Lord, as we go to the garden with you in prayer, as we recall the story of your arrest, may we find the courage and strength to be faithful to you in all you ask of us.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON Psalm 22, GNT
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I have cried desperately for help,
but still it does not come.
2 During the day I call to you, my God,
but you do not answer;
I call at night,
but get no rest.
3 But you are enthroned as the Holy One,
the one whom Israel praises.
4 Our ancestors put their trust in you;
they trusted you, and you saved them.
5 They called to you and escaped from danger;
they trusted you and were not disappointed.
6 But I am no longer a human being; I am a worm,
despised and scorned by everyone!
7 All who see me make fun of me;
they stick out their tongues and shake their heads.
8 “You relied on the Lord,” they say.
“Why doesn't he save you?
If the Lord likes you,
why doesn't he help you?”
9 It was you who brought me safely through birth,
and when I was a baby, you kept me safe.
10 I have relied on you since the day I was born,
and you have always been my God.
11 Do not stay away from me!
Trouble is near,
and there is no one to help.
12 Many enemies surround me like bulls;
they are all around me,
like fierce bulls from the land of Bashan.
13 They open their mouths like lions,
roaring and tearing at me.
14 My strength is gone,
gone like water spilled on the ground.
All my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like melted wax.
15 My throat is as dry as dust,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have left me for dead in the dust.
16 An evil gang is around me;
like a pack of dogs they close in on me;
they tear at my hands and feet.
17 All my bones can be seen.
My enemies look at me and stare.
18 They gamble for my clothes
and divide them among themselves.
19 O Lord, don't stay away from me!
Come quickly to my rescue!
20 Save me from the sword;
save my life from these dogs.
21 Rescue me from these lions;
I am helpless before these wild bulls.
22 I will tell my people what you have done;
I will praise you in their assembly:
23 “Praise him, you servants of the Lord!
Honor him, you descendants of Jacob!
Worship him, you people of Israel!
24 He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering;
he does not turn away from them,
but answers when they call for help.”
25 In the full assembly I will praise you for what you have done;
in the presence of those who worship you
I will offer the sacrifices I promised.
26 The poor will eat as much as they want;
those who come to the Lord will praise him.
May they prosper forever!
27 All nations will remember the Lord.
From every part of the world they will turn to him;
all races will worship him.
28 The Lord is king,
and he rules the nations.
29 All proud people will bow down to him;
all mortals will bow down before him.
30 Future generations will serve him;
they will speak of the Lord to the coming generation.
31 People not yet born will be told:
“The Lord saved his people.”
GOSPEL LESSON Mark 14:32-52, GNT
32 They came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him, 34 and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch.”
35 He went a little farther on, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if possible, he might not have to go through that time of suffering. 36 “Father,” he prayed, “my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”
37 Then he returned and found the three disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Weren't you able to stay awake for even one hour?” 38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 He went away once more and prayed, saying the same words. 40 Then he came back to the disciples and found them asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to say to him.
41 When he came back the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come! Look, the Son of Man is now being handed over to the power of sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!”
43 Jesus was still speaking when Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs and sent by the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders. 44 The traitor had given the crowd a signal: “The man I kiss is the one you want. Arrest him and take him away under guard.”
45 As soon as Judas arrived, he went up to Jesus and said, “Teacher!” and kissed him. 46 So they arrested Jesus and held him tight. 47 But one of those standing there drew his sword and struck at the High Priest's slave, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus spoke up and said to them, “Did you have to come with swords and clubs to capture me, as though I were an outlaw? 49 Day after day I was with you teaching in the Temple, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must come true.”
50 Then all the disciples left him and ran away.
51 A certain young man, dressed only in a linen cloth, was following Jesus. They tried to arrest him, 52 but he ran away naked, leaving the cloth behind.
SERMON Jesus Risked Praying in the Garden
As the meal ended, they sang their hallels, psalms of praise, and went to a place where Jesus sometimes taught them, an olive grove with a press for squeezing out the oil used in so many ways. Olive oil was used for anointing everything from Israel’s kings to the implements of the Temple, and it burned in the Temple’s lamps. These were anointed to make them holy, to set them apart for God’s service. When Jesus told the story of the Ten Virgins waiting for the bridegroom, five of whom kept their lamps burning and five of whom ran out of oil, olive oil was the required fuel. In everyday life it was used in lamps and eventually in cooking, but it was also as an ingredient in soaps, body lotions, hair products, and used as a healing balm.
