Matthew 26:40, KJV
In his dark hour before being arrested and condemned, Jesus wanted his companions to stay awake and be with him, but they could not. The English words watch and wake are related, which makes perfect sense. If you’re going to watch something, you’d better be awake. To the people who read the King James Bible centuries ago, the word watch likely carried more significance than it does today. When the reassurance of electric light was unavailable, people well knew how important it was to be able to stay awake in the night to guard something, or to be a comforting presence for a sick or dying person. The night darkness could bring dangers known and unknown. Having another human being with you when you were vulnerable, perhaps without even a candle to diminish the darkness, was a great blessing.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to watch with another person. Holy Week naturally brought the scene in Gethsemane to mind and prompted me to think about how it applies to our ordinary lives. Doesn’t everyone know what it means to need someone simply to be awake and be there? Maybe we need someone to watch with us when our vulnerability is great, as it is when we face a difficult diagnosis, or when a loved one is in danger. We also need a friend to watch with us in the challenges we face as we strive to grow into better, stronger, more developed people. Working up the nerve to talk to an attractive classmate, or to apply for a job, or to audition for a part in a play goes better when we have a companion who is there with us. Young children need a parent’s undistracted attention as much as they need food. Why else do they call out to their parents, “Watch me! Watch me!”
We humans can’t function without attention. When I hear someone comment about a child’s misbehavior, “Oh, he’s just trying to get attention,” I think, “Aren’t we all?” Isn’t being shunned or locked away in solitary confinement a devastating punishment? Isn’t it magical to have your musical or athletic performance admired? Who doesn’t want to feel seen and heard?
I spent Easter Sunday with my ninety-five-year-old mother. Her respiratory system is gradually failing her. Her mobility is limited. The warranty on her memory has expired. All the activities she used to participate in with great enthusiasm are now closed to her. What she wants most from her life is to have someone be with her. Kindly presence is sufficient. She doesn’t participate much in conversation. She can’t remember who said what ten minutes ago, but she appreciates having her friends and family around her, engaged in lively talk. Watching with her, staying awake and being with her as she progresses through the final phase of her life, is the most important thing we can do for her.
Of course, my family members and I are doing many things to keep her as safe and comfortable as possible. These things are important, and they require a lot of effort. Still, what she notices is when we are with her. She also responds to the caregivers who engage with her and recognize her humanity, whether or not she remembers their names or understands why they pop into her room in the middle of the night when she gets out of bed. I am grateful that we can give her this gift of attention.
We Christians have many ways we watch with each other. Prayer is an obvious way. Worshipping together is another, as is spending time in fellowship. You might stop for a moment and consider what watching together means to you.
As we “do church,” our hope is that we can reflect God’s love when we are in fellowship with others. We can awaken, and be awake, and watch for God’s presence among us. Yes, we get distracted by all the details of keeping a church going, but we’re only human. We can still wake up and watch with each other.