Tonight, I had the opportunity to be one of three teachers at our church’s Good Friday service. Each one of us too a different piece of the story leading up to the crucifixion, from the Last Supper to the prayers in the Garden to the final words of Christ on the cross. My piece of the service was a five-ish minute telling of the story of the time in the Garden. I’ve copied the manuscript that I used below – enjoy!
As we reflect on the Last Supper, this important meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, we see glimpses of the tension in the story. We see that Jesus knows what is to come in the next days, and who will set those events into motion, but his disciples do not see it yet. The fully human and fully divine natures of Christ are coming to a head.
As they leave their meal together and travel to the Garden, can you feel the tension?
I imagine the disciples walking in groups, whispering to each other as they went, trying to decipher the words that Jesus had said – and where exactly their friend Judas has disappeared to. I imagine that Jesus walked just a bit ahead of them, overhearing the conversations behind Him but not chiming in. He knew what was to come, but He also knew that the people that He loved most did not and would not know in the same way.
Arriving in the Garden, Jesus asks three disciples – Peter, James, and John – to follow Him in, a bit further, to pray. These are the men who were the closest to Jesus, who were His best friends and close companions during His years of ministry. It makes sense that in this time of need, these were the men by Jesus’ side. Multiple times throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus retreat by himself to a quiet place to pray and be alone with His Father. However, this was not a normal evening, and Jesus does not fully retreat alone. Jesus shares with these three disciples that He is going to pray – and that He is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).
This is not the type of bad day sorrow that can be quickly fixed, or even the kind of sorrow that feels better after conversation and prayer with friends or family. This type of sorrow is the kind that grabs a corner of your heart with a strength that catches you off guard, a sorrow that works its way into your thoughts and actions and prayers. In this moment, Jesus feels the weight of this sorrow and the tension that this night holds for Him. He goes a few feet further into the Garden from His disciples and falls down, flat on His face, and does the only thing that makes sense – He begins to talk to the Father in prayer. This is not a prayer that seeks comfort, or a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer that is filled to the brim with sadness and sorrow and longing.
Can you hear the desperation in these words? Jesus cries out saying “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus is begging for a change in plan, because He knows the pain that will come in the next days. Fro the first time He will be separated from His Father, placed into total darkness, opposite of everything that is divine in Him. Jesus is crying out – but yet, through the sorrow that fills ever fiber of His being, He ultimately relies on the will of His Father, no matter what that means for the days to come.
After praying these words, Jesus goes back tot he disciples – maybe to look for comfort, maybe to try and explain to them one more time what the coming days will look like, maybe to share one last parable with them – and He finds them asleep. This is the night that will change everything, and there they lay, eyes closed and oblivious to the pain that their Rabbi is feeling just a few feet away. Jesus wakes them, probably with a mix of anger and sadness, saying “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation!” (Matthew 26:40-41).
With these words Jesus urges them to pray as He is praying, and leaves once more to spend time with His Father. Jesus falls to His knees, face down before God, and begins to pray again. This time, though the sorrow is the same and Jesus feels it just as deeply as before, the words that come are different. Jesus prays “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)
Do you sense the change here? Instead of begging for a change in plan, Jesus acknowledges that there is no possible way to change the plan. This cup that leads to His death on the cross is the only way – and even in sorrow and pain, Jesus accepts it as the will of His Father, and He will do it.
Jesus prays these words a second time after once more finding the disciples asleep. Instead of waking them, Jesus simply returns to prayer. In this moment, in the midst of this night, prayer is the only place that He has to turn. And His prayer is overwhelming, one that holds love and sorrow in tension together – one that says, “I don’t want to do this, but if it’s the will of God, then I will.”
Shortly after this final prayer, Jesus wakes up the men that He loves, telling them to be alert because the hour of betrayal is coming. He has poured out His soul, His sorrow, and His desperation, and the beginning of the next chapter in the story has arrived.
In this moment, between the holy space of prayer and the dark place of betrayal, we can feel the tension in the final prayer of Christ:
Even though it is painful, may your will, Father, be done.