by Corrie Cabes
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
-Book of Common Prayer, Compline service, page 134
Have you ever “kept watch?” Perhaps you have sat beside a loved one who was sick or at a child’s bedside. Maybe you have held a newborn baby and felt their warm breath on your neck. It can be a place of many emotions. You may experience an almost hypnotic peace and comfort as you watch a sleeping child’s chest rise and fall or wonder at the fluttering of eyelashes of a loved one. Maybe tears dampen your cheeks as you watch and wait with someone who is ill; their fitful sleep or pain becoming an uncomfortable rhythm that fills you with unease. I have joined in a watch with families as their loved ones pass into eternity. The space between each breath becomes heartbreaking to see as the family rolls in waves of hope to uncertainty and back again. In all these instances, I have found that there is something very holy about keeping watch.
During the season of Lent, perhaps you will consider how Jesus kept watch over others. In John 1:47 we witness an account of Jesus “keeping watch” in a different way. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and as he gazed upon him said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael responds, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” This seems like a brief observation, that Jesus may have just glanced at Nathanael, but it points to Jesus concerning himself with Nathanael under that tree for a while. His attention is focused on Nathanael long enough to truly see him for who he is and know him.
You may also remember the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus, and this time, it is Zacchaeus who climbs a tree so he may keep watch over Jesus. However, I want to refocus our attention on Jesus. It appears that keeping watch over others was just how Jesus operated in the world, seeing us in a different way, fixing his sight upon people in a studious and discerning manner, making himself attentive of those he encounters. Jesus becomes aware of Zacchaeus’s gaze and calls him down to engage with him. We need to recall that Jesus, the human manifestation of the Son, the Word made flesh. The Son is one of the persons of the Trinity involved in the fashioning of humankind, participating in the very breath that enters the nostrils of Adam, giving shape to the bones, the muscles, the sinews, skin, forming, lovingly sculpting, and shaping a human…dust becoming flesh. So, when Jesus says he sees someone, he is also participating in the very holy, very ancient remembrance of how we became human.
Another instance of keeping watch comes to mind, as we journey through the season of Lent. On Palm Sunday, we will gather as Christians, and hear the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane from the Gospel from Mark (Mark 14: 1-15:47). Jesus will ask the disciples to keep watch with him, and yet, they fall asleep.
“He [Jesus] came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?”
The disciple’s failure to “keep watch” may cause us to assume that they are exhausted and cannot stay awake. I would argue that they fail to truly “see” and fully understand what Jesus is doing. This attributes to their inability to keep watch with our Lord. Thankfully, Jesus is not dependent on their ability to keep watch to keep his resolve and stay focused on his mission, and there’s grace in that for us as well. The good news is that Christ keeps watch with us on all the nights when we feel alone, all the days where we have nothing left to give, or the times in which we feel unseen. When we are too weary to seek the holy, we may take comfort in the God who keeps watch over us.
During Lent, we may ponder the spaces and moments where we may keep watch with Jesus.
Can we make a quiet space in our lives to watch with our Lord?
Might we consider the ways we need to refocus our sight, so that we may be able to keep watch with Jesus?