At First Christian Church last month I joined a multitude of kindred spirits who came to be in solidarity with those affected by the terrorist attack in New Zealand. The event, sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, included speakers from diverse religions. Each man and woman spoke of the need to be actively engaged in bringing an end to the hatred and violence promoted by racial and religious bigotry. The gathering seemed quite subdued until Rabbi David Kaufman spoke and drew us into a deeper layer of our common humanity. He encouraged us to believe in the strength that comes by standing with others in their pain. Then he began to sing the the well-known song, “Lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…” Those present instantly joined in singing the entire song with him. By the time we reached the last line, I felt an amazing surge of compassion and hope moving among us. At that moment, I think everyone in the church wanted to do whatever they could to be a person that someone who was suffering could lean on.
I am remembering that powerful moment as Holy Week comes closer and Christians again focus on the final days of Jesus. This year I have a renewed awareness of what he must have experienced, particularly the pain that came from having few persons for support. This reality is readily apparent in the garden of Gethsemane where he went to pray, fearing the horrible death that awaited him. He brought along several of his disciples, explained that he was “deeply grieved” and asked them to “stay awake” to give him strength. Even though Jesus had given fully of himself to these men by mentoring and assuring them of his love, they fell asleep and abandoned him. Jesus had no one to lean on when terror took over and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” What angst filled his question: “Could you not watch one hour with me?” (Could you not let me lean on you?) (Lk22:44; Mt26:40)
The experience of Jesus with those who failed to be there for him at Gethsemane continues today in the suffering ones of our world. Everywhere there are people who have no one to be with them during their most difficult time. These people live in our families, belong to our parishes and congregations, work beside us, and dwell in our neighborhoods. They need the strength and empathy of others when they prepare to have life-threatening surgery, struggle to overcome addictions, face depression shoving them toward suicide, wrestle with financial woes, or develop other situations with troubling consequences. What must it be like to be a homeless person or an immigrant family and have no one for an advocate? Imagine the suffering of persons treated with disdain for religious beliefs, color of skin, ethnicity or sexual orientation. All these persons can benefit greatly from having someone to lean on. Each one is a part of the Body of Christ. Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, they ask, “Could you not watch with me?”
The Spirit of Christ lives in us. We can be there when others long for someone on whom to lean. Will we be his hands, his heart, his voice, and do what we can to lessen the agony in those who suffer in their Gethsemane? I ask myself: “Will I fall asleep or will I stay awake?”
Abundant peace, Joyce Rupp