Growing up in the 60s, Easter week for me and my two older sisters was often about the excitement of getting a new dress, white hat and gloves, and shiny white shoes to wear to church on Easter morning. My mother was a gifted seamstress, so our dresses were always one-of-a-kind and couldn’t be bought in stores. For some unknown reason our Easter candy was hidden in our father’s fedoras (instead of baskets) around the house. We’d squeal with joy when we found our treasure.
But those are not my only sweet memories of childhood Easters. I was a pastor’s daughter, and our family’s Easter was mainly focused on the joy and wonder of the empty tomb and all that our Lord Jesus purchased for us through His death and resurrection. It was always my mother’s favorite time of year, and she’d often sit at the piano and fill our home with beautiful old hymns like “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” during Easter week. My favorite Easter Sunday memory was when, at just six years old, I chose to follow Jesus as my Savior as Mama led me in prayer.
Decades later as a women’s ministry leader in my local church, I began to lose sight of preparing my own heart for Easter in the midst of the busy ministry season. The staff focused on preparing the worship service and the church for the arrival of 10,000 people (many first-time guests) and then welcoming and serving them during the worship services.
Our pastor became burdened for us, his staff, and I am forever grateful that one year he encouraged us the week before Easter to push pause on all the distractions of ministry leadership. He challenged us to prioritize spending time in the Word during that week. He handed out a seven-day Bible reading plan to help us walk with Jesus during the last week of His life before His excruciating death and triumphant resurrection.
During that time of dwelling deeply in His Word, it was as if I was sitting at the table with Jesus and others while Mary of Bethany anointed His feet in worship. Then I was singing “Hosanna!” with the crowd as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. I watched Him clear the temple in righteous anger, and then I gazed at Jesus and His disciples partaking of the Last Supper.
When I read our Savior’s heart-wrenching prayers to His Father in Gethsemane while His disciples slept on their watch, I couldn’t leave that scene. I was undone. Though I had known the story since I was a little girl, I saw it with new eyes that day. At first, I judged the disciples, incredulous that they would fall asleep over and over again when all Jesus asked of them was to keep watch with Him on His darkest night.
This is what I journaled that day . . .
While They Were Sleeping
It seemed like a simple ask of those closest to Him . . . “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt. 26:38 NIV).
Keep watch . . . with me.
Imagine asking the same thing of those closest to you, and they just fall asleep!
While they were sleeping, Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
While they were sleeping, He was alone, face pressed to the ground as He cried out to His Father.
While they were sleeping, His anguish and sorrow was so deep that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
While they were sleeping, He went to them three times, hoping to find them keeping watch with Him.
While they were sleeping, an “angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him” (Luke 22:43 NIV).
Did an angel have to be sent because those closest to Jesus were sleeping on their watch?
Imagine if, instead of finding them sleeping, He found them on their faces, crying out to His Father God . . . for Him.
Imagine if, instead of sleeping, they stayed close to Him, wiping the blood from His brow, hearing Him pray, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39 NIV).
Imagine if they prayed over Him like the band of brothers He needed that night.
Instead, the third time Jesus returned to them, He said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matt. 26:45–46 NIV).
And while He was still talking . . . Judas arrived with a crowd and a kiss.
Leader, Keep Watch This Easter
Though I was critical of the disciples falling asleep on their watch, deep down I knew. I too would have fallen asleep on that same watch.
Dear women’s leaders, let’s commit to keep watch in these days leading up to Easter. Let’s keep watch over our own hearts as we get caught up in the too-busy season of ministry and family gatherings at Easter. Let’s keep watch by walking with Jesus through the Word. Dwell in the stories of His last week before He died and rose again for us. (Revive Our Hearts offers a 10-day Easter Preparation Guide to meditate on Jesus’ trial, His last seven words from the cross, and His resurrection.)
Let’s keep watch together in prayer for the many seekers who will come through our church doors on Easter weekend. Ask Him to give you His eyes and heart for them.
And let’s continue to keep watch after Easter Sunday, obeying our Savior’s Great Commission, which He gave to us before He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God in triumph.
Oh, what a privilege it is to serve our risen King of kings until He returns! May this Easter be filled with new awe and wonder as we serve and worship Him together!