Many churches observe an Easter vigil. This service is usually held at night after sunset on Holy Saturday and before sunrise on Easter Sunday. In some, the mood is somber as believers reflect on Christ’s death and burial. In others, the mood is celebratory as they serve communion and practice baptism.
In today’s text the disciples observed a different kind of vigil. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus asked the disciples to “keep watch” with Him as He prayed in Gethsemane (v. 38). The mood just prior to this was unsettling, as Jesus celebrated His last Passover with them. The disciples bickered amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest (see Luke 22:24). Peter argued with Jesus when He washed his feet (John 13:8). They were deeply disturbed when Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him (Matt. 26:22). It must also have unnerved them when Jesus changed the traditional Passover liturgy and instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26–29).
Peter had boldly declared that he would die for Christ. But it turned out that he could not even stay awake for an hour (v. 40). Jesus had already warned Peter that he would deny Him three times (Matt. 26:34). Here was a chance for Peter to seek God’s protection from the temptation that lay before him. It was also a chance to serve the Savior he loved. Jesus had asked much of the disciples during the course of His ministry, but this was the first time He had asked for something for Himself. This was an unparalleled opportunity to comfort the One who had been their comforter. But Peter and the rest of the disciples slept on and Jesus wrestled alone. Their physical sleep reflected their spiritual stupor.