Once the olives were harvested by hand, the process of extracting the oil involved several steps of washing and crushing. Pits were removed, then the baskets of pulp were crushed again to get every possible drop of precious oil which ran into a reservoir after a hot water rinse washed the remaining pulp away. There the oil settled and separated and was eventually drawn off the top before the water was drained. In vats the oil settled and separated once again. Even with mechanized help the process hasn’t changed much in thousands of years.
Now picture olive trees and the heavy mechanism of the olive press as backdrop to Jesus’ earnest prayer in Gethsemane which means oil press. Matthew and Mark give this name as the location for the scene. Luke calls it the Mount of Olives, so that process of making olive oil is also represented in his version of the story. John has another thought, but more on that later.
As Jesus came to pray, it was in preparation for what was ahead within that day. Remember that in Jewish reckoning of time, the day begins at sundown, the opposite of the way we think. Jesus had a long, weary day ahead of him, one in which he would be bruised by the soldiers and crushed under the weight of the cross and the weight of our sin. Jesus would be pressed hard until the purest form of compassion and mercy came forth. Jesus would give up his own life on earth for the sake of our healing, our forgiveness, our anointing to make us holy, to set us apart for God.
We see the evidence of that pressure in Matthew and Mark’s telling of the story. In Mark we read, “Distress and anguish came over him, 34 and he said to them, ‘The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me.’” (Mark 14:33b-34, GNT) While in Luke 22:44 it is written, “in his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (NLT)
Many of us living in the world today deal with despair, anxiety, a sense of being crushed or hard pressed by our circumstances or things going on in the world around us. As we experience this enormous, seemingly unbearable pressure, does it help to know that our Savior also felt that weight upon him, suffering from circumstances not of his own making? We are not alone in our suffering; the Lord who willingly accepted that burden knows it well, and Jesus chooses to remain with us in Spirit, by our side if we choose to welcome him into our lives.
Jesus did not want to suffer alone either. He took three of the disciples with him, asking them to watch and pray with him. We also ask others to pray with us and for us. It is not a selfish act; it is an appropriate one. But Peter, James and John were not able to stay awake. Jesus earnestly, with all his body, mind and spirit prayed for himself, and so should we. Again, it is not selfish. God wants us to ask for help, in fact is waiting for us to remember to turn to him for aid. It is the content of Jesus’ prayer that shows his selflessness. This to me is the most significant point to this story. It is a motto for how we are called to live our lives, “not my will, but yours!”
Jesus took a huge risk as he came to this time of prayer. He already knew that the soldiers would come, and Judas would identify him with a kiss. He acknowledged at the supper that Judas would turn him over to those who wanted to kill him. Even the disciples had finally become aware that this trip to Jerusalem might well be his last, that Jesus’ life is in danger. They had two swords with them supposedly for protection. But there was much more at risk here than the coming arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
Do you remember when Jesus began his ministry, the Spirit led him into the wilderness where Satan, the accuser, was allowed to test him? The temptations then were to turn stone into bread to feed Jesus physical hunger, to jump from the high point of the Temple and let the angels protect him, and then to bow down to Satan and share the power and wealth of all the nations. In this place Jesus once again must wrestle with the seemingly easy path from human perspective versus the bigger story from God’s perspective. This is what was at stake when Jesus prayed, “Take this cup of suffering away from me.” Perhaps this was why Mel Gibson placed Satan in the Gethsemane scene in his “Passion of Christ.” Though I have chosen not to watch that movie for myself, it is the one scene I have heard described most often. Gibson recognized the connection to the earlier testing.
Luke tells us that as Jesus woke up the disciples, he told them to pray that they not fall into temptation. This is how Jesus taught them and us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13) Jesus led by example as he prayed and overcome the potential temptation of Gethsemane.
