Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Lent Five: Gethsemane: Pauline West

Matthew 26:36 – 56

They went as usual to the Mount of Olives, a working plantation of olive trees; an ordinary place providing a livelihood for the people who tended it. They had gone there every evening that week after a day of teaching and confrontation in the Temple. This night they stopped in a grove called Gethsemane, an ordinary place, a place that gathered them in and gave them rest.
This night they needed that rest more than ever. The mood of the group had changed. The disciples were tired, very tired, not just physically but emotionally. They were drained, confused, fearful, struggling to cope and there were only 11 of them, one was missing. They were too exhausted to wonder where he was.

Jesus was different as well. He was agitated; preoccupied; struggling with something the disciples did not know or understand. Leaving the group to rest under the trees he took Peter, James and John and moved away a little. He wanted the support of close friends. Telling them to stay awake with him, for his sake, he went a little further and prayed, wrestling with God; struggling to face death, the physical suffering of crucifixion and the spiritual battle the power of which he had first experienced in the wilderness. He came back to be with the three and found them asleep. The disappointment added to his burden, but he saw their vulnerability and urged Peter, at least, to stay awake; stick with me for your sake. The denial was a real possibility that had the potential to destroy Peter. They could not manage it; the body demanded sleep. Jesus was alone.

Or was he? The Father; the Spirit; the Scriptures; the twelve legions of angels all were there to give support, but Jesus alone had to make that final decision to complete his mission through the cross. He prayed; he wrestled; he wept; he went through agony to reach the final peace of his decision. The peace that told him this was the way; the peace that filled the familiar sacred place of rest.

The disciples were rudely awakened by the arrival of the missing Judas with a crowd armed with swords and clubs, a disproportionate response to the arrest of one man; an arrest that makes my blood run cold and my eyes fill with tears each time I read about it. Galvanised into action the loyal disciples started a trail of violence, but Jesus stopped them. A very different Jesus: a Jesus in command of the situation; a Jesus accepting the kiss of betrayal from one he calls friend, a Jesus allowing the arrest; a Jesus who had made the decision that was sealed with the peace that passes all understanding. A peace found in an ordinary working olive grove called Gethsemane.

We all need a Gethsemane; an ordinary familiar resting place where we can be with God struggling, laughing, crying or even sleeping. A place that will refresh; give us healing; clarify; give us strength; help us to face what disturbs; what hurts; what makes us fearful. A place maybe to hear the call we do not want, but God says it is OK trust me.

The picture is of one such place for me, yes there can be more than one; it is part of my garden. The acer is producing its autumn colours; the astilbes have finished flowering leaving the stalks to sway in the breeze; the berries of the cotoneaster are turning red giving food in the winter months; the rocks of the wall glint in the sunshine. Living and dying, light and dark, jumble and clarity, hard and soft are there side by side as they were in Gethsemane and in it all there is God. 

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