“And they went to a place called Gethsemane.” (Mark 14:32)
Gethsemane was that place of unbearable anguish where we picture our Savior wrestled to the ground, pinned down by the excruciating heavy weight of the world. Jesus escaped to pray in this familiar olive grove in the hours before facing the cross and invited in three of his closest companions. Our Savior welcomes us to draw near, too, beckons to us through this unimaginable portion of Scripture to look closer, to consider, to learn.
Not surprisingly, this sacred time is cloaked in the unknown, and yet Christ allows us access to his immense suffering for important reasons. In this passage, he lets us sense the inconceivable cost of his sacrifice, the dreadful penalty for our sins, the intimate gut-wrenching intimacy with his Father. And, perhaps, this part of his magnificent story is recorded to help us as we agonize, too, in cancer clinics, hospice cubicles, prison cells, funeral parlors, or courtrooms. Knowing we would face our own insurmountable situations and staggering scenarios, the Lord said, “Come close. Stay a while in this classroom and let me share instructions on how to survive.”
Our Master teaches us to call a few friends to our side, even if they can’t understand the depths of our distress, even if their attempts aren’t quite perfect. They might fail, might not ever grasp how difficult our journey is at the moment. That’s ok. Jesus needed friends close by, and we do too. Let some inside the middle of our darkened places. Jesus did.
Paramount: pray. Pray as long as you need. Pray longer than you think you need. Take your beyond-bearable to the burden-bearer. Tuck yourself in a secret place, cry out without pretense or bravado to the only one capable of rescue. Get alone, beg for deliverance, and beg further still. Ask the Lord to “remove the cup” that is too bitter to swallow. Remember that you are praying to “Abba, Father; all things are possible for [him]” (Mark 14:36). Your God is not distant nor disinterested. Never believe that lie! Jesus collapsed on the ground and begged his Father for mercy. We follow his lead when we do the same.
In pleading for deliverance, Jesus also makes it clear that a submissive heart is a necessity. We must balance the “I want this from you, God,” with “I accept whatever you want for me, God.” Asking must eventually clasp hands with acceptance; our hearts must unfurl a white flag of surrender to “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). At the outset of their time together Jesus taught his disciples this prayer, and then he lived it before them at the end. He beckons us to imitate him in this regard, too.
Jesus pulls back the curtain on his horrible hour to blow away the misconception that “no one understands.” Gethsemane dispels that fallacy as Jesus identifies precisely with our pain. From Gethsemane, to Calvary, and out of that borrowed tomb, Jesus demonstrates in living, breathing color that: “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11).
Elizabeth A. Mitchell