Maunday Thursday has finally come during what can sometimes be a long week of prayer and reflection.
Often times on Maunday Thursday we look at the meal, the fellowship, the establishment of communion, and the servant symbol of washing each other’s feet. All of those are staples of our Thursday worship services and activities, but today I want to look more deeply at the after dinner events. I want to look more deeply into the spiritual preparation of Good Friday and the crucifixion. Continuing the thoughts this week on suffering and Christianity, I want to look at how we pray for peace versus how Jesus prayed for peace on this very important night. It was an important prayer that Jesus offers up, yet it looks so different from the prayers of peace we often pray for Nigeria, Syria, DR Congo, inner city areas of the US, and other seemly abandoned places.
Matthew 26: 39 – “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However – not what I want but what you want.” (emphasis added)
Jesus was not someone that sought out pain and death, but he was prepared for it. I see his prayer in Gethsemane being a prayer for the peace of his soul in readiness to make whatever sacrifice is required of him. I see the prayer of Gethsemane echoed in the writing of Paul in Philippians 4: 6 “Don’t be anxious about anything, rather bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” You notice here that asking God is followed not by a promise that prayers will be answered, but rather by peace itself. This is especially significant as it is this same chapter that Paul talks about learning to become content in blessing and in suffering. When we pray for peace correctly we are not praying for a calm life, but rather a calm within whatever may be happening in our lives. The peace that Paul talks about here is not given for us to feel good, it is given in order to mobilize us to enter into danger and make us steadfast in the suffering we are led to in following Jesus. I firmly believe that the peace of God that passes all understanding is not the peace of a tranquil garden and the soft passing of a butterfly but rather is reflected in the ability of Jesus to sleep in the midst of a storm or heal the ear of a solider in the process of being arrested. It is the peace that allows us to stand in the midst of chaos and be a healing presence to OTHERS. It is a peace of action, not of stillness, which is why in the armor of God it is the shoes that are used as the symbol of peace.
Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is the type of prayer that causes my father-in-law to talk about ‘if you dare to pray’ because God can and does call us to the messy, dangerous, crucifixion sites of the world and in doing so does not promise us calm lives, but rather calm in the midst of a stormy life. This Holy Week are you praying for an easy life or are you praying for the peace to step into the places where God may be calling you?