Lent 2018: Jesus’ Last Week
Pouring it All Out
March 11, 2018 (Lent 4)
Text: Matthew 26:36-47
On Thursday night, in the garden, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus breaks.
Across two millennia of telling the Easter Story we’ve conditioned ourselves to rush pass the garden to the open tomb, the big reveal, that moment when Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus among the tombs, that moment when death looses its victory, when death looses its sting.
The resurrection may be our moment, it may be God’s moment, but Jesus’ moment comes in the garden, when he crumples to the ground, his sweat – as reported by Luke – becoming blood, and pleads with God for a different journey, a different path, for the cup he’s been given to be lifted.
Its always been unclear to me how much Jesus knew about what would happen. By this time he knows his death is inevitable. Inevitable and brutal, as the Romans rarely lost an opportunity for torture before execution. He also foreshadows the resurrection, telling his disciples he will meet them in Galilee when this is all over. Yet whether its doubt or fear or an indepth knowledge of the unpleasantness of the journey, Jesus collapses in the garden, pleading with God, pleading to be released from his calling as God with Us, pleading to be free from having to save the world, pleading to be able to walk away.
We shouldn’t be surprised Jesus collapses. When we read the Holy Week narrative as a prelude to resurrection we can overlook how spiritually, psychologically and physically taxing it was for both Jesus and his disciples. Even if you’re Jesus, welcoming your enemies while they interrogate you is hard. Even if you’re Jesus, blessing your friend Judas as he plots to kill you hurts. Even if you’re Jesus, night after sleepless night adds up. Even if you’re Jesus, watching your followers peel away one after another leaves you feeling alone, abandoned.
All week Jesus’ stress mounts. All week we see cracks in the “Jesus loves the little children” demeanor. As they clear the temple, Jesus and his followers engage in physical violence – the only time they do so in Jesus’ entire ministry.
The next day, on the way back into Jerusalem, a hungry Jesus spots a fig tree. Jesus investigates and, finding no fruit, rains curses upon the innocent tree, withering it to its roots. The notes in my bible weave some story about prophecy and judgment, but when I’m super stressed, when I’m at the end of my rope, I also lash out at little things, I also am quick to rain curses upon the innocent who disappoint.
And then, in the temple, when the Pharisees and the temple officials finally leave, Jesus unleashes a tirade against them unlike anything seen before and since, calling them every name in the book until he cries out a prayer of desperation for Jerusalem, a prayer many see as the pure voice of God.
Finally, after dinner with his disciples, Jesus can bear it no more. He collapses in the garden and cries out in agony to God,
My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want”
Jesus cries out in agony and begs his closest disciples to stand by him, to pray with him, to support him in his distress – but they are too stressed themselves, too tired, too afraid.
Jesus cries out in agony – and God does not answer his prayer. God doesn’t remove the cup. God doesn’t allow a different path. God doesn’t let Jesus walk away. But as Jesus leaves his place of prayer, leaves to meet his betrayer, to face his death, he leaves restored and renewed. In the chaos of the garden, of the mob, of his arrest, of his disciples fleeing for their lives, Jesus blesses Judas, he calls his disciples to non-violence acceptance, and, according to Luke, heals the ear of a slave John calls Malchus, a victim of Peter’s over enthusiastic sword. Over the next 24 hours, Jesus will face officials, soldiers and crowds with a stoicism and peace beyond measure.
Psalm 116, traditional assigned to Maundy Thursday, contains this line:
Return, O my soul, to your rest
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you
God doesn’t answer Jesus’ prayer – but God does grant Jesus peace – the peace that passeth all understanding. Jesus’ external world never changes – but his internal world, his spiritual world, his psychological world, does. In the midst of the pain and the hurt, the anger and the betrayal, the fear and the doubt, God gifts Jesus peace.
The same gift awaits us. When we’re at the end of our rope, when we’re near the point of collapse, when the odds are stacked high against us, we may be tempted not to pray, for we sense deep in our being nothing will change. But its at that moment, when we collapse and lay all our anger, our fear, our hopelessness, our desperation at the feet of our savior; when we beg with God, plead with God for a different path; when we pour it all out to the point we become nothing; that God can – in the midst of the suffering, pain and chaos – give us the precious gift of peace. A peace passing all understanding. A peace allowing us to get up, greet what may come in the name of Jesus Christ, and experience God with Us.