Jesus Meets Anxiety
Maundy Thursday Service
I don’t know how well-acquainted each of you are with anxiety. Some of us may deal with it constantly; some of us may have bouts with it here and there; and maybe some of us don’t even know what I mean by the word anxiety.
And in case that is you, let me explain: To be anxious is to experience a loss of security. It’s to be in a state of unease and dread and misgiving about something that you care about. If worry is an action or reaction to our circumstances, anxiety is a mindset, a feeling, that refuses to isolate itself on one thing, but instead tries to poison everything we value. Anxiety will work its way into you and try to uproot whatever it is that you have planted in your life. Everything gets knocked off center. It will make you doubt. It will make you envision the loss of everything you care about. It will make you lose your feeling of security by the realization that you have so much to lose. And you don’t ask for this; it just comes. It happens.
And strangest of all, when it comes to anxiety, is that we keep trying to tell ourselves that it’s irrational, that it’s silly, that the things we fret over will not really happen. We try to tell ourselves this, but we know — and this is the strange part — we know that some children do grow up to make terrible decisions, and some spouses do die in car wrecks, and some unmarried women never get married, and some long-time employees do get let go, and some airplanes do blow up, and some friendships do end, and some church plants do fail. And we can try to convince ourselves that it probably won’t happen to us, but there is still the chance that it might, that it could, that it wouldn’t take all that much for things to go very wrong. And so anxiety may quiet down for a while, but it’s still there.
Which means, we have more thinking work to do, and eventually this means that we have to take inventory on all the things that anxiety has infected: our children, our marriage, our friends, our dreams. And then we have to go face-to-face with our anxieties, and we have to ask the question: Which of these things that I’m anxious of losing can I not live without?
And we know that when we ask this question, and we walk through all these things one by one, it will reveal our idols. This is when we remember that if there is anything other than God that we can’t live without it’s because we’ve let that thing take the place of God. So we didn’t mean to get into idolatry, but here we are. We’re just trying to deal with our anxiety, and we ended up with God. And we think about God because he really is the only one that we cannot live without. Everything else could go, and it might, but not God. He isn’t going anywhere. He is all we really need.
Well, in case you are new to anxiety, just so you know, it never really follows such an orderly course. We can try our hardest to talk our way out of anxiety, but the feelings themselves are real. Now, the feelings may not be true — our anxiety most times would not stand up to God-centered scrutiny — but a feeling that is felt is a feeling that is real. And therefore, what we need is not to just understand why we should not feel a certain way, but we need to know what to do when we feel that way.
Where Jesus Meets Us
And here is where Jesus meets us in Matthew 26.
Because what we find in Matthew 26 is that Jesus experiences the ultimate loss of security. Or in other words, Jesus lives out our anxieties. The anxious feelings that can be so real to us became true for him.
He saw him walking from a distance. Jesus is in the Garden with his disciples. Judas isn’t with him, but he is with his other disciples, and then he sees Judas coming his way from a distance, and with Judas is a mob of roughnecks with clubs and swords, and their holding their torches, and they come up to Jesus and Judas walks up to him and he kisses him on the cheek. And then this mob lays their hands on Jesus. They seize him, to take him away.
Judas was his friend. He was his friend. And then what? … what? … “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” They were his friends. His friends. And then what … what? …
“Hey, you were with Jesus” // “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Seriously, everyone, this guy was with Jesus” // “No! I wasn’t!”
“Hey man, look, we can hear the way you talk; we know you were with Jesus” // “Hell no, I don’t even know him.”
Peter was his friend. Peter was his closest friend.
These were the relationships around which Jesus had built his earthly ministry. And now Judas had betrayed him; the other disciples had abandoned him; and now Peter said he didn’t even know him. The loss of security that we might feel, the anxieties that are so real for us, became true for Jesus, but then it gets worse. He can live without his disciples. He doesn’t need his friends. All he really needs is God.
But then there is tomorrow. There is Friday, when, in a matter of hours from now, the Messiah who was betrayed, abandoned, and denied by his friends, is the Messiah who is forsaken by his God. Tomorrow afternoon, when Jesus was on the cross, in some way that we can’t quite comprehend, as the wrath of God was unleashed on Jesus, the Father turned his face away, and the world went dark. Jesus experienced what the psalmist describes in Psalm 88 . . .
Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. (verses 16–18)
Jesus was left all alone. He was abandoned in the truest sense so that we would not be. But that when we feel like we are abandoned, or that we might be abandoned, Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey, don’t feel that.” He says, “Hey, I know . . . I’ve been there. And because I went there alone you never will.”
And here is his Table. This Table is the opposite of abandonment. It’s about fellowship.
And for tonight, we are going to share the Table differently than we normally do. Rather than have the servers bring you the bread and the cup and us all wait to eat and drink together, we’re going to invite you to come forward and take the elements yourself.
And the reason we’re doing it this way is because back on the first Maundy Thursday, after Jesus and his disciples shared the Passover Meal, that’s when all the disciples scattered. They left Jesus and fled. And even though his disciples, including us, are inclined to leave him, Jesus calls us back to this Table again and again. So tonight, as his disciples, I want us to hear his call to fellowship, and I want us to get up and as we are walking down to take his body and his blood, we are answering his call. That’s what it means.
His body is the true bread, and his blood is the true drink. And he calls for us to come.