Friday, March 29, 2013

My Name's in the Bible?! Three Reasons We May Fall Asleep During Holy Week

I sleep like a rock. I always have and probably always will.

Not exactly a good character trait when you have toddler twins who frequently wake up in the middle of the night (or so I have been told by my wife). Instead, sleeping like a rock means that you occasionally feel like you got walloped by a rock when your partner-in-child-rearing is trying to call in backup.

"Greg! Wake up!"

I fumble for my glasses, knocking over the lamp, alarm clock, and anything else in the way of my clumsy reach, as I make my way towards the kids room. I imagine I look like a cross between a zombie from Walking Dead and the mummies in those Brendan Frazier movies.

"Greg! Wake up!"

I try. Seriously, I try! I am willing to wake up, just not always able.

As I was meditating on Mark 13:32-36 and 14:32-42, passages frequently lumped into Maundy Thursday and Good Friday narrations of the Jesus story's final chapters, I could not help but hear echoes of this familiar midnight plea:

"He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake. He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him." (Mk. 14:33-40)

The Greek of Jesus' request, "Keep awake," are variations of the verb, γρηγορέω or grēgoreō, i.e. where we get the English name, Gregory, meaning "watchful one."

Yep, my name is in the Bible.

It's as if Jesus were saying, "Gregory, keep alert! Gregory, stay awake! Gregory, pay attention!"

Three times in both passages.

But the purpose of γρηγορέω is for reasons beyond making me feel as though my name had broader significance than resemblances of the 70's t.v. character and retro heart throb (a story for another day).

γρηγορέω is Jesus' call for disciples to be always alert to the in-breaking of God's kingdom. In the midst of so many temptations to stray from, soften, or be lulled to sleep by weakened messages of the kingdom, we are provoked to radical and subversive obedience.

"To journey deeply into history, to experiment with a political practice that will break, not perpetuate, the reign of domination in the world -- that is the meaning of Mark's final call to "Watch!" (13:37). It is a call to nonviolent resistance to the powers. (Ched Myers, Binding the Strongman 343).

Still I wonder, if we were to slip back in time and find ourselves on the fringe of Gethsemane, would we be any better than those sleepy, cat-napping disciples. Even worse, if Jesus were to walk into our sanctuaries, youth groups, Bible studies, and church leadership gatherings, would he need to usher a similar statement,

grēgoreō. Wake up!

This is the great challenge of our day, especially for individual Christians and discipleship communities situated within contexts of luxury and privilege. This is the hard word of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday that perplexes and maybe offends us in our elaborate and polished services that warm our sentiment yet leave us still numb to the hard and offensive nature of Table and Cross.

grēgoreō. Wake up!

But why have we fallen asleep in the first place? I suggest three possibilities:

1. Boredom

We fall asleep when we are not engaged. We fade when the movie, the lecture, and whatever it is we are watching has not gripped our imagination and provoked our on-going curiosity to what's about to happen next.

There is a growing sense within mainline church communities that we have missed the mark on discipleship. Our congregants and youth are bored. Membership is often understood as going to church, tithing, listening to sermons, occasionally serving at a soup kitchen, and answering the right questions in confirmation class or abbreviated membership programs. We are not joining a movement that grips our imagination; we are pledging to an institution. And institutions are boring.

Bored! God forgive us for all those we have lost because we made the gospel boring. I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult." (Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution)

What would it look like to dare disciples in our congregations this Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday to covenant with one another to embody fresh expressions of the gospel in the days and weeks ahead? What would happen if we alerted one another, to include this blogger, to our call to stay awake for opportunities to love God and love neighbor even when it's hard, counter-cultural, against legislated norms, and potentially inviting us to risk reputation, financial stability, or our lives persons and institutions?

I bet we wouldn't fall asleep in the middle of these sermons, which I am sure will be preached this week (hopefully) :)

2. Exhaustion

We often hesitate to take risks and innovate because we don't have enough energy left when we have finished all that is required to maintain what already is. I have a friend who once said that Presbyterians are good at shuffling papers and emails around. I am particulalry good at this. We spend so much time on email, in meetings, submitting proposals, maintaining order, and studying for exams that when we are finally invited to wake up to fresh possibilities, we have nothing left to give. We are so burned out by preserving what is that we have not the stamina to consider and implement what could be.

3. Mundane

When I was in college I worked a job in sales that demanded I hit the road at 5 a.m., and I am not a morning person. What was worse, the empty roads and mundaneness of the yellow lines and passing trees made me drowsy. I frequently had to pull off and take quick power naps or stop for a veinti coffee.

Is the same true of our expression of Christian faith? Are we lulled to sleep by traditional programs, weekly rituals, and well-rehearsed sermons that affirm what we already have and who we already are versus dare us to expend ourselves for the sake of another?

Do we fade in and out of slumber because we avoid hard questions and tiptoe around Jesus' message that may move us to think differently, act differently, give differently, serve differently, love differently, vote differently, solve conflict differently, lobby differently, eat differently, or advocate differently?

If so, then that the church, myself included, needs a fresh kick to awaken us from our slumber. We may need to try out new methodology, adjust leadership paradigms, and refresh our Christian-speak that no longer resonates with those who are pivotal players in missional discipleship communities.

A great and related read: What If Kids Don't Want Our Church?

I write all this not because I am exempt from looking in the mirror this Holy Week. I write this because my name is all over the Jesus story this week. The Spirit has her hands on my shoulders and is shaking me, pleading with me, daring me to wake up and keep alert.

grēgoreō. wake up! You have been sleeping long enough.

Will I have the courage to rise and rub the sleepy from my eyes, seeing new opportunities right in front of me to carry cross and practice resurrection even when it costs me everything?

Or will I throw my head back onto the pillow and fall back asleep? My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak.

What about you?

Blessed Good Friday...hold on Hope for Easter Sunday.

But stay awake!