They went to a place called Gethsemane; and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Today is the day we call Maundy Thursday. The festivities of Palm Sunday have entirely passed from view. The night is falling as Jesus and his disciples share their Passover meal. Afterwards they make their way to the Mount of Olives. There, at the base, is a garden called Gethsemane. It is there Jesus agonizes in a way we have not seen before.
He leaves one group of disciples and takes three of them (Peter, James, and John) with him. He tells them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and keep awake.” Then he leaves them as well, goes just a little farther away and, “throws himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.”
Gethsemane is a man in crisis. We are used to reading of Jesus facing and resolving—often miraculously—every manner of crisis. But never do we see him in crisis. And it is his alone. The disciples sleep through it.
In the Gospels we read various sayings of Jesus which give the distinct impression that Jesus knew what was going to happen. It was his destiny. He seems to have it all in hand. That seems thoroughly consistent with how we would expect God—in human form—to approach death: fearless and unflinching—towering over it.
But here in Gethsemane it is a very different picture and that’s worth pondering on this Maundy Thursday: Humanity and Divinity inextricably implicated. Perhaps he had a choice, a real choice to extract himself from the cascade of cataclysmic events that were about to unfold. That would help to account for the agony of the moment. His plea, “remove this cup from me,” which he prays three times to the God, whom he calls “Father.” for whom “all things are possible,” is met with deafening silence.
But there is more to his prayer, “yet, not my will, but your will be done.” In the end, in this final, crucial moment, a choice is made. Is it possible that all of heaven was poised to move earth to answer and intervene? Is it possible that the final plea of Jesus’ prayer stays heaven’s hand? That, of course, is beyond our knowing. But, if it is in some way true, it would speak of a love that is stronger than death.
That’s worth pondering.
Prayer: Gracious God, on this Maundy Thursday, awaken me to what it means to pray, “not my will, but your will be done.” Amen.