As most of you know, the NCAA Tournament begins in earnest today. I, like so many others around the country, have filled out a bracket and am ready to be saturated with basketball over the next few weeks. In case anyone's wondering, my Final Four is Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and North Carolina, with (and yes, it pains me to write this) Kentucky winning it all.
The Final Four. The term was trademarked by the NCAA in 1979 and designates the last four teams left in the tournament. It's a term that takes on a completely different meaning when you think of it in the context of Holy Week. As I mentioned in my latest weekly email I send out to the church, the NCAA Final Four finishes on Monday, April 2nd. Just three days later we will be sharing in the Last Supper at a Maundy Thursday worship experience. That night, after Jesus and the disciples left the Upper Room and headed to the Mount of Olives, an interesting thing occurred. Jesus took three of the disciples, the three he was closest to and had poured the most into, with him to pray. Here's how it happened:
They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, "Sit here while I go and pray." He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."
Here's the Apostolic version of the final four, struggling with what's to come and trying to make sense of it all. The three disciples can't even stay awake, and Jesus ends up praying by himself. The final four becomes one, One who prays to the Father, "Everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." The struggle leads to obedience and submission, and because of that obedience, the power of sin and death was defeated and salvation was made possible for all people for all time.
A couple of things about this night are interesting to me. First, Jesus doesn't want to walk this path alone. He asks his three closest disciples to join him, to sit with him in this hour of grief. No one should ever have to walk alone through life, especially not through the times of sorrow and struggle, decision and discernment. If you don't have a small group of friends who you can take with you to the "Garden," you need to find that group. Second, Jesus ends up alone in prayer but even then was never truly alone. In Luke 22:43 we see that immediately after Jesus prays this prayer, "Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him." Don't ever forget that you are never alone, even when it feels like it. God walks with you through the struggle and gives you the strength to carry on.