Summary: Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, resolving to face the cross.
Jesus in the Garden - focus on Matthew 26:36-46
Community Good Friday Service, Annunciation RC.
April 13, 2001
The Garden of Gethsemane is the site for three important events in the life of Christ
- His agony over facing the cross
- his betrayal at the hands of Judas Iscariot
- and his arrest by the Jewish mob
We’re going to focus this morning on his agony.
The Garden of Gethsemane itself was located amongst a grove of olive trees on the slopes of the Mount of Olives - just across the Kidron Valley to the east of Jerusalem.
Gethsemane means ‘an oil press’ in Aramaic, so the location could have once been a clearing in the trees where the olives were brought for processing.
It’s possible that the clearing could have been walled off for security during the harvest, but has now been converted into a private garden for whomever owned the land at the time.
There is to this day a number of possible sites for the Garden which compete for recognition - but it’s not really the place that is significant , is it?
- It’s what happened there one long night just under 2000 years ago
36-38 - Arrival at the garden
Jesus takes the disciples to this place soon after finishing the last supper. Judging from what happens next, it seems that Jesus has deliberately sought out a place where he knows that he and the disciples will be left alone for a while.
Two things convince me that this garden was a popular spot for Jesus and the disciples to get away to -
a) the fact that he comes straight here without any noteworthy events in-between
b) the fact that Judas is able to find him so quickly, even though he left the supper long before they were done. To lead the angry mob to Jesus he would have to know where he was going, and be able to find it quickly.
It’s even been said that this site was the campsite for the disciples when they come to Jerusalem.
Jesus’ motivation for coming here is simple - he needs to gather his strength for the coming storm.
Upon arrival at the garden, Jesus quickly takes three of the disciples - Peter, James and John, and walks deeper into the garden, leaving the others at the perimeter.
Now why these three you may ask? Well, he wasn’t picking favorites, but he did give the disciples certain roles to fill, and these three seem to be the ones whom he confided in the most.
They are also the three who had witnessed his meeting with God the previous winter, where on a high mountain he had been (Matt. 17:2) "transfigured before them - his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as snow"
So they have seen Jesus at what we might call "the peak of his power", and now they are about to see him agonize over the events he must very soon face.
His words in verse 38 surprise us
38 Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."
"Sorrow" is a weak word to convey what Jesus is experiencing right now - we experience sorrow when we watch a sad movie or hear a sad story.
"Anguish" is closer to describing our Lord’s state of being. Anguish is what we experience when tragedy hits close to home - like when we lose a loved one - and the pain of the sadness is so intense that we can’t imagine ever coming out of it.
His words to the three men with him "Stay here and keep watch with me" is a command and a plea - he not only WANTS them there, he feels that he NEEDS them there.
It is words like this from Jesus that remind us of his true humanity - he experienced the same weaknesses and limitations as we all do as people. He lived as one of us -
- not like one of us
- not pretending to be one of us
- BUT AS ONE OF US
We know from the other gospels that he will go so deeply into anguish and distress that he will sweat drops of blood while he is in prayer. He knows the depths our spirits can plunge to, because he’s been there himself.
39-41 First prayer - hesitation
He leaves the three just a little distance away - just enough to be out of ear-shot - and falls to the ground, demonstrating his complete submission to his Father as he is about to pray.
He knows the cross is coming, and that he alone can face it. But at this moment he truly hopes that there is some other way. How else can we interpret his words -