I’ve sat through many Palm Sunday masses, most of the time not getting much of out it, but every once in a while finding a spark of inspiration. I was reading along with the second Gospel until I read/heard: “sleeping from grief.” [Full verse: “When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief.” Luke 22:45 NAB] I was both shocked and confused by this. I am currently grieving by association. There are a few people in my life who are in the process of moving through the five stages of grief.
And throughout the first 4 stages, sleep is not one of the action verbs that is typically associated with “grief.” Sure, someone might be able to cry herself to sleep, but it’s usually difficult to fall asleep, and stay asleep. So it makes me wonder: how did Jesus’ disciples – every single one of them – fall asleep from grief??
If you were to read the entire passage of Jesus’ agony in the garden, you would have first read that Jesus was just “a stone’s throw from them” (v. 41). If he was so close, how could they fall asleep? Did they witness his agony, and cry non-stop until it put them to sleep? If I were present and witnessing this, I imagine my worry and stress would have prevented me from falling asleep. So I ask again, how did his disciples fall asleep from grief?
Because I was only reading Luke’s version, I decided to see what the other Gospel writers included:
Mark – no mention of “sleeping from grief” and, and in fact, Jesus checked in on the disciples three times, each time waking them up.
Matthew – very similar to Mark’s account, and no mention of “sleeping from grief.”
John – does not write about the agony in the garden.
So I will ask this a third (or is it fourth?) time: How did the disciples fall asleep from grief? Or to put it differently: why would Luke find this important to include in his Gospel account?
This curiosity began on Sunday, internally continued through Monday, and I still couldn’t kick this feeling by Tuesday (today). So I returned to my journal entry (I actually write this down before I type it up) to continue working through it.
I’ve pondered this again and again the past few days, and I’m still not convinced that the disciples fell asleep after crying. I’ve also since spoken with one of my grieving friends, and she talks about not sleeping, and tossing and turning throughout the night. The disciples were true friends, and brothers, of Jesus. They knew that they were going to lose him soon. If death was imminent, how could they cope with that impending loss? And not just cope, but sleep! Their grief is not the grief that I’ve experienced.
Perhaps, I am focusing on the wrong word here. What if, instead of focusing on “grief,” I focus on “sleeping”? Sometimes in the Gospels, “sleeping” is another word for “death.” Perhaps the sleeping that which Jesus is accusing them is referring to a numbness, a zombie-like state. The disciples were in such a state of shock, they could not move. They were finally understanding what Jesus was talking about all these years, and this realization was coming to life (no pun intended). They could see the struggle and pain that Jesus was experiencing – he was only a stone’s throw away after all! They were both mesmerized and shocked by Jesus’ state of prayer that they couldn’t do anything else but sit there and stare. And because of this, Jesus came to pull them out of this trance and remind them to pray too. Instead of worrying about the future, put that trust in God, just like he was doing.
Luke was writing to an audience who did not know Jesus, but they knew grief. And they learned that if you loved this man, you will most likely grieve as his disciples grieved. When you love another, like you love Jesus, and you lose that person, you feel like you can’t move because the grief is so overwhelming. But Jesus comes back to us, pulls us out of our trances, and reminds us to pray. Instead of being tempted to doubt God’s presence and love for us; pray and trust. Let go and let God.
Sláinte! (with water, of course)