AWAKE, THOU THAT SLEEPEST: Charles Wesley’s Sermon #3 – 1742


Do you focus on the palms or the passion?  That was the question that the worship leader asked me the first Sunday I was responsible for preaching at the contemporary worship service at Athens First United Methodist Church in Georgia.  I had never thought we had any other options except to focus in on the celebration and Christ’s triumphunt entry into Jerusalem.  But, as she shared with me, the contemporary service congregation wouldn’t really have the chance to wrestle with the passion prior to Easter because they weren’t really engaged with the other services of the church, and since the church only offered the Good Friday service at noon, they wouldn’t likely get that chance to walk the journey to the cross.  So, do you focus on the palms or find a way to introduce them to the Christ’s journey to the cross?

That question has arisen in my heart every time I reflect upon this Holy Week experience.  As the members of my Sunday School shared yesterday, it’s not “either/or” but rather a “both/and” opportunity.  Yes, we focus on the celebration of Jesus coming into Jerusalem with all the glory and honor befitting a king.  And then we walk with him to Gethsemane where he prays “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me.” (Matthew 26:36-39)  He finds himself feeling alone as his disciples fall asleep while he prays. 

I found Charles Wesley’s sermon to the University of Oxford community in 1742 quite appropriate for this week’s reflection on the journey from palms to passion.  He is quite bold in declaring the difference between those who are “sleeping,” and those who are fully “awake” Christians.  He proclaims that as Christians we must accept and believe that the “Holy Ghost” and all of the “power” granted is within us. 

This presence is “participation of the divine nature, the life of God in the soul of (wo)man: Christ formed in the heart’, ‘Christ in thee, the hope of glory’; happiness and holiness; heaven begun upon earth; ‘a kingdom of God within thee’, ‘not meat and drink’, no outward thing, ‘but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’; an everlasting kingdom brought into thy soul, a ‘peace of God that passeth all understanding’; a ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’? (Awake, Thou That Sleepest II.9)

Jesus was fully awake when he went through that journey to the cross.  Unfortunately, he was doing all he could to “awaken” the Disciples to the magnitude of what they were experiencing when they were experiencing it.  Charles Wesley was trying to tell the Christians during his time about the journey and the magnitude of every experience on the journey when one was finally fully awake.  Were the Disciples paying attention?  Did they understand it in that moment?  Were the Christians of 1742 paying attention?  Did they understand Christ’s call in their lives at that moment? 

In the holy season of The United Methodist Church, we, too, are on this holy week journey.  Nearly one year ago, we celebrated together at General Conference the gifts of the connection that the Holy Spirit has offered.  And now, there are those who believe we are on the passion journey, experiencing the deep and troubling pain Christ endured on his journey to the cross.  Some would say we’ve been focused on the passion and have seen little palms in our life together over the past several years.  But the question I pose to leaders in the church today is this:  Are we, 21st Century Disciples of Jesus Christ through The United Methodist Church, paying attention?  Are we awake at this moment?  Do we understand what is happening as we listen to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit?  Are we so AWAKE that we are willing to walk the journey with Jesus to the cross?  What is the promise of the resurrection going to look like for the people of The United Methodist Church?  There are so many questions, but the vision for the resurrection celebration is still unclear.  And yet, the promise is known.

Charles words are the assurance that we can depend on as we take each step with Christ this week and beyond.  He writes:
‘Christ shall give thee light.’  This promise I come, lastly, to explain.  And how encouraging a consideration is this, that whosoever thou art who obeyest his call, thou canst not seek his face in vain.  If thou even now ‘awakest and arisest from the dead’, he hath bound himself to ‘give thee light’.  ‘The Lord shall give thee grace and glory’; the light of his grace here, and the light of his glory when thou receivest the ‘crown that fadeth not away.’ ‘Thy light shall break forth as the morning,’ and thy darkness be as the noonday. ‘God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness’, shall ‘shine in thy heart, to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ (Awake, Thou That Sleepest III.1)

And that’s all we need.

With God's Love,
Rev. Dr. Amy Valdez Barker

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