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Going to Dark Gethsemane

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Pastor Brian Rajcok

Matthew 26: 36-50

April 9, 2020

Hello and welcome to St. Matthew Lutheran Church’s virtual Maundy Thursday message. On Maundy Thursday we usually hear the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet at the Last Supper and we’re reminded of his call to love one another as He loved us. This year I want to focus on a part of the night before Jesus died that usually gets less attention, but which I think is extremely important and particularly relevant this year. I want to invite us to reflect on Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane. And so, a reading from Matthew 26…

This passage speaks of Jesus’ willingness to surrender to the reality caving in around Him. Surrender to whatever way sin and evil manifest in this reality and in his life. Surrender to the wills of those who want to kill him, and not resisting their hatred and violence. Jesus’ non-resistance to the will of human sinfulness reveals the way God acts in the world—demonstrating how in the words of Paul “love does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13). This way of non-resistance to sin, love in the face of hate, acceptance of the unacceptable, is the way Jesus saves the world.

Jesus’ words “Not my will but yours be done” are perhaps the most holy words in all of Scripture. They demonstrate the deepest humility and a willingness to suffer the consequences of being pure light in the midst of a dark world. Jesus’ surrender to this cup means the redemption of the world. But the fact that this cup is God’s will is a deep mystery. It’s appropriate that we wrestle with it. What does suffering have to do with God’s will? Why is the universe the way it is? Why did Jesus need to surrender His will and die?

All these questions have elementary answers that try to make the mystery easy to understand. We want to be able to put our finger on the reason why, so we have a sense of control and understanding about the way God works. But the deeper truth of this surrender to suffering and the answer to these questions involve a struggle with mystery and paradox. Scripture tells us Jesus died for the sin of the world. Understanding what that means has been the mission of Christian theology for the past 2000 years. Theologians, scholars, and mystics have grappled with this for centuries and didn’t give in to easy answers about the how or why. All understood there was some incredible meaning behind this seemingly meaningless death, something they struggled to comprehend or put into language.

What I think we are called to do this day, along with Christians of all times and places, is to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s death. Don’t think your way to an easy answer. Instead sit with the mystery and invite the confusion and paradox. Invite the Spirit to gently work in you and ground you in the mystery of our faith. The mystery of the cross. The mystery of the crucified God. The mystery of Jesus surrendering His will. Wrestle with it. Meditate on it. Ponder the mystery.

In struggling with the mystery of suffering, you may notice the ways your will wants to avoid suffering at all costs. We might say to ourselves, “Jesus could surrender His will because He was the Son of God, but I sure can’t do that!” It’s one of those simple answers that dismisses our calling. Catch yourself when such excuses cross your mind.

Remember, the heart of Christian spirituality is turning our wills over to God. Manifesting the divine will in our own unique way. We’re called to stay awake with Jesus, to become aware of our own selfishness, and to let go of whatever it is in us that doesn’t align with the divine will. We do this not because we need to in order to be saved, but because this is the journey we are on. We get to participate in this mystery, and surrendering to it with reverence and trust is our calling as children of God.

So I invite you in these next few days to reflect on our Lord’s passion. At this time in our world today when across the globe business as usual has come to a halt, reflect on the importance of surrendering your will to the divine will. Reflect on the reality of suffering and sin and death. Don’t jump to quick and easy answers. Dwell in that cloud of unknowing for a while and learn to be comfortable there. Rest in that mystery and paradox. And trust that by surrendering to this mystery and staying awake with Jesus through the night, you will come to the more secure place at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. We know what Good News is waiting for us there, but now is the time to wait with Jesus. To accept the cup given to us. To surrender our wills to the divine will. To ponder the mystery of this holy journey called life. And to enter into a place of deep reverence for all that is about the unfold these next three holy days.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Agony in the Garden

by John O’Donohue in the book Connemara Blues

Whatever veil of mercy shrouds the dark

Wound that stops weeping in no one, cannot

Stop the torrent of night when it buries thought

And heart beneath the black tears of the earth.

Through scragged bush the moon discovers his face,

Dazed inside the sound of Gethsemane,

Subsiding under the weight of silence

That entombs the cry of his terrified prayer.

What light could endure the dark he entered?

The void that turns the mind into a ruin

Haunted by the tattered screeching of birds

Who nest deep in hunger that mocks all care.

Still he somehow stands in that nothingness;

Raising the chalice of kindness to bless.

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