Back in 2010, when I started this series of reflections on the mysteries of the rosary, I fully intended to write the whole series of posts during Lent. Well, Holy Week showed up and kicked my butt, and then it was Easter, and I didn’t want to write about The Sorrowful Mysteries. I’d finished Holy Week for this year, thankyouverymuch, and I didn’t want more torture and crucifixion.
Now it’s two years later. I’ve fallen behind on the devotional reading I took on this year for Lent, so I figured that maybe I could give this a try again. Holy Week is five days away, and it will kick my butt again (as usual), but maybe I can finish up this project.
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
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.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
This really looks bad for the disciples, doesn’t it? I mean, they’re Jesus’ best friends, and yet they fail to be present for him and with him in the time of his greatest sorrow and pain. Jesus knows that in 24 hours, he will be dead, and his friends will be scattered in hiding. Even the man Jesus named for strong, steadfast rock — Peter — will deny he ever heard of Jesus. Of his closest circle of friends, John is the only man who shows up at Golgotha. And one of this group of twelve has already sold Jesus to the religious authorities for thirty pieces of silver. It’s not a good night for the disciples. It’s a terrible night for Jesus. And this is only the beginning.
The events reflected in the Sorrowful Mysteries will all take place within 24 hours. Between sunset on Thursday and sunset on Friday — the beginning of the Sabbath — Jesus will be arrested, tried by the religious authorities, tried by the Roman authorities, flogged, crucified, and buried. Twenty-four hours from this time in the Garden, the broken body of Jesus will lie in a cave, behind a huge stone. Twenty-four hours from this time in the Garden, the disciples of Jesus will huddle in hiding, terrified that the Romans will arrest and crucify them as well. All Jesus asks is for his friends to stay awake and sit with him, just for one hour of those twenty-four. And yet, somehow, they are unable to do this. Jesus is alone.
It is when we are alone that we are most at risk of the ploys of the Evil One. The Adversary finds it so easy to attack our relationships when we are alone, especially when we are lonely. For me, this happens late at night, when I’ve been unable to sleep. I lie in bed, in the dark, and I try to pray, but my mind begins to wonder why I bother to pray, whether I should expect anyone to answer, how there could possibly be any God at all. The Adversary tries to chip away at my relationship with God, the means through which God blesses me and enables me to live in relationship with other persons.
The garden story in Luke’s gospel says that Jesus prays so hard that his sweat becomes like great drops of blood. I know I’ve never prayed that hard, that drops of blood fall from my sweaty brow. Here in the garden, the friends of Jesus keep falling asleep, and he is alone with the assaults of the Evil One. It’s difficult to imagine how I would feel, what I would do, in Jesus’ place. Would I make the choices Jesus made? Would I allow myself to be arrested, shamed, beaten? Would I allow myself to die, or would I fly down from the cross and take vengeance on those who put me there?
I don’t know. Thank God, I will never have to know. But somehow, Jesus did it. And it all started in this grove of olive trees, where his best friends could not stay awake one hour.