During each Lent I try to focus on a particular passage from the Holy Week account. I then meditate and reflect on it for an extended period of time, hoping to see things revealed in the story that I have not noticed before. This year I have been focusing on the excruciating experience that Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some version of it is recorded in each of the Gospels, but it is Mark’s account that I have really been focused on:
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. 41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14.32-42)
The detail(s) that jump out to me from this encounter that are unique and important has to do with the intensive nature of the experience Jesus has here. The impending reality of the Cross was not a surprise to Jesus – it was prophesied in the OT and by Jesus himself. Yet clearly something is happening at a level beyond anything he had previously experienced. Consider some of the phrases in this text:
- “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled”
- “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”
- “He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him”
- “Take this cup from me.”
Luke adds that he was in such agony that his sweat looked like drops of blood. An angel from heaven had to come to give him enough strength to continue on.
So what is happening in the Garden of Gethsemane?
I think the key is in V33: “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.”
Jesus knew the Cross was coming. Yet even still, it was in the Garden that something began. And what began there is one of the secrets to understanding the full dimension of the Cross and Resurrection.