First Sunday of Lent: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
Mark 14:32-40 (RSV)
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.
Over the six weeks of Lent, I invite you to journey along the road Jesus took to the cross. We’ll be stopping at six of the stations on which Christians have reflected over the centuries to remember what happened along the path from Gethsemane to Calvary. Along the way we’ll explore what it may mean to follow this path in the academy.
We begin in the garden following the passover dinner Jesus has shared with his disciples. This was a dinner like none other. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and asked them to follow him in serving; he equated the bread and wine from the dinner to his body and blood; and he promised that a Helper would come to them when he was gone. Though Jesus’ singular authority had drawn the disciples to follow him, as they sit in the garden they must be wondering if that authority is crumbling away as they hear deep desperation in his prayers. This is not what they had expected.
On campus, we usually seek out the people with authority. Those who get things done and receive promotions. Yet, when they fail—stop receiving grants, fall out of favor with the administration, or go through a personal crisis such as a child’s addiction—we often look for ways to escape. To back out of responsibilities. To quietly walk past the closed office door.
This is the situation of the disciples. In the garden they are looking away. Moreover, they are sleeping. Maybe they are exhausted from the week’s events. Maybe they are feeling vulnerable themselves and are seeking to hide and escape from the realities before them. It’s only natural to turn away from pain.
However, perhaps you are in the place of being left behind and alone. You are the subject of the whispered conversations in the break room. You feel the discomfort of people around you. The consequences of revealing your pain could harm your career, so you create a hardened mask for when you face the world. Yet, what you truly need is to cry out in desperation as another person to sits beside you.
Wherever you find yourself today, reflect on the image of Jesus praying in Gethsemane while the disciples sleep nearby. Take time to recognize the deep agony that Jesus faces. In this moment of despair he knows the pain and anguish before him, but still remains focused on the Father. He holds on to the one secure thing. In this place we can lay before Him our own suffering and we can sit with the suffering of others.
When those moments of desperation come, do you have companions who will follow? Will you follow others there? In this place Jesus continues to call us to watch and pray.
May this journey bring a new wakefulness to our lives. Jesus, help us walk in your steps.
Image credit: JESUS MAFA. Christ on Gethsemane, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48391 [retrieved March 4, 2017].