Gethsemane means 'the garden of oil' and is found on the slopes of the Mount of Olives to the East of Jerusalem. For us it is often associated with a 'garden of tears' and it is a place where Jesus knows what it is to be betrayed and deserted by those closest to him. I want to reflect on just a few words he utters shortly before he is handed over to the authorities.

 

 

"  And going a little further, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass from him. He said Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want" ( Mk.14: 35-36.)

There are times in all our lives when we feel desperate and we need a way out. At present we are gripped by a pandemic from which there is no easy way out. We have to endure it. In the Garden of Gethsemane we know that Christ too understands what desperation feels like. It shows the very human face of Jesus to the world and its truth has echoed down the centuries. He is so desperate that he throws himself to the ground, crushed almost, but held in prayer.

I have often wondered if Jesus knew how things were going to turn out. It would seem that Mk 8:31-33 and 9: 31 gives a clear pointer that he did know and that events would be very demanding at the end. And yet here we have the very human Christ in absolute turmoil and who can blame him. A few short months ago none of us would have believed we were to find ourselves in the state we are in. The world in lockdown and thousands dying. It is not too much to say that we are collectively and individually facing our own Gethsemane.

A friend of mine told me once 'Jesus was a great teacher and moral philosopher, but that's all'. I know many people have been martyred for their beliefs, but if this Jesus knew that what he was offering was merely a form of practical ethics and nothing more, then why go to a cross? This Jesus would have known that if he defied the Romans and allowed himself to to be painted as a dangerous revolutionary, that his ending would have been brutal and full of pain. The New Testament portrait of Jesus is not of a  fanatic or charismatic fantasist deluding others, while keeping his fraudulent self from those closest to him. To go to a cross in those circumstances would have been the work of a maniac and Gethsemane reveals not a deluded soul, a tortured psyche, but the profound realisation of the reality of Jesus' relationship in God. The will of God and the purpose of Christ are entwined and inseparable.Then comes the words which rock me. He sheds every aspect of self and commits himself to the way of God. He accepts that God can achieve anything, for nothing is impossible in God, but that for God's purposes to be accomplished that he has to throw himself into the love of God. Nothing else will do.

I like to be in control. I find it hard to let-go. If the last few weeks have taught me anything, it is that I am deluding myself if I think I have any real control of anything. I have come to realise that I am in God's hands and that being in God's hands is fine. It is as if, whether we live or whether we die, blessed be the name of the Lord. It is in the outworking of God's will that any sense of peace really comes. In following Christ's example we find ourselves embraced as imitators of Christ.

Thomas a Kempis, who had some influence over the Revd John Wesley, noted in his spiritual classic 'The Imitation of Christ' that to learn the way of peace and true liberty - ' Always long and pray for the will of God to be fully realised in your life....the man who does this walks in the land of peace and quietness.'

For me it has been a salutary finding that in the enforced withdrawal from the busyness of life my prayer-life has deepened, my reading of Scripture has become more vivid and my dependence on Christ never greater. We as Christians need to learn from our present experience that in the garden of tears we are anointed with the blessing of Christ's humility. We find God not through the crammed nature of our diaries, but in the solitude of our being dependent on Christ's example. We find the peace of God not in frantic busyness, but in the simple things of the kingdom of God. We find love in God through the outworking of God's love in our conduct and caring. Christ's Gethsemane is a garden of hope for all of us because, ultimately, Christ was right nothing, even in the bleakest moments, is impossible in God. It is in that post-Gethsemane light that we will endure.

Every blessing,

Simon