Part 7 of the series “Lent and Easter with Game of Thrones
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
April 17, 2014—Maundy Thursday
Mark 14:22-49

Illustration by Rachel Ternes

Mark 14:22–49 • While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.” After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.   Jesus said to them, “You will all falter in your faithfulness to me. It is written, I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep will go off in all directions. But after I’m raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else stumbles, I won’t.”
But Jesus said to him, “I assure you that on this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
But Peter insisted, “If I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.” And they all said the same thing.
Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”
Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words. And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”
Suddenly, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came with a mob carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests, legal experts, and elders. His betrayer had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss, and take him away under guard.”
As soon as he got there, Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi!” Then he kissed him. Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
One of the bystanders drew a sword and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear. Jesus responded, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like an outlaw? Day after day, I was with you, teaching in the temple, but you didn’t arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”


Bad things happen at night.

I suppose I say that because I have a fear of night hard-wired into me. There is a primal fear of the night that we have deep within us. Even as a night owl, I recognize that but for electricity to light our streets, power our entertainment devices, and hold the dark at bay, night would not nearly be so pleasant a thing.

A lot of literature makes use of the night as the nemesis. Entire subgenres of literature, like horror, make effective use of the night. Especially vampire movies where the night turns into a time of vulnerability and dread. Science fiction has even made use of the night as a time of terror, sometimes using the depths of space as an endless night.


And so it is that our Gospel lesson takes us into the realm of night just as the narrative begins to take a downward turn. Jesus came into Jerusalem in the light of day, taught in the temple during the day, preached, healed, and prophesied during the day. As the sun began to set on the fifth day of the week, he and his disciples began their celebration of the Passover. But then the night begins.

After the meal, the Jesus and the disciples go to a place called Gethsemane where Jesus instructs them to sit while he prays. And there he begins to pray to God that the cup of his testing and suffering be taken from him. And it is there, at Gethsemane, that while Jesus suffers and prayer, his disciples do not keep watch, but instead fall asleep.

Jesus is left alone, to stand watch at a time of trial and testing in the dark of the night.


In the world of Game of Thrones that we have been using as a theological sounding board throughout Lent, the “realms of men” are protected by a massive edifice: a three hundred mile wall of ice. Much like Hadrian’s wall separating Roman Britain from the Picts to the north, it forms the northern border of the Realm and cuts across the entire continent, dotted by fortifications along its span. Unlike Hadrian’s wall it rises seven hundred feet in the air and was made by giants using magic.

The men who guard the wall are not ordinary legionaries but are a dedicated order who give up their past lives and take a vow to be a part of defense of the Realm for the rest of their lives. These brothers dress in all black and are known, appropriately enough, as the Night’s Watch. After a period of initiation and preparation, the men of the Night’s Watch are assigned an order—rangers, stewards, or builders—and prepare for a lifetime of guarding the realm by taking the Oath.

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

In taking the vow, those who would commit to protecting the “realms of men” pledge, among other things, to “wear no crowns and win no glory” and to “live and die at my post.”


Christ goes to Gethsemane that night aware that the darkness is about to deepen. That he is about to be betrayed. That he is about to be abused. Mocked. Scorned. Beaten. Rejected. And ultimately crucified. He will wear no crown and win no glory—at least, not the earthly kind. He does not go eagerly, but he does go willingly. Willingly for some greater purpose than his own power, than his own glory. For the purpose of salvation for all people. To demonstrate God’s fidelity to us in the deepest, darkest part of the night.

Far more than simply an evolutionary holdover, where the night represents the unseen threat, the predator who moves in the darkness, the unknown and the frightening, night can represent all that is broken with the world. “Night” is often equated with tragedy and darkness. Elie Wiesel’s famous book on the Holocaust was called Night. One commentator notes that:

“…night symbolizes the complete loss of hope that befalls the Jews. It also represents the loss of faith, the feeling on the part of many Jews that they have been deserted by God; there is no divine light left in the world.”[1]

We speak of civilizations descending into night when they collapse. “Night” is the contrast to the day, when things are going well and we are happy and in successful. We speak of the years before death as our “twilight” years, the years just before the night of death. Dylan Thomas’ famous poem Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night equates “night” with death and the “dying of the light.”

Night represents all the things that we fear, all the darkness that we carry around with us, all the brokenness, all the anxiety, all the loneliness, and even the emptiness of death itself.

And into this dark night—a night of betrayal, of danger, and death—Christ willingly goes. And not just into Gethsemane, but into all the nights of our lives.

Once again we find that we are not alone in the darkness. Christ stands with us in the dark places of our lives, those places that terrify us, those places of emptiness and longing, betrayal and doubt, anguish and fear. In all those places, there stands Christ, willing to confront the darkness with us and for us.

Christ becomes the guardian on the walls of the dark nights of our hearts. Standing beside us and vowing, “Night gathers—and now my watch begins.”


In a little while after the communion, we are going to engage in the ritual of the Tenebrae. The name of the service comes from the Latin word for darkness. It is an ancient tradition of reading from the passion story as we extinguish candles throughout the narrative until we are left in darkness. We will read the story of Christ’s suffering and we will enter into the darkness, into the night.

In the darkness, we encounter what frightens us most but it is in the darkness that we, too, commit to something greater than ourselves. We, too, commit to the light in the midst of the darkness. In the midst of the brokenness of the world, in the midst of our own struggles, our own doubts, our own fears, we commit to witnessing to love, to faith, to hope. We commit to standing watch with Christ in the night: for all those in the night of oppression, in the night of injustice, in the night of alienation, in the night of bigotry, in the night of want, in the night of fear. For them we stand, as Christ stood for us.

The world is still in need of redemption. The story of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane reminds us of the brokenness of the world and of the darkness that still occupies so many corners of it. And in that darkness, we are called to model the Christ who went before us.

Night gathers—and now our watch begins.



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