Where would you go to meet Jesus in the most holy of moments in his earthly life and ministry?
Take your pick. We have his conception, for surely that was a wonderful moment – feel with Mary and Joseph the anticipation of the savior of promise. Maybe in the dirty manger of a smelly stable, as the king of glory drew first breath.
Who would not want to be at his baptism, as the heavens opened so we could see the Holy Spirit as a dove, accompanied by the voice of God? Or the temptations in the wilderness. Perhaps, holier than that would be seeing him draw final breath, as the cataclysm of creation tore the veil.
But there is a moment in the Christ story more holy than those. One moment where the incarnate God made a decision to bear the weight of who we all are. With every other temptation before, he had what he did not possess in eternity: time. Time to rest. Time to reflect. Time before him to continue ministry.
But now his time had come, and he knew betrayal was imminent. Luke describes him being in agony in this garden, the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus ventured so far as to ask that the plan be changed. That something would be different. That he would not have to experience the physical, emotional, and existential suffering that beckoned him come.
None of us has resisted temptation to the point of shedding blood. The writer of Hebrews says that, and I find that to be borne out in my experience. I’m fairly confident that applies to each one of us as well. Jesus did. Without a human hand, or tool, or weapon touching him, his body was so torn by the effort of that agony that blood came pouring out.
There, in the holiest of moments, when there was no time to put it off any more, the fully adult, fully informed, fully human Christ submitted his divine being to the pinnacle of history.
And not one of his disciples was there.
He would have gladly had them by his side in that moment, hearing the words as he spoke them. Feeling the cut of the groans that escaped his throat. Experiencing the massive tension in that moment.
The disciples, sated by the fellowship they had just had with him that very evening, slept. These were the very same followers that witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus (another moment that would be a contender). That time, Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John on a trek up a high mountain to participate in that supernatural experience. These same three were asked now to simply keep watch and pray.
Rather than watch the crisis of the son of God, rather than pray with and for him, rather than encourage him through his agony, they slept.
Brother and sister, there is a place in the Christian experience for feeling like all hell has broken loose. Like the very fabric of creation has been or is about to be torn apart around us, severing us from the good foundations of experience to which we cling. Nowhere in the life of Jesus do we see this like we do in Gethsemane.
I think because the garden happened just once in the gospel story, we are tempted to think it has little to do with our own experience. Better to focus, we think, upon the things we see lived out by Jesus and his disciples day by day, the teachings, the parables, the examples. But in doing that, we lose just how fog-ridden the experience of Christ was that night.
If you are familiar with what I call the fog, you have probably spent some nights the same way: pleading with God that the anxiety, or the depression, or the intrusive inner negative voice would go away. That an unyielding sense of impending doom would lift.
Please understand, I am not referring to an equality in our experience with that of Christ. But there are ways it is similar, aren't there? Within our limited human scope, we bear a reflection of that existential crisis, where we beg to be spared this ongoing experience. We know that God has his plan for all of his children. For some reason this fog is a consistent factor in our lives, but we ask (whether quietly or with a yell) that he take this cup away.
Of course, our experience is not so dire and absolute as what Jesus walked through that night. Not even in the same galaxy. We can acknowledge hope (whether we feel it or not) that God will yet act, that though the darkness remains long, it may not always be so. And while we explore therapeutic, medical, psychological, and spiritual interventions to this daily experience, we can practice the faithfulness of Jesus throughout.
But it is that moment, that crying out in the garden that resonates. Sometimes it does feel as though the church will not venture there with us – as if the body of Christ is those disciples sleeping after their fulfilling fellowship. The church is often focused on its brand, trying to promote how well it reflects Jesus. That can (and often does) yield a focus toward efficient Christianity, quite foreign to fog-dwelling.
I wonder which of the disciples, if they'd actually been awake and present in that moment, would have completely missed what was going on in the experience of Jesus, and just tried to fix him by applying a few well-chosen platitudes?
In being so rigidly focused on individual and corporate victories, we break cracks in this holy ground, through which stricken souls fall into seemingly endless night.
“Encourage one another day after day, while it is still called today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”