiliation of being spit upon and cursed at by the crowds. Jesus already knows the slow and horrifying agony of death on a cross.
Well do you know the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, asking that the cup that is before you would pass away; well do you know the close of that prayer that not my will but thine be done.
But what you tend to forget, what we all tend to forget, is that Jesus knows the fervency and the urgency of your prayers as well.
Jesus knows what it is like to pray and not know what words to pray. Jesus knows the burdens that weigh heavily upon your heart. Jesus knows the pains that your body feels as your heart pours itself out to God the Father in every thought and word that you bear for Jesus Himself did and felt these very same things in the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful night.
Jesus knows the passion for which you pray, for Jesus Himself prayed in such a way in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus sweated drops of blood, knowing full well the events that lay before Him.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel comes and comforts Jesus; today, and every time you pray, it is Jesus Himself who comes to you and comforts you, and assures you that your prayers are heard by your Father in heaven.
For as our great high priest, Jesus Himself pleads before His Father in heaven on your behalf. He points not just to those holes in your jeans, He points not only to the clenched hands, He points not just to the tears that flow forth from you, but He also points to the holes in His hands, feet and side; and He points to the Garden of Gethsemane when He sweat drops of blood, and reminds His Father in heaven what He has done for you.
For the cup is not removed from Jesus; He endures the beatings, the shame, the humiliation and the agony of death on the cross. He endures it all, so that you might not pray alone, so that you might not walk this earthly road alone, so that you might not suffer alone. He endures it all, so that you might stand tall on the Last Day before your Father in heaven.
He endures it all, for God’s good and holy will is that you should be saved.