Think ahead to the rest of the story; Jesus fulfilled in God’s way the tests exacted earlier by Satan. By following God’s plan, Jesus became symbolically “bread” for the world. Jesus was raised up to life after his death, taken up for us all, and lifted up to share again in God’s glory. Jesus did not need power, wealth or authority from Satan; God gave all things to Jesus for he reigns over God’s kingdom. Luke recorded that an angel came to minister to Jesus after this prayer, just as happened after the temptations in the wilderness.
But Jesus didn’t stop with that first request for the cup of suffering to be taken away. Jesus went on to pray, “Even so, not what I want, but what You want.” (Mark 14:36b, NLV) “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” (CSB) You may be more familiar with this wording from Luke 22:42, NIV, ““Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Just as Jesus overcame the wilderness testing by quoting scripture back to Satan, so at Gethsemane Jesus overcame this personal test by surrendering his own will completely to God’s. That is the key, not only to this passage, but to the way Jesus lived and died, and to the example Jesus set for us.
Can you imagine what the world would be like, what your own life would be like, what churches would be like, if we surrendered our own wills completely to God’s? If we could learn to say with full integrity, not my will, but yours be done? So many times my confession has been, “I’m sorry, but today I’m going to do it my way anyway.” I know it’s foolish and sinful even as I say at and choose to do it anyway, but too often I am that weak, and I give in to temptations. I fail the test. If you are honest with yourselves, you probably do something like that sometimes as well. If we all lived God’s way all the time, Jesus would not have needed to go to the cross and bear that weight of our sin. Jesus was sinless. He died not for himself but for us. Jesus risked all that pain out of love for us.
Sometimes our intention is to live God’s plan if we could figure it out, but we are impatient creatures. I have to include this lesson, because God kept putting it in front of me all week. At Mary Marthas we were on Abraham and Sarah’s story. Randy Frazee points out that they got tired of waiting for God to fulfill the promise of a son. Abram was 85 and Sarai was 75 when she decided that maybe God needed their help. Then Frazee inserts this significant comment: “(Have you ever noticed how this phrase almost always leads to disaster?)” (Frazee, The Heart of the Story, p, 37) Wow! So true! When we go ahead with our plan rather than waiting for God’s to unfold, it is a recipe for disaster.
Wednesday night we watched Prince Caspian, the second movie from Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’ fantasy portraying in Christian truths. High King Peter had a tough lesson to learn when he said, “I think we’ve waited for Aslan long enough.” The ensuing battle did not go as planned. Many lives were lost. It was a disaster!
Yet on Tuesday, God solved multiple things that I had been waiting on, because I couldn’t solve them myself. I was shown what was wrong with the phone, the debit card, the laptop and more. Packages arrived in time that had been delayed. If I learn to trust God and back off a bit when I hit my brick walls, God does work things out appropriately in God’s timing. Sometimes the result is what I had prayed to happen. Sometimes God has talked me out of a foolish idea.
I needed this lesson as I face Holy Week knowing there is more going on than I can imagine handling. God will provide what is needed to accomplish God’s plans and purpose. What about the rest of our human notions of what needs to happen this week? I can let go of those. In some cases I already have.
As my coach and I talked about this concept on Thursday, he shared with me how Quakers talk about it. “If the way be open…” When we are struggling to find and follow God’s plan, we can proceed where “the way be open.” When the way is closed, then it is time to stop, or pause and wait. If the path before us takes a turn, opens in a different direction, we need to pay attention to that shift. If this is surrounded with prayer, I think it is a good way to discern and sincerely live, “not what I want, but what you want, God.”
To live out of the example of Jesus’ prayer, we must ourselves first pray. Then we must watch and listen for the answer, sometimes patiently waiting a very long time for God’s perfect timing. Then, when the way be open, we can move ahead into God’s plan with purpose and confidence, following God’s will.
Professor Levine talks about personal prayer through out scripture, examples that Jesus would also have known. One of these is Psalm 22 which we read earlier. This is the prayer Jesus began to quote on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a lament that acknowledges facing very difficult circumstances. It speaks of physical exhaustion and even being tormented and tortured. If you consider all that Jesus endured that day, the lashings, the mockery, the humiliation, the painful walk carrying the cross, then being nailed to it by wrists and feet, hanging there gasping for breath, this psalm is very befitting of all that Jesus endured through that day. It speaks of thirst with his tongue stuck to his mouth, of gambling for his clothes, of being surrounded by enemies like a pack of wild dogs. It begs for rescue, and I hear it echoed already in “Let this cup of suffering pass from me.”
