I am told this has been an especially cold and wet winter here in North Carolina, but now the promise of Spring beckons me. Wanting to participate with nature, before the moving truck even arrived, I planted daffodils around the base of an old oak tree in my front yard. There is rich symbolism in caring for and tending a garden. Gardens tend to turn my eyes heavenward: the scents, the sounds, the soil, the solitude and of course, the birds ~ all of which beckon me to pray. Apparently, Jesus liked praying in gardens too; when he was near Jerusalem,
he retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Most often, we think of that garden as the beginning of the end, as the suffering in that garden concludes in the crucifixion of Jesus. O, but first, let's take a closer look at that Thursday night.
Imagine you are one of the disciples, and you are just finishing the Passover meal... what a night it has been. Unsettling. Disturbing. Urgent.
Judas has left the table as you look from face to face, all wondering what could have had happened to your brother. Then with a stiffened resolve, Jesus stands to leave the Upper Room, walking down the stairs out into the night and crossing the short distance of the Kidron Valley to the Mt. of Olives. All eleven of you get up to follow him, certain he is heading to the place you often go with him to get by yourselves, and indeed, Jesus stops near the bottom of the mount in the familiar garden.
He looks at you and the other disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He takes along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and suddenly seems sorrowful and troubled. Jesus turns to look at you, "I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me." Going a little farther, he falls facedown and you hear him pray, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
You have never seen this Jesus before.
What has come over him? He is visibly shaken to his core.
Only one word aptly describes his state: agony.
Even so, it has been a long day, and you have just had four cups of wine with the Passover meal - it is late, and you just can't stay awake. 'Jesus comes back to you and the others and all are sleeping. He asks Peter, "So, couldn't you stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray, so that you won't enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Again, a second time, he turns around to step away and pray, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." He comes back again, only to find all of you asleep again!
Once more, he steps away to pray a third time, saying the same thing once more - 'isn't there another way, Father?! Then he comes back to all of you and says, "Are you still sleeping and resting? See, the time is near. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up; let's go. See, my betrayer is near." Matthew 26.36-46, adapted to first person, except for Jesus' quotes.
Oh, Jesus ... what are you experiencing, what are you seeing?
It is not just the horror of the crucifixion that awaits Jesus, but he is seeing now that even as he cries out to him, even as he pleads with him . . . his Father remains silent.
And further, he knows the moment will soon come when God the Father
turns his back on him as all of our sins are upon him--Jesus is recognizing the agony of total separation from God.
Only the gospel writer, Luke the physician, writes of Jesus' agony causing his sweat to become like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22.44) It seems that around the sweat glands there are multiple blood vessels in a net-like form; under the pressure of great stress, the vessels constrict. Then as the anxiety passes, the blood vessels dilate to the point of rupture and the blood goes into the sweat glands. As the sweat glands produce a lot of sweat, it pushes the blood to the surface - coming out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat. The clinical term for this is "hematohidrosis."
Now today . . . what are we to take from that Garden, where our Lord prayed, crying out to the Father? Hmmm.
It is true, the horror of the cross began in the Garden, in Gethsemane, which in Hebrew means "olive press." Jesus was being sorely pressed - he seemed afraid and he was totally alone. The realization of the wrath of God that he would face as our sins were upon him knocked him to the ground.
And it causes me to ask myself - how could anyone think that God would let
Jesus go through this torture if there was another way?
And if 'being a good person' is enough to get to heaven,
then why in the world would Jesus, the Son of God,
equal in all ways with the Father, endure such agony?
And let us not miss Jesus' resolve to be served up, betrayed by his own disciple, and go willingly into his arrest, torture and execution.
The Garden of Gethsemane displayed Jesus' great sacrificial love for us ~ his love for you, his love for me.
If you had not discovered it before, you have now . . . in the garden, his heart.
I can't even think about Jesus being in the garden, without this song coming to mind:
There's never been another like Jesus,