Advent: Day 16

Each Advent, I commit to reading the daily lectionary, the Bible readings that prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s coming. This year, I’m writing a brief reflection on these readings each weekday. It’s Advent, day sixteen.

***

Imagine the upper room, the table, the bread, the wine. See Christ divide the bread. See him hold the cup. Hear him say, “This is my body, broken for you; this is my blood, poured out for you. Do this in remembrance.” Feel the weight of the words spoken by candlelight, even while Judas made preparations for the great betrayal.

See the disciples following Jesus out of that room, follow their sandal prints to the Mount of Olives. It is the darkest hour—we know this now—but hear their hushed whispers of confusion. They are on the cusp of the greatest story ever told. Even with all the prophets, all the teaching of Jesus, even with the lingering taste of cracked wheat and sticky wine on their palates, they meander, clueless.

On the Mount, he gives one last command to the disciples. “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial,” he says, and withdraws only a stone’s throw away. There, before his own last trial, he offers an honest, earnest prayer. Enter that mountainside garden in your imagination; hear him pray.

“Father, if you are willing, remove the cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

In prayer, he discerns God’s will. In prayer, he sees his coming agony. But in prayer, he is given strength from an angel. Even so, the agony.

His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luke 22:44)

Smell the sweet salt, the acridity of sweat and blood mixing. Imagine the tears. Imagine his prayers.

Go there. Imagine. Imagine. Imagine.

Then see the disciples, who’ve long since given up all notions of mystery, who’ve slept away Christ’s command to pray. See their peace juxtaposed against the anguished prayer of their best friend. They made prayer and friendship into fickle sport. Jesus made prayer and friendship into a bloodsport.

Now, see yourself in that same garden. Imagine yourself a disciple. Are you keeping watch with your friend, or are you dreaming of the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom that’s surely about to come? Do you imagine him with a scepter, you with a sword, victorious over your enemies? Do you dismiss the pain of your friend, exchange it for visions of victory?

Advent is a time of preparation of the heart, and not just for the coming of the sweet baby Jesus swaddled in the manger (although there is that). Advent is a time of heart reflection, of praying so that we might stand in our own trials, so that we might be ready for the coming of the King. Advent is the time to mimic our Jesus, to stay awake, even in the darkest night.

Are you awake?

***The Practice of Prayer: Thanksgiving***

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