The overnight Gethsemane watch has become one of the important parts of my preparation for Easter. In recent years, I’ve taken an hour slot sometime between 11pm-1am so that I am not so worn out the following day. This time, however, I wound up taking the 2:10-3:10am watch.
Middle of the night, or extremely early in the morning; no matter how you look at it, life in the city is different than the pre-midnight hours. Leaving my house, I could hear nightclubs off in the distance winding down their Thursday night party time. The wah-wah of bass music with the distorted and deep bellowing of a DJ filtered through the street lights. As I arrived at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a city truck was dropping off a dumpster at the church bookstore. Curiously, the driver initially put it down in the middle of the parking lot. I couldn’t help but wonder if the man was just really tired or somehow impaired. In the middle of the parking lot? Really?!
Inside, I was immediately hit with the hint of incense. I wouldn’t have expected the church to have put the thurible to use at a Maundy Thursday foot washing service. I like incense, but was surprised to have been hit with that smell. When I entered the chapel, I saw that the thurible was hanging from a stand. This year, it seemed, we were going to have a burnt offering to go with the reserved sacrament and the lone candle. The person who preceded me in keeping watch quietly left. And now I was alone. God’s work could begin.
The quiet and solitude of the chapel during the watch allows me the opportunity to do my centering prayer work in a very intentional way. But it seemed the work I was to do was not to go into that type of deep dialogue with God. I did sit and meditate on my centering word. But, unlike in past years where I have spent more than half the time in that type of intentional sit, this time, I was drawn to consider the contrasts presented between the relative quiet with the flickering glow of a candle while the life outside was a full soundscape. The dumpster delivery truck clanged and banged and beeped. Police and fire sirens whistled and whizzed past the church. The sounds of cars with more wah-wah of bass music blaring all seemed a stark contrast to this internal environment of quiet.
And yet this all spoke profoundly to me of this same final night that Jesus spent in the garden in prayer. The sounds outside reflected the ways of the world and the pulse of life that is fraught with noise and emergency. The garden, on that night in First Century Palestine, may have been filled with sounds that signaled danger or distraction from centering on God. Watching the candle, I imagined how that night must have been for Jesus as he anticipated the arrival of those who were going to arrest him. I thought that he must have felt some apprehension and anxiety. Even the friends who he had brought along with him weren't able to be present enough to stay awake as he wrestled with the enormity of the task that was laid in front of him. As I contemplated Christ’s difficulty, I thought on some of my own and the tasks that remain in front of me to follow faithfully in the path that God seems to be laying before me. I considered how Christ so completely and willing arrived at that place of placing his life into the hands of God. I thought of how I have not always done that, and have instead behaved more like Peter or one of the other disciples. And I came back to the candle, and the quiet, and how Christ eventually arrived at that place of inner quiet there in the garden. Possessing that quietness in his inner being allowed him to endure the shame and humiliation the world, operating in its own ways, was about to heap on him. I considered the many affronts the world has been dishing out in the past several months, and particularly the reaction against the gay community in the name of religious freedom. And I prayed, as I have done so often, a simple plea to God to continue to fill me with love and light so I may pour it back out as vessel of His love for the world.
My watch time ended, I headed back out into the night of Tallahassee. At home, I sat up drinking a glass of wine to wind down my experience with Christ.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Gunshots. Three of them. Coming from somewhere in my neighborhood, but it wasn’t clear from which direction.
The world away from that flickering light is a much different place. And it sure could use more of that light.