But there is also in this psalm words of trust and God’s salvation through history. There are memories of being in God’s care since birth. There are promises of worship and praise yet to come. “All nations will remember the Lord…. People not yet born will be told: ‘The Lord saved his people.’” (Psalm 22:27a, 31) Jesus’ message to us through his passion is this, that even in the darkest of times and in the midst of suffering, God is still working out God’s plan for us and for the world. Therefore, we can dare to pray with him, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
I said I would come back to John’s version of this story. Whereas we can see Gethsemane, the oil press as “a place of agony” John merely refers to a garden, and that setting gives an entirely different picture. (Levine, p. 133) There is a contrast, as Levine points out, between the garden from which Adam and Eve were sent out because of their sin, and this garden where Jesus surrendered to God’s will with the purpose of overcoming our sin. What happened in one garden took us from life forever with God to the consequences of sin which is death. What happened in this garden opened the possibility for us to live forever with God through Christ who overcame our death. (Romans 6:23) Levine puts it this way, “In the fourth Gospel, Jesus is not in agony; he is in control.” (p. 133)
In this garden, John does not mention Jesus’ prayer at all. Instead it goes right to the approach of the soldiers to arrest Jesus as Judas leads them. Jesus opened the conversation as follows:
“4 Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward and asked them, “Who is it you are looking for?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered.
“I am he,” he said. (John 18:4-5a)
This question and answer were repeated once more.
There is significance in the way Jesus responded, “I am…” It’s more than “that’s me.” As John records Jesus self-identification, “I Am…” it echoes other times Jesus has used this phrase, “I am the bread of life,” and “I Am the bread of heaven.” (John 6:35 ff) “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) “I am the gate,” and “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10) “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) “I am the true vine” (John 15:1) They said they were looking for “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I Am.” (John 18:5) Jesus is all of this and more, for them, for us, for the world.
Fast forward to one more garden scene; it will be in a garden that Mary Magdalene will finally recognize her teacher and friend. In that garden, Jesus will be raised from death just as he raised Lazarus and others. Jesus lives and invites us to live forever with him. A garden is where seeds or bulbs and roots are buried in the ground seemingly dead, but in God’s timing, by God’s plan, shoots and stems, buds and leaves or blooms come forth and in the right time fruit will grow. These are symbols of life according to God’s good plan. John sets Jesus that night in a garden as a promise of the life that is to come in spite of what Jesus would endure yet that day.
As we complete the scene of garden or Gethsemane on the day of Passover, Jesus was arrested after being identified by Judas’ kiss. One of the disciples, John says it was Peter, brandished one of those swords and cut off a servant’s ear. Matthew reports that Jesus told him to put the sword away, for those who live that way will die that way. Luke tells us that Jesus healed the ear. Violence was not the way Jesus chose. As we have noted before, he wasn’t that kind of Messiah. He didn’t come to lead an army against Rome. He came instead to defeat sin and death by means they and we do not always understand.
Mark gives one final note not found elsewhere, that after the rest of the disciples ran away, there was one young man in a linen cloth who had followed Jesus. When the soldiers seized him, he ran away naked, leaving the cloth behind. Scholars don’t agree on who this young man could be, but does it matter? Levine speculates perhaps he represents us, the readers of this Gospel. She writes,
“We too are vulnerable and fearful, we too have deserted, we too have failed to stop what could not be stopped. Before we can be built up, Lent will strip us down, and in that rawness, that openness, we begin to heal. [But] before we get to the resurrection there will be suffering, crucifixion, and death.” (p. 139
As you continue through the lessons and worship services of this Holy Week of Jesus’ passion, put yourself in the story. From what point are you watching each scene unfold? What will you do for Christ by caring for others? What do you need to confess as your failures? Where are you most vulnerable? What do you need to be forgiven and where do you need to be healed? Know this, that along with those who failed to live up to their own best intentions then, we can also be forgiven, we can also find purpose and new life through the one who gave himself to save us. We can come to celebrate his resurrection and our own, come Easter. But there is no Easter without the suffering and death that came before it. We endure these things through Christ who gives us strength. (reference to Philippians 4:13)