O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my mouth and in the thoughts we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.
At the gate at the entrance of Jerusalem you can look up and see an indentation in the rock that looks a little bit like a skull. As you enter the gate, if you look up you can see a green, verdant garden: the Garden of Gethsemane.
A garden can be a place of beauty and peace and quiet reflection. A certain tranquility of spirit often accompanies those who withdraw from their busy day to stroll slowly through a garden surrounded by plants and flowers patiently growing in their natural setting.
We are told that for Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane frequently served as a quiet place of peaceful reflection and especially for prayers with His heavenly Father. Luke 22:39 implies that He went as a frequent visitor to this garden on the side of the Mount of Olives. But this garden was different this time Jesus visited it.
The word ‘Gethsemane’ means ‘oil press’ – a very appropriate name since it sits at the base of the Mount of Olives. Here in this place was where the olives, a main staple of Judean life, were squeezed into oil.
But as Jesus visited his peaceful garden during Passover week it was different – it was not the olives that were being pressed.
Jesus had arrived triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem on Sunday, greeted by the waving palms and echoes of ‘hosanna’. What a wonderful celebration and beginning for the Passover. His disciples were with him and there surely was a sense of festival in the air. But by Thursday, all this had changed.
First, Jesus gathered his disciples around him and celebrated the Passover meal, what was to become the ‘last supper’. Before the meal, he washed all the disciples’ feet, much like we will be doing in a few minutes. In this action, the Son of God took upon himself to the role of a lowly servant, washing and drying the dusty, dirty feet of the disciples. Not an expected duty of someone who is a King.
Then they all sat and ate the Passover meal. We are all familiar with daVinci’s Last Supper. Looking at the painting, it looks like everyone is thoroughly enjoying themselves, having a good time without a care in the world. But not everyone. . . Jesus knew what would be coming and Judas Iscariot may have been suffering twinges of conscience for what he was about to do. But looking at the painting without knowledge of the events to come, one would think they were having a great time.
After dinner, Jesus and his disciples left for the Garden of Gethsemane to meditate and pray as they often did.
Now, this was not a large area, only about one acre, so they surely were within sight and sound of each other. But Jesus wanted three closer to Him as he went to pray – he asked Peter, James and John and go with him to a quieter place for him to pray. You can imagine that the noise of the rest of the disciples, having eaten and drunk their fill, was a distraction for anyone who wanted to do some intense, focused praying. So Jesus and the three men went a little further into the garden.
I would imagine that Jesus wanted Peter, James and John close by to protect him, to be able to warn him if anyone approached, to be there with him. I know when I am facing a major decision or know what is coming is not really what I want to do, it helps to have close friends near. Jesus must have felt the same way.
Jesus knelt in prayer, knowing what was about to transpire, praying that this burden might be taken from Him. He was alone and so lonely – although he had hinted of the upcoming events for several days, the disciples DID NOT GET it!
After praying he returned to Peter, James and John to find them asleep. Here he in deepest sorrow and need, and they were ASLEEP! Think how lonely He must have felt – those who were closest to Him couldn’t even stay awake long enough to share in his agony! He scolded them for sleeping, asking them to remain with Him as he prayed again.
After He prayed a second time, He returned to again find them asleep. Imagine how alone and rejected He must have felt. Those whom He trusted again had let him down. . . AGAIN. They could not comprehend the enormity and significance of the events to come.
So Jesus returned to that solitary spot in the garden to pray a third time.
He was more and more, finding himself in the ever increasing pressure to fulfill his destiny. And He was totally alone. Only He knew what was to come. He went to the garden craving fellowship with his heavenly Father. He had prayed a heart-wrenching prayer:
- “Father, don’t forsake me now. Let this cup pass, for to drink it I’ll have to cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!’ To live apart from you is death. Don’t leave me now.” (Luke 22:42)
We are told in Scripture that Jesus wished this burden be removed from Him. That He be allowed to live out his life, preaching and teaching with His disciples. But He knew that was not to be – no matter how much he wished it. He must fulfill his destiny.
Being the Son of God would not save him.
When Judas Iscariot, accompanied by the mob, appeared, Peter cut the ear of the servant in a feeble attempt to give support to Jesus and defend him. But after Jesus’ rebuke, everyone left. The forces of evil seem to have the upper hand. Faced with that prospect the disciples succumb to fear and forsook Jesus to the fate of his captors.
Jesus was left alone . . .
- alone in the clutches of the enemy,
abandoned by all those He had come to save.
Yet Jesus understands that He must do this alone. . . there is no one else who can bear the cross or share His pain and death. He alone was the Chosen One. And He accepts this.
He is the servant who will give His life for all mankind.
He will bear this so that all may have salvation and live in the Kingdom of God.
He will show to all of us the glory of God and God’s love!
So as we remember that wretched night of our Lord’s suffering, let us begin to wash each other’s feet remembering Jesus’ words:
- So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (John 1:14-15)
And later as we gather around the table, let us remember the word of Jesus:
- Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19)
On this solemn night, let us remember the pain and suffering of our Lord, and our redemption bought by that pain and suffering. . .
And the Love of Jesus.
Delivered at Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH 20 March 2008