Through this season of Lent we have been talking about the prayer life of Jesus and we have learned about prayer by looking at when Jesus prayed, what he prayed and what he taught about prayer. So it’s interesting to think about how much prayer was a part of this particular night of Jesus; life. The Passover meal included several prayers of thanksgiving. There was a Kadesh or a blessing which was recited at the beginning of the meal and then there were blessings said over the vegetables and the bread and as hands are washed. There were also prayers that went along with the different cups of wine that were part of the meal. There were also prayers of praise said and sung throughout the meal and a prayer at the end. The Passover meal was filled with prayers that thanked God for delivering the people from slavery in Egypt and celebrated the freedom God had given them and the greater freedom and deliverance that was to come.
So the Passover meal was filled with prayers and then as Jesus and his disciples left the upper room and made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane there were more prayers. We heard on Sunday how Jesus prayed for strength to fulfill His purpose as the spotless lamb of God in the place where lambs had just been sacrificed, the Temple. Jesus not only prayed for himself but he also prayed for his disciples and the church to come. And then when they all arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed again.
In the garden Jesus poured out his heart and asked if there could be another way to accomplish God’s purpose. Jesus knew the suffering and pain that came with the cross and so he prayed that there might be another way to do things, and yet in the end he yielded himself to God with the prayer, not my will but thy will be done. Jesus not only prayed in the garden but he encouraged his disciples to watch and pray because the he knew the days to come were going to be difficult and they were going to need God’s strength and power.
So this final night of Jesus life was filled with prayer. There were prayers of thanks and praise, prayers for strength and power, even prayers of anguish and pain. There were lots of prayers but it wasn’t just prayer – all those prayers turned into action. For Jesus, prayer was never just about words, feelings or emotions; it was about the living of life. Prayer was about getting strength from God and putting that power into action and living a holy and faithful life and that is exactly what Jesus did.
While it wasn’t as spectacular as healing the sick, raising the dead or walking on water, there was a lot of action in this final night of Jesus’ life. Jesus served the Passover. While he didn’t actually prepare the meal – he did work to get it organized and he was the one who led the disciples in the meal. The Passover isn’t just about eating, it’s also about worship and helping people remember all God did to deliver his people.
Jesus also continued to teach his disciples that night, in fact, the meal itself was a teachable moment. In the Passover meal there are 4 cups of wine that are poured and each cup symbolizes something different. The fist cup is known as the cup of sanctification and remembers God’s statement that He would bring his people out from under the burden of the Egyptians.
The second cup was known as a cup of judgment or deliverance and is based on God’s statement, “I will deliver you from slavery.” As they drank from this cup the people would have remembered the plagues that God sent on the Egyptians as judgment for not letting God’s people go. Even the red of the wine would have reminded them of the rivers that turned to blood and the death that came with the plagues.
The third cup was known as the cup of redemption and it was based on God’s statement, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” It was when Jesus lifted up this cup that he added new words and meaning to what his disciples would have known. It was here Jesus said, “This is my blood, the blood of a new covenant that has poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin. As often as you drink this, remember me.” Jesus was teaching his disciples that it would be his blood that would redeem them. It would be his outstretched arm that would save them. He was the new Passover lamb. The disciples didn’t understand it all because they don’t know that in a few hours it would be Jesus’ hand will be stretched out and nailed to a cross that would redeem them, but Jesus is telling them of actions to come. So this prayer and teaching will soon become action.
The fourth cup in the meal is known as the cup of praise or restoration and is based on God’s statement, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” Some people believe it was this cup that Jesus didn’t drink from that night and wouldn’t drink from until God’s restoration of his people became a reality after the resurrection. Jesus was looking ahead to his death and resurrection and he knew that it would be his actions that would restore people and so Jesus waits to drink from this cup until his words and prayers become reality.
