April 21, 2011, Maundy Thursday
In the Garden
This evening, on Maundy Thursday, we are here to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus and his time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maundy Thursday takes its name from John 13:34, when Jesus says a new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. The Latin for new commandment is novum mandatum, which then becomes Maundy.
Reading the passage of Jesus in the garden is difficult, as we see the agony he experienced there. But we also see beauty as well. We see beauty in the gift of relationships.
From the beginning of the Scriptures we learn of our need for relationships. Jesus, while in the garden, sought the fellowship of his disciples. He did not ask his disciples for wisdom or for a defense at his arrest, but simply to be with him. As they entered the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked Peter and James and John to go further into the garden with him, saying my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.
Jesus wanted their company. We must always remember that our presence brings strength to others in times of difficulty. There are those who need our presence in life.
Jesus also sought the presence of God. Jesus knew the presence of God was with him, even though he would cry out on the cross and ask why God had forsaken him. He did what is so important at all times in life – he prayed. We have people praying through the night, just as Jesus prayed in the garden. At all times the presence of God is upon us. Even when we feel as though God has forsaken us we are promised he is ever with us.
We also see the beauty of Jesus’ courage. Jesus did not flee from what was before him. Neither must we flee from what we face in life. We do not live long in this world until we experience difficulty, and as we gather here this evening we know there are those who are in a season of great challenge in their lives.
As difficult as it must have been, Jesus was able to accept the will of God, even when that will led to the cross. We see crosses on jewelry, on communion tables, and on church steeples. During his life on this earth, Jesus saw crosses on hillsides with people nailed to them. He knew full well what was before him, and yet he still prayed not for his own will, but for the will of God to be done.
Jesus met challenge with courage and with conviction, and may his example allow us to do the same.
To see the agony of Jesus in the garden reminds us also that God is well acquainted with suffering. God is not so distant and removed that he is unfamiliar with suffering. God, in the person of Jesus, knew what it was to become tired, to be hungry, to be thirsty, and in the garden knew the agony of imminent death.
Faith will sometimes ask the seemingly impossible of us. While some have twisted faith into a magical formula for bringing wealth and prosperity, the experience of Jesus in the garden and the sacrifice and suffering of many through the ages demonstrates to us that faith can ask a great deal of us.
Jesus was faced with a choice – will he save himself or will he save others? We see far too many examples of those who would save themselves. We see it in the greed that envelopes our world, in the violence that tears apart the family of humanity, and we hear it in the words that tear down rather than build up.
Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray, to be aware that they can fall into that way that is about self. May we watch and pray as well.
At the end of this passage Matthew tells us that Jesus returned to the other disciples, woke them from their slumber, and said, are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!
Jesus did not wait on Judas and the soldiers to come to him; instead, he went to them. Jesus did not shrink from what was ahead but embraced his calling even though it meant his death on the cross. Jesus went and met those who came to arrest him.
C. S. Lewis, in his classic book The Screwtape Letters, asks how it is that Jesus could look round upon a universe from which every trace of Him (God) seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
At the moment when his opponents would believe Jesus was at his weakest, he was actually at his strongest. When it seemed that he had given up on faith; he had actually demonstrated faith in the greatest fashion imaginable; when it seemed he had failed, he actually achieved victory; when it seemed it was over, it had just begun.
Thursday was the beginning of the sufferings of Jesus, and for his followers it seemed the end. They did not understand what was yet to come. A very famous sermon is titled, It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’. While the disciples did not know on that Thursday what Sunday would bring, we do know. And we will celebrate the resurrection on Sunday morning. But for this evening, we remember what had to occur before the resurrection. First, there must come betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. As we gather here, may we remember, in the words of Isaiah, that he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).