Summary: Because Jesus understands our suffering, we do not suffer alone.
If I were writing the Bible, I probably would have left this passage out. After all, we have here not the image of the powerful Messiah that I would like to show off, but the figure of fear and frailty. For centuries we have recognized that Jesus was all God and all man, but here it seems he is much more man than he is God. After all, Jesus is so crippled with fear and sorrow that he tells Peter, James, and John in verse 37 that his fear was strong enough to kill him. And he begs for God to change his mind about the suffering that lies ahead. He is in such agony that Luke, the gospel writer, says that Jesus experiences a rare medical condition whereby he bleeds through the pores in his skin. This occurs when fear is piled upon fear to where a person can no longer sustain the pain. None of this carries with it the John Wayne like figure who looking death squarely in the eye without fear.
This all begs the question, why include in the Bible such an embarrassing scene. Why show the Messiah begging for the master plan to be reversed? Why show the King of kings so racked with fear and doubt that it nearly kills him? Why not move from the Last Supper directly to the betrayal?
The gospel writer chooses instead to include this account of Jesus in the garden, for without it, we would have an entirely incomplete picture of God. We learn from this dramatic scene that the mission of Jesus Christ was directed not only at saving our souls, but Jesus came also to this earth to share in our suffering. Just as Jesus’ death on the cross is essential to our salvation, so Jesus’ suffering is essential to our ability to relate to God.
God understood from the beginning of time that if He were indeed to have a meaningful relationship with his creation, he could not stand outside the fire of the human experience. To know us and love us completely, God had to experience what we experience. He had to suffer in the ways we suffer. Jesus had to experience the power of shared suffering.
While each of us in this room is different to some degree or another, there is one thing that we each have in common. At some point in time, and to some degree, and on some level, we all will experience suffering. I look about at our congregation and I see a number of people who have experienced some unspeakable tragedy in their lives. For some, it is death of a loved one. For others, it is the loss of a career. Maybe it’s a broken relationship or a promise unfulfilled. God’s message for you today is that no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much you suffer, you do not suffer alone.
All my life, things have gone my way. And for years, I have feared that that might all end very suddenly one day. I’ve had it good. In a world where half of all marriages end in divorce, I’ve been privileged to have loving parents who loved each other. In an age where cancer and disease can strike any of us, I have been privileged with good health and have had parents and family with good health. In a world where all around me, friends have lost spouses or friends or parents in death, I do not know what it’s like to see the death of someone close to me. In a world where some people work and work and struggle and struggle and never seem to find a place in this life, I have been privileged with good jobs and great opportunities. In a world where people go hungry and have not a penny to their name, I stand as most of you do as one of the richest people in the world.
I get scared sometimes, because I know that someday, tragedy will strike. It strikes us all, and it’s just a matter of time. Probably the most tragic thing I’ve ever experienced happened to me recently. As many of you know, several weeks ago Imani was taken from our home. For those of you who do not know, my wife and I were foster parents of a wonderful child for nearly two years, and for nearly all of that time were led to believe that adopting her would be almost a done deal. When Tara and I awoke on Monday, June 19, we felt all was right with the world. But then shortly after we arrived in court that day, things quickly fell apart. After a technicality that prevented us from being present in the courtroom and after having discovered that social services had changed their mind about where Imani should be, the judged gave custody of Imani to her great uncle from New York.