So the meal was a not only a prayer but a teachable moment for Jesus where he talked about his actions to come. These were not words for Jesus, he was telling them what was going to take place. The Garden of Gethsemane was also a place where the prayers of Jesus become action because it was in the Garden that Jesus not only forgave his disciples but took the first step toward the cross.
Throughout his life Jesus taught about forgiveness and prayed for the power to forgive. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus said that we need to ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who have sinned against us. These were not words for Jesus, this was action, in the garden Jesus was forgiving his disciples. Jesus had asked his disciples to stay awake and watch with him, and yet three times they had failed him and each time Jesus finds them sleeping, he forgives them and gives them another chance. Instead of condemning them and walking away, Jesus has compassion. He shows his understanding by saying, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Jesus knows their human limitations and so forgives their failure and gives them another chance, and another and even a third and every time they fail – Jesus forgives. Jesus turned his prayer into action.
And then the final action of the night comes when Jesus stands firm in the face of Judas and the guards. While he could have run or fought back, Jesus knew God’s purpose and plan was to go to the cross and so Jesus was willing to allow Judas to betray him with a kiss and be led away by the guards. The prayers of Jesus to stand firm, to dink the cup of suffering that God had for him, to be glorified through the cross, were all turned to action when Jesus simply stood in place. Sometimes our action is standing firm in our faith no matter what is going on around us.
So the prayers of Jesus throughout his life and through this final night were all turned into action, and all the action pointed to one thing – the cross. The Passover lamb, the cup of redemption, the outstretched arm, the prayers for deliverance, the prayers for God to be glorified and for the strength to be faithful were all answered as Jesus stood still as Judas kissed him and the guards arrested him and led him on a path that led to the cross. In all things turned prayer into action.
Can our prayers be turned into action? Prayers that are just well intended words with no plans of following through on are empty and meaningless. Each time we pray we have to be willing and ready to put our prayers into action and a great symbol of what this means for us is again found in the actions of Jesus on this holy night. They are found right here in a simple basin and towel. Whenever we pray we have to be willing to be part of the answer to that prayer. When we pray for others we have to be willing to humble ourselves, place others first and find ways to reach out and help.
When we pray for healing, are we willing to offer healing and help to those in need? It might be a visit or a call or a note of encouragement, but when we ask God to heal we have to be willing to be part of that healing process. When we ask God to forgive us we have to be willing to forgive others. Is there someone we need to forgive? Is there someone we need to go to and ask them to forgive us? Our prayers of forgiveness need to be turned into action.
When we pray for those who are in need among us, are we willing to give what we can and what we have to try and meet that need and be part of the solution? When we pray for the strength and ministry of the church are we willing to step out and serve in the church in some capacity and help strength the life of the church? When we pray for the problems we see in the world are we willing to step out and help solve some of the problems we see in our own corner of the world. Prayer without a willingness to act is just a string of empty words.
Before we enter into a time of communion where we will once again enter into many different prayers, we want to provide some time for personal reflection. The Bell Choir is going to play a song called Reflection on Holy Manna and it not only reminds us that there was a prayer said over the bread in the Passover meal but that the Passover bread reminded the people of the unleavened bread they took with them the night God delivered them from Egypt and it was a symbol of the daily bread, or manna, God provided his people on their journey through the wilderness. Bread was very symbolic and important to God’s people and Jesus said, I am the bread of life and that is what we remember this night. Jesus is the holy manna and he turned the prayer over the bread in the Passover meal into action when he allowed himself to be broken and given to the world.
As the bells play, we invite you to spend some time in reflection and prayer asking God what prayers in your life can and need to be turned into action.
From Prayer to Action
1. What is the prayer that most burdens your heart today?
2. How is God calling you to turn that prayer into action?
3. Is there a prayer you are afraid to pray because you know God will call you to step out in some way to be part of the answer?
4. What one way can you follow the example of Jesus in the foot-washing and
• place the needs of others before your own
• humble yourself to a job that might be beneath you
• serve and meet a need in some tangible way