The Agony of Jesus

Read Mark 14.32-50

A garden is often a pleasant place. There is joy to be found in digging the earth, cultivating the soil, and reaping the harvest. Gardens are places where people go to commune with God and nature.

The garden at Gethsemane was located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus and his disciples had shared the Passover feast. It was just outside the temple walls, likely a place where people prepared themselves for worship at the temple. It was a place of prayer. Jesus goes to the garden at Gethsemane to pray. The disciples go with him. He asks Peter, James and John to stand watch over him as he prays. It is late. They were tired from the day’s travel. Their stomachs were full from the Passover feast. As Jesus prays, slowly they drift off to sleep.

The quiet of the disciples is in painful contrast to the agony of Jesus. Jesus knows that his entry into Jerusalem will not be a victory celebration, but a time of suffering. Jesus is fully human. He prays what’s on his heart. His heart is filled with anxiety. “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me.”

This first part of his prayer is his desire. He does not want to face the rejection of his friends, the painful death on a cross. He prays, “If anything can be changed, Lord change it.”  Before he can accept suffering, Jesus prays that he might avoid it. He prays what is in his heart, for what he most wants. This is a model for our own prayers. Ask God for what you want. Don’t stop first to wonder if it is appropriate, if it’s fair, even if it is part of God’s will. First, pray what’s on your heart. God will listen and respond.

Jesus teaches us to share our needs, our desires with God. The biggest trouble we get into in prayer is not in demanding too much, but asking for too little. We edit our prayers before we pray them. “I can’t ask for that, it’s too petty. I can’t ask God to change things, I’m suppose to accept them.” If we are to live abundantly with God and each other, we must develop the ability to share our whole selves, even those needs and desires we want to hide. God already knows our needs and yet, as we pray them, we invite God into our hearts. Not so much to change our situation, as to change us.

Jesus continues in prayer. “…yet, not what I want, but what you want.” First he shares his need, his desire and then he accepts that God is in control. . As we approach God in prayer, we make room for a new thing to happen. It may not be the thing we want or even think we need. God’s response may not be what we expect or hope for. Still, prayer makes a difference both in giving as power over things within our control and helping us let go of things beyond us.

It is both disturbing and comforting to see Jesus in the garden struggling. It is disturbing to think that even someone with such great power, someone so holy, would struggle with suffering. It is disturbing to see that suffering is part of being human. None of us escape it. All of us, in our own way, must struggle. It is disturbing to see his closest followers fall asleep and leave him alone in his suffering.

It is comforting, however, to see him rise above his fears. Jesus faces suffering, even to his death, so that we are never alone. Nothing separates us from the love of God, not even death. Knowing this, we can cope with all that life has to offer, confident that God will bring something good even out of our worst suffering.

All of us face suffering. Many of you have stood beside loved ones who battled terminal illnesses. Some have faced the painful decisions of whether to extend life or allow the illness to run its course. It is never easy. Often you must face doubts within yourself, or in others. Should I keep fighting back or let go? When does the quality of life become so reduced that death becomes a more peaceful and comforting option?

The lesson we learn from Jesus and how he faces suffering is that death is not our worst enemy. We are not obligated by faith only to cling to life at all costs. There are times it is appropriate, even the best decision to let go. Our hope in faith is that death is not the final enemy. In Christ, we have the hope that death is only a passageway. We believe that in God’s own time, we will be reunited with friends and loved ones and that the suffering they faced will be long gone. There will be no more tears, no more struggle, no more dark nights at Gethsemane alone.

Jesus faces the certainty of his death and does not turn away. Though he struggles with doubt and the desire to have the suffering removed, he comes to accept it and to trust that God’s mercy is big enough to bring something good out of something so painful. He is able to endure the agony because of his hope in a better life.

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