Keep awake! Enough! The hour has come! At once! Immediately! Now! Now! Now!
There is no time to waste in Mark’s telling of the passion story. Even the language he uses is full of movement and urgency. After Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, greeted with palm branches and shouts of “hosanna!” things go downhill in a hurry. He teaches in the temple about the kingdom and the true worship of God, but it makes the leaders of the people so angry that, at the beginning of our reading for today, they are already looking for a way to arrest him and kill him. Jesus had only been in Jerusalem for a few days!
Jesus and his disciples sit down together to celebrate the Passover, and Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him and that all of them will desert him. They swear up and down that they would never abandon him. And yet, a few short hours later, an exasperated Jesus is shaking them awake, saying, “Enough! The hour has come. Get up.” And “immediately,” Judas arrives with an armed mob to arrest Jesus, while the rest of the disciples, as Jesus predicted, “deserted him and fled.”
The disciples had marched confidently with Jesus into Jerusalem, certain that it was a victory march that would end in triumph over the powers of the empire. But the message Jesus brought, of God’s peace and justice, lit off a political powder keg that triggered a severe reaction from those in power. They beat and tortured and killed him in the cruelest and most public way imaginable. In the darkest moments of Jesus’ life, the disciples found that it was easier to run away, or to be asleep.
Keep awake! The hour is now! Keep awake!
The place where our gospel reading ends today may seem like a really hard place to pause the story. But Mark actually kind of leaves us here in the middle of the darkness and the uncertainty on purpose. Those of you who have been studying the gospel of Mark with Pastor Jared probably already know that there actually isn’t much more to Mark’s gospel after the end of what we read today. In the oldest ending of Mark, the stone gets rolled away and there are rumors of Jesus’ resurrection, but that’s about it. In our minds, we automatically fill in the resurrection and all that comes after it. We want to keep on running right through this part of the story, or to sleep through all the sadness and pain and violence, and skip right from “hosanna” to “hallelujah.”
But I think that the abrupt ending of this story tells us something about where we are in the story. We know that Jesus triumphs over death; we know how this story ends. But what about our stories?
Those among us who live relatively comfortable lives may feel most of the time like everything is already over and done and the victory is won. Our observation of Lent and Holy Week and Easter is just this weird, ritual thing we do every year so that we can say, “yay God” again. But for many others of us, the urgency of the moment we’re living in is very real. For those fighting cancer and other illness, the urgency and the darkness are real. For those watching loved ones wrestle with addiction, or who are wrestling with it themselves, the urgency and the darkness are real. For students marching in the street in grief and outrage over the deaths of their classmates and the failure of their leaders to protect them, the urgency and the darkness are real. For people everywhere living under the threat of violence and the shadow of death, the urgency and the darkness are real. And if we are honest with ourselves about the realities of our lives and the limitations of our brokenness and mortality, the urgency and the darkness are very real.
Keep awake! The hour is now! Keep awake!
This is the tension of the world we live in. Through faith, we know and believe that God is victorious over death and sin. We are Easter people! But we live in a Good Friday world. We live in this moment of paradox, the moment between “Hosanna!” and “Hallelujah!”
Jesus is calling us to wake up, to look around and see where we are in the story. He is shaking us awake and asking us to stay and keep watch with him in the garden of Gethsemane, to stay awake and keep watch with him in the hospital waiting room, and in the detention center, and in the midst of all our neighbors who suffer injustice.
Our eyes are very heavy, and it’s easy to keep falling asleep. Jesus himself knows that our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak. It demands of us courage and a strength of faith to open our eyes and truly look at the world, to see the pain and the division and the greed and the death and not avert our eyes. But with our eyes open, we can also see that we are not alone. The one who shakes us awake and who watches with us in the darkness is the one who will never desert us or abandon us, even though we abandon him.
So keep awake! Keep your eyes open! The hour is now! Keep awake!