They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-36 NIV)
We are entering the final stretch of this marathon of Lent. Today, the liturgy invites us to recall the Last Supper along with Jesus’ radical example of washing the feet of his own disciples. After the meal, they depart for a nearby olive grove. Jesus knows what lies ahead. He and his Father have rehearsed the plan, yet Jesus still has to go through the physical, mental and spiritual anguish associated with the Father’s intention to save the world through his beloved son’s death.
As we get closer to the glorious finish, we enter the days when facing the betrayal, the denial, the excruciating pain and the final breath of our Savior on the cross, seem insurmountable. To be perfectly honest, this is the point in the race where I want to quit. I can’t bear to watch. Like the disciples, I am exhausted and I just want to sleep. But Jesus invites me to pray. To overcome the anguish that begs me to just skip the cross and get on to the empty tomb.
Today, I came across an old hymn called Go to Dark Gethsemane (James Montgomery). Each stanza seems to reflect the path of the next four days. I was confronted with my lack of peace that results from an ongoing struggle with unbelief, pride and selfishness. And each step of the way, Jesus instructs me through his life experience that these temptations can be overcome.
In the garden, Jesus overcomes unbelief with prayer. It must have felt unbelievable that his disciples couldn’t keep watch with him. The unspoken question, “Is all this pain really necessary?” hovers on this dark night of his soul. He confesses to his Father that his flesh would welcome relief, would welcome a different plan, but by wrestling through his anguish, he releases his will to his Father.
I leave you with the first stanza of the hymn to pass this hour with Jesus:
Go to dark Gethsemane, you that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, Watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away; learn of Jesus to pray.