“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” For the few moments I have this morning, that is what I want us to pay attention to—Jesus in a deserted place, a quiet place, praying.
This sentence is an oasis in the gospel of Mark, the gospel where the word immediately becomes the catch word. Everything happens immediately. It is one rushed event after another in this shortest of the gospels. You can hear it read aloud in about an hour. Before and after this quiet moment, there is so much noise, so much mayhem.
As soon as (immediately) they left the synagogue and the healing of the man possessed, they go to Simon and Andrew’s house where Simon’s mother-in-law is ill and Jesus healed her. And after dinner, the whole city gathered around the door. He cured many, and cast out many demons. Can you see the press of people wanting this miracle man to fix them? Can you hear the murmur of the crowd? Can you feel the mass of bodies, trying to see, trying to be recognized, trying to be at the front of the line? It must have been hours. And somehow, finally, the door was closed and they all found a place to shut their eyes and get some sleep.
And while he is in that quiet place, Simon and Andrew and James and John, the ones who had just been called to follow, the ones who had left their boats and stepped into this “other world” of rock-star status, they were hunting for him. Where did he go? Was it all a dream? Had they done something wrong—had he left without them? There were people in the village who hadn’t been at the house last night, and they wanted their turn. Where was he? You get a sense of the frenetic energy—how often do you say you are “hunting” for someone?
And in between these two high drama scenes—lies our sentence. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
Now this deserted place was not like the wilderness that the Spirit had driven him into right after his baptism. This deserted place doesn’t have a Tempter, doesn’t have wild beasts, doesn’t have angels. At least, we are not told so. This is a place you can find in the darkness, that time when the sky is starting to lighten, but the sun isn’t yet up, that time when the world is hushed, and the fever of all the crowds and all the needs and all the demands is stilled, that time when if you are very quiet, in that deserted place, you might hear still, small voice of God.
I was thinking of quiet places as I watched Air Force One lift off on Friday for the first time going to Delaware. We all need to have quiet places where we can regroup, we can renew, we can relax. Today, our reading is reminding us that we need to make time for quiet in our lives. We need to find time, even if it means getting up when it is still very dark (or staying up very late, whenever is best for you), yes, we need to find time for God.
That message, for it is a common message in Scripture, is always relevant. I mean, we have just lived through 10 months of a deserted place, at least deserted in the sense of the norms and the ebb and flow of life. Maybe it has been a deserted place, a quiet place, a too quiet place, if you don’t have anyone else in your household. Maybe it has been a desert place in the sense that you can’t get away from the kids having to be “in school” and you having to be at work, and someone has to make three meals a day, and how do you find the things you need and still stay safe from this virus. If Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, and cable news are to be believed—we have not spent a lot of time, this pandemic time, being with God. We are so overwhelmed with the loneliness or the stressfulness or the anxiety of it all, that we want to lose ourselves in Tiger King or Bridgerton or that TV series we’re now able to watch “from the beginning.” All our meetings on Zoom exhaust us. The country says it has “COVID fatigue.” Maybe that is because we haven’t taken enough time to get up in the morning while it is very dark, to get to a deserted place, and pray.
What happens when we pray? What happens when we take a few moments to connect to the Creator of all? What happened for Jesus? We know that it was like a recharging station for him. He comes out of prayer times “fired up and ready to go.” We know that is seemed to clear his brain and help him be focused on where he needed to go and what he needed to do. Did you notice that when SAJJ try to lead him back to their village, to take care of more people there, he answers “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do”?
But to picture Jesus in prayer, is always to have Gethsemene in mind. Prayer wasn’t just recharging. Prayer wasn’t just a reminder of the what and when and who. Prayer was a baring of the soul—when things are hard to understand, when you just can’t see around the next bend, when it all seems too much. Maybe there was some of that in the quiet place as well.
But just as we yearn to see one another face to face, unmasked —so should we yearn to have quiet time with God. And the blessing is that in good times or in bad, in pandemic or not, alone or too together, that quiet place is always waiting, the One we can talk to, the One who we can listen for, is always waiting. In the morning, or in the evening. Whether it has been a few minutes ago or a lifetime. “There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God. A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God. O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us, who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God.”
May we find that place, may we find that space, today and everyday. Alleluia, Amen.