By Carl Stagner
Unless you work third-shift or suffer insomnia, chances are you were asleep at midnight on Good Friday this year. Not Pastor Mark Martin and a good crowd of people from Maiden Lane Church of God, in Springfield, Ohio, though! With the aid of the Holy Spirit—and perhaps an extra cup of coffee—they could be found gathered at church, embarking on a unique adventure like never before. Inspired and challenged by Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:36–46 to “watch and pray,” even for just an hour, they took a spiritual journey back to the Garden of Gethsemane to reflect on the gravity of that historical moment, and ultimately prepare the way for a victorious Easter celebration.
Maiden Lane Church of God set out to make Easter 2019 especially meaningful, beginning long before Holy Week. Ash Wednesday was only the beginning; each day following, until Easter, the church united under a single, specific focus. Maundy Thursday accelerated the ramp up to Easter, as did the church’s more traditional Good Friday service held at 7:00 in the evening. But only a few short hours later on Good Friday, many returned for a creative experience that would transport participants back in time to a place called Gethsemane. From midnight until 1:00 on Saturday morning, they experientially answered Yes to Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Couldn’t you keep watch with me for one hour?”
Jesus’ question can cause us to shudder, as do the solemn, confusing, and horrifying nature of events leading up to Easter. But, “One cannot fully appreciate the explosive joy and hope of Easter,” Mark reflects, “without going through the humbling act of serving, the transformation of the Passover Seder to the Lord’s Supper, the brokenness and surrender of Jesus in Gethsemane, the injustice of his arrest and trial, the mockery and cruelty of the cross, and the hopelessly dark state that left his disciples in. The journey of discipleship is one where we experience the full range of human emotions. I think that, to only focus on the positive and happy aspects of Easter misses the realities of betrayal, injustice, pain, sin, suffering and death we as human must face in our broken and fallen world. God wants us to discover that he is present through the entirety of what we call Holy Week, and this, in a powerful way, is a microcosm of his presence with us through the entirety of our life journey. In short, it builds our faith!”
“Gethsemane Watch” brought everyone together first in the church’s prayer chapel to hear the reading from Gospel of Matthew. Participants then moved from one prayer station to the next, not in any particular order, but with the designated eighth station as their last stop. Keeping watch over the spiritual condition of their congregation, community, and beyond, they meandered to the church lobby to pray for all visitors who would come on Easter. They’d go to what’s known as the “Mother’s Room” to pray for the parents and children, as well as the children’s ministry of the church. The “Missions Hall” served as a station to encourage participants to pray for partner missionaries and missions organizations, as well as—and especially—the persecuted church. In the expanse of the sanctuary, they prayed amid the pews for attendees of Easter services to have a profound encounter with the risen Christ. At the piano, they prayed for the worship ministries of the church. At “the Table,” they prayed for Pastor Mark, especially for the message he would deliver on Easter Sunday. Lastly, they would pray a written prayer, titled the “Prayer of Abandonment,” by Brother Charles de Foucauld, at the altars. Throughout the experience, Michael Card’s song, “The Tears of the World,” played on a loop, setting and keeping the appropriate mood.
“What made this different,” Mark explains, “is that one had to be inconvenienced by interrupting normal routines and schedules and deprive one’s self of sleep and intentionally keep a prayer watch with the Lord. One of the things I was most grateful for is how intergenerational the service was. Persons who attended this service were very intentional about being there. I am sure curiosity attracted some because of the uniqueness of the service, but it was willful commitment that kept them there and engaged for the full hour of the watch.”
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