Journey Through Holy Week - The Garden of Gethsemane
Reading. Luke 22: 39-54
The account in the Gospels of what happened in the garden of Gethsemane must, I consider, be authentic for not even the most ardent follower of a leader such as Jesus was could invent a story like this.
The Garden lay on the slope of the Mount of Olives and derived its name from the oil press that once was there. We know from our reading of the Gospel narratives that Jesus loved this place. He was a frequent visitor, using it as a retreat from the busyness of the city streets in Jerusalem. No doubt Jesus used it as a place of rest and recuperation – a quiet haven for prayer, and a rendezvous for meeting people. No doubt Jesus also used the Garden as a place to bring his disciples together to sit around him whilst he taught them.
Those of us who live busy lives in towns and cities know what a park or garden can do for our personal wellbeing. The garden of Gethsemane did all that for Jesus and, as it turned out, it was the last place in his life on earth to which he was free to go.
The last supper in the Upper Room ended, a hymn was sung, and Jesus and the eleven disciples that remained after the defection of Judas made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing that Judas had gone to betray him, Jesus could have changed the venue. That he chose not to is, I consider, further evidence that Jesus was not a victim of circumstance; he gave his life willingly for the world he loved.
On the way to the Garden Jesus further shocked and upset his eleven disciples with the announcement that this would be the last time that they would be all together.
Once inside the Garden Jesus told his disciples to wait whilst he went on further into the Garden, taking with him the three disciples who were closest to him, Peter, James, and John. Then, even these three were told to remain whilst Jesus went on further, alone, to pray.
It is in the Garden, the place of rest and refreshment, that Jesus’ vulnerability surfaces. Most of us shrink from the prospect of physical pain; most of us can tolerate only a limited awareness of mans inhumanity to man. Most Christians shudder at the thought of being abandoned by God. And Jesus was human. In the garden he shrank from the pain and torture he was about to endure.
What really was the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane? Was it apprehension about the impending crucifixion? We can understand this. Who is there who does not fear physical pain? Jesus was a human being so does it surprise us if the night before his crucifixion was one of horror? And that he was tortured and terrified by it brings him closer to the level at which we live. Jesus was not impervious to the thought of pain, nor are we.
It is all too easy to see the crucifixion exclusively in terms of physical torture and this, I think, is a mistake. The physical torture was horrible enough but in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus suffered another kind of torture, the awfulness of which we shall never be able to fully understand however much of personal heartbreak we have experienced. Jesus was crucified by it, not only in body, but in soul, and the crucifixion in soul took place in the garden he loved
No doubt the three disciples, Peter, James and John, could just see Jesus ahead of them and hear him and what they saw and heard must have terrified them. They had never seen anything like it on the part of Jesus. Normally so strong, so master of every and any circumstance he was now so completely crumpled up. He fell to the ground, flat on his face. If this was praying to his heavenly Father it was unbelievable. Half hidden, those three disciples caught the words of his praying, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, but not my will but thine be done”.
These words must ever be in the forefront of our own prayers. Difficult though it may sound we should never ask God to do what we want but to bring ourselves to do what he wants. Time and time again we feel our prayers have gone unanswered and we question the value of praying at all. Could it be, however, that sometimes our prayers are unanswered so that we may be stripped of our self-concern? Prayer is not getting God to do what we want but getting round to asking what he wants. “Thy will be done,” that is what Jesus prayed in the Garden.
So if you are at a crossroads today, with an important decision or choice to make, ask God to give you the courage to make your decision in the way Jesus did, by seeking God’s will in the situation. We think of others, too, particularly those who struggle with temptations, those facing pain and shrinking from it, those caught up in the world’s evils. Hold them to Christ who knows what it means to struggle and to win.
LET US PRAY
Servant-Christ, we follow you into the garden,
to watch with you.
Help us to be ever vigilant
for signs of the dawning of your day;
to struggle unsparingly to understand,
and to be obedient to your perfect will.