by Maria Evans
Our Gospel reading today is a heart wrenching one–Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane, where he is “grieved and agitated.” It’s clear he knows what lies ahead–and he’s scared to death. Most striking is that from the words of his side of his conversation with God, he’d rather not have it turn out this way. It’s excruciatingly painful to think of a Jesus so aggrieved, he throws himself on the ground and exclaims, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
Yet, at the same time, probably each of us has had a time in our lives that the weight of an impending truth that we would have to face, feels like too much to bear. Fortunately, for most of us, that weight didn’t have the possibility of the threat of death attached to it, but nonetheless we are no strangers to being overcome with dread, which can feel like equal parts fear and impending doom. Neither are we oblivious to those shuddersome times that we would rather God call anyone else besides us to be the one chosen for a formidable task, but as the situation plays out, it becomes clearer and clearer we have been foreordained to it.
How many times have each of us called out in our prayers, “God, can’t you find someone else to deal with this?” “Why me, God?” “I can’t do this, God, I really can’t.” “I can’t take one more day of this, God. Please, please, PLEASE can’t you just make it all go away?”
Where can there possibly be good news in the times we are wracked with fear, grief, and foreboding?
Ah, but there is, in the fact Jesus “gets it.” Fully human, fully divine Jesus understands our anguish and woe because Jesus has been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. Since it’s not a theoretical construct for Jesus, we can trust in a love grounded in the bond of the human emotions Jesus shared with us in his time on Earth. We can live in the hope that Jesus really is beside us in our distress with divine empathy. Whether we’re crying in our pillow, weeping behind the steering wheel of a parked car, or wailing to the night sky, we can take heart that Jesus invites us to consider the possibility of resurrection and the assurance of his presence, no matter what our struggle.
Our reading also reminds us that when we show empathy and solidarity in the struggles of another, our task is simple–show up, and remain awake. If that other person needs to be alone, that’s okay too, as long as that other person knows somehow we’re near. As upset as Jesus was for Peter, James, and John falling asleep, I still can’t help but think it still mattered to him that they were nearby.
Finally, our reading challenges us to continue to lovingly seek ways we can be there for people who perplex us and situations we don’t understand. The disciples couldn’t possibly understand all the permutations and nuances of what was about to take place in the events of the Passion and the Resurrection. Yet they came along to Gethsemane anyway, out of love and devotion to their friend and teacher. When we dare to remain in the space of another’s pain and distress, the tragic events of the world that take place every day become a little less two-dimensional, and a little more about “us” rather than being about “some other people I don’t even know.” It’s a difficult task; yet it is one we’re called to walk faithfully through the hope and knowledge that Jesus has walked alongside each of us in our own struggles.
When is a time it mattered to you that Jesus knew exactly how you felt in your grief and agitation? How did it change your relationship with other people, going forward?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.
Image: Christ in Gethsemane by Michael D. O’Brien (used with permission)