Keeping Watch With Christ
Fr. Gregory Hallam · April 27, 2011
Subdeacon Emmanuel is the homilist for the Great and Holy Thursday service.
We have reached Great and Holy Thursday. Today we complete our experience of preparation for the most important festival of the Church’s year. Some of us have fasted and abstained a great deal. Others have fasted and abstained little. Yet for all of us, there is an important experience awaiting us today—to become one with Christ, to seek the Father’s will in our lives and to permit the Holy Spirit to act upon us. Forget about yesterday or the weeks of Lent behind us. What matters now is becoming one with Christ in both His suffering and His glory, in both His crucifixion and His resurrection.
On this Great and Holy Thursday we gather with Jesus Christ and His apostles in the Garden at Gethsemane. We have come to pray with Him. Christ leads us is in a very difficult prayer in the 26th chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew, verses 39 and 42: “My Father, if this is possible, let this cup pass from Me, yet not as I will, but as You will… My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Jesus knows that He is about to experience great pain in the crucifixion. He has no wish to experience such pain, just as each of us do not wish to experience pain in our lives. Yet Jesus also knows that He must continue to trust the Father. He knows that the Father has a Providential Plan for His life.
This prayer which Jesus makes alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, as the apostles sleep, possibly recovering from a magnificent Jewish Passover meal, is a prayer that each of us can make every day of our lives. “Your will be done,” Father. This is a tough prayer. Often, we want to do what we want to do. We would like to live life with a minimum of suffering, just as at times Jesus Himself wanted to. However, as Jesus recognised and as we must come to recognise too, that is not possible. The Father’s will for each of us is not a carefree life of doing what we like, ignoring other people, ignoring God, and being as comfortable as we wish. That is why the priest washes our feet—as a sign that Jesus wants us to serve one another, as He continues to serve us.
The saying is correct: Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” and there is strong Biblical support for such an attitude. In the 42nd chapter of Isaiah, verse 16, it is written: “I will lead [you] by a way [you] do not know, along unfamiliar paths I will guide [you]. I will make darkness into light before [you] and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; and I will not forsake you.”
God the Father did not forsake His Son, Jesus Christ. He will not forsake us. In the midst of the Holy Thursday services, where some churches mention the so-called “perfidious Jews,” we should also recognise that God has not forsaken the Jewish people. For centuries, Jews were blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus; and they certainly did suffer. Because some Christians believed that the Jews killed Christ, those Christians killed Jews—for many centuries, in many countries, in many pogroms.
Yes, it is true that a combination of Jewish priestly fears and Roman violence enshrined in despotic law led to the crucifixion of Jesus. However, remember, as Jesus Himself pointed out in Chapter 26 of the Gospel of St Matthew, verse 53, through the crucifixion “the Scriptures [were] fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way.” God permitted the Jews and the Romans together to conspire to kill Jesus. The reality remains that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected as a Jew. His Hebrew name is Yeshua.
It is not for us today to judge either the first century Jews or the first century Romans. Our task on this Holy Thursday is not to judge but to forgive, not to hate but to love, not to avoid suffering but to accept it. Perhaps some of us struggle with this desire to judge others, to be critical of others. I know I do. If we are determined to judge on Holy Thursday, it is neither the Jews nor the Romans but we ourselves that we should judge. When we fail to follow the Father’s will, it is we who crucify Our Lord. We are the ones who try to avoid suffering in ourselves by ignoring the will of the Father. We too are the ones who have fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ asked us in that 26th chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew, verse 38, to “remain here and keep watch with Me.”
Here then is the meaning of Holy Thursday. Seek to follow the Father’s will in your life. Let us not be critical of the Jews, the Romans or anyone else. We all crucified Christ together. But just as the Father has forgiven us, so we can forgive others. We can listen to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as we seek to follow the Father’s will. Let us resolve tomorrow night, at home or in church, we will keep watch with Christ.