If one counts today and next Sunday, there are now fourteen days left in Lent. (Before I go any further, I know that we don’t usually count Sundays as part of Lent, but this is my blog, so I can do what I want. Neener, neener, neener!) As it happens, there are also fourteen Stations of the Cross. So I thought I’d give a try to posting a brief reflection on each of these fourteen days, counting down to Easter. Rather than the traditional form, I’m going to use a version of the Stations that is entirely based on scripture, so that I can quote the verses before I write. So… here goes.
From the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV):
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 3738394041
And from The Message:
Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”
Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”
When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”
Like in today’s gospel reading, Jesus reveals something very deep and important here. In today’s gospel, Jesus says my soul is troubled, and he asks his disciplies whether he should ask God to free him from his coming death. And in this Station, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says that this sorrow is crushing my life out. Simply put, Jesus is afraid. Jesus doesn’t want to die. Jesus realizes all the things he’s going to miss out on: a wife, children, grandchildren. Time around the fire with his friends and disciples. Watching them mature in the faith as he teaches them. Supporting his mother Mary in her old age, and being there with his brother James when she finally dies. He will never get back to Nazareth, never walk on the Sea of Galilee, never drink wine with his friends again.
In its odd way, this is an amazingly comforting thing for us to hear. I’ll come right out and admit it: I’m afraid of dying. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to lose out on watching my kids mature into adulthood, seeing them find partners and families of their own. I don’t want to miss out on growing old with my husband, on beautiful sunrises and sunsets, on laps full of a warm, purring cat. I’m not ready to say good-bye to my parents, my family, my friends.
But you know what? No less a person than Jesus of Nazareth was similarly torn when he approached his own death. And Jesus knew what was going to happen after he died. He knew what God had in store for him, knew that he was rejoining the Divine One in heaven. Jesus didn’t have to wonder, to doubt, to question… and yet, he was still afraid, still sorrowful, still troubled. Jesus was fully divine, and Jesus was fully human. In his humanity, he learned that our world holds many wonderful gifts and blessings, even as it holds sin and sickness and death.
This small part of the story reminds me once again of the tremendous gift that God gave us when God became a baby in the person of Jesus. When we fear death or pain or loss, we know that God understands, because God experienced these things Godself in the person of Jesus. And when we are crushed with sorrow in our own gardens, when even our very best friends fall asleep, Jesus is still with us.