The first chapter of Mark’s gospel is a breathlessly busy one:
– First John the Baptist bursts onto the scene
– Then Jesus is baptised
– He’s in the wilderness
– He starts his public ministry
– He calls the first disciples
– He heals a man possessed
– [Today] He heals Simon’s mother-in-law and many others
– He starts his first preaching tour
– He heals a leper
– His fame grows, with crowds flocking to him
It’s a very fast pace, with the repeated use of the word “immediately” in the narrative.
But here, in today’s reading, we read about an intentional interlude that Jesus takes:
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (v35)
This is Jesus’ pattern, and it’s important.
Just as he went on a long 40-day solitary retreat in the wilderness after his baptism, so he took time apart on other occasions during his three years of ministry, to be alone with God. The last one he took was the night before he was arrested, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Times of withdrawal and silence for prayer were vital for Jesus.
And that’s what we’re going to do this morning.
I’d like to offer you a few minutes of guided meditation, ending with a period of silence, instead of pouring more words out in a sermon.
Not everyone is a natural contemplative. We’re not all comfortable with silent prayer. We all find our thoughts wandering and getting distracted or bored.
So I’ll guide you in a visualization first, so that there’s some mental material your mind can latch onto, if it needs something to occupy itself.
Start by sitting comfortably upright, with your feet flat on the floor, and your hands on your legs. Close your eyes, or focus them softly on something unmoving.
Take a couple of slower breaths in and out.
You might think of your breath as the gift of life from the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. So as you breathe in you’re being filled with life, and as you breathe out you’re letting go of tension, and relaxing.
Now begin by picturing yourself in your normal daily setting, doing something you usually do when you’re busy. Pick a typical scene. You might picture yourself at work, or at home, or out doing something. See this in your mind’s eye as clearly as possible: the colours, sights, sounds around you. The time of day. As if you’re watching a little movie of yourself.
Now imagine Jesus coming to join you there, wherever you are.
He’s come to invite you to a quiet place where you can be close to God together.
What does he look like? How does he invite you?
Picture yourself going to this special place with Jesus.
Where is it? Somewhere you know? Somewhere you’ve heard about?
Visualize yourself there with Jesus, in the presence of God.
You’ve left your busyness, your normal daily life, and together you and Jesus are in this safe, quiet, holy place to pray. You sit side by side in silence, for a few precious minutes.
You might find yourself sitting with a particular prayer silently in your heart. Or you might just rest in the silence. When your mind starts to wander, just bring it back to the scene – yourself with Jesus in the presence of God – and breathe gently.
[Silence for 5 minutes]
Now take a slower, deeper breath in and out.
We’ve come to the end of the silence.
Picture Jesus leading you back to your daily life, and back here, to this church.
Be aware of sitting here quietly.
And be aware of anything that struck you during that meditation: a feeling or a thought. You don’t need to analyze it, just notice.
Now, when you feel ready, bring the palms of your hands together in prayer position, bow your head, and quietly say Amen to end.
Prayer, especially silent prayer, draws our hearts to the quiet centre where God dwells. We need to go there often.