Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
A garden and moonlight,
Disciples asleep and one a betrayer.
Sweat and blood,
Olives and a cup.
Gardens are special places in the Bible. Genesis tells us that we were made to live in a garden, a serene place of fruitfulness and natural beauty where men and women could meet with God. At the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation there is a new garden at the heart of the New Jerusalem. A river of life flows through it and a healing tree grows in it. Somewhere between these two we find Jesus, late at night, with his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. It is here in this garden that we see Jesus at his weakest and saddest moment.
Most of us have a rather unbalanced view of Jesus’s divinity and thus a reduced sense of his humanity. Without necessarily spelling it out we feel that it was almost easy for him to overcome problems, temptations and weaknesses because he was the Son of God and had extra powers and perceptions. We forget that he was also an ordinary, fleshy man with all the weaknesses and insecurities that come with it. In Gethsemane we see Jesus at his most vulnerable and human. His closest friends and supporters have fallen asleep on him, one of his disciples is leading an armed mob to hunt him down, looking ahead he sees the cross and here in his most desperate moment he almost snaps.
I once visited the Garden of Gethsemane and there I viewed an olive press. A sack of olives was thrown into a stone trough and a long beam of wood laid over them to squash them into pulp and force the oil out. When the oil stopped running a heavy stone weight was hung on the end of the beam to increase the pressure and squeeze more oil out. After a while the oil again stopped running so another stone was added and the pressure increased once more. I have always seen this as a picture of what happened to Jesus. He is being gradually almost crushed. The tears and sweat flow out of him like olive oil or blood. He calls out to his Father about removing the cup of suffering but his final words are ‘yet not my will but yours be done’.
Jesus in the garden comes at the end of his ministry and it acts like a matching bookend to his time in the wilderness which came at the beginning. In both cases Jesus was completely alone, his humanity was tested to the extreme, he almost snaps but he eventually overcomes and keeps on the course set for him by his Father.
The Father laid out the road but it still needed Jesus to accept and to agree to walk it.
It is a bit like Frodo’s journey in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. As soon as he left the comfort of the Shire he was into the Wilderness of Weathertop and from there the road led to the threatening darkness of Mordor.
‘But long ago he rode away,
And where he dwelleth none can say.
For into darkness fell his star,
In Mordor where the shadows are.’
- If we are following Jesus are we willing to follow him into the garden?
- What sort of pressure can we take?
- How isolated is our isolation?
- And what does it feel like when our friends fall asleep?
As Jesus knelt before you in the garden,
So I kneel before you now.
May you give me strength in my weakness,
Your presence in my aloneness.
And the help of an angel,
When my friends let me down,
That I might be true to you.