Reflection for holy week
All paths that have been, or shall come to be, pass somewhere through Gethsemane.
The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is often frustration and defeat. There are exceptions, but not many. It happened that way to Jesus. He emerged on the public scene and was an overnight sensation. He would try to go off to be alone and people would still follow him. People would line the streets as he came into town. On Palm Sunday, palm branches were spread before him with shouts of Hosanna! Great crowds came to hear him preach. A wave of religious fervor and expectation swept the country.
But the cheering did not last. The tide soon began to turn against him. You would not have noticed at first. People still came to see him, but the excitement was missing, and the crowds were not as large as they used to be. Critics began to publicly attack him. That was something new. Earlier they were afraid to speak out for fear of the people, but they began to perceive that the public had a short attention span and was starting to turn on him. Soon the opposition began to snowball. Discovering that they could not discredit his moral character, they took more desperate measures. Before it was all over a wave of public opinion brought Jesus to his knees under the weight of a cross.
Why did the masses so dramatically turn against him? How did the shouts of "Hosanna!" on Palm Sunday suddenly transform into shouts of "Crucify him!" on Friday? I am not just talking about the immediate events that may have brought it about, but the deeper root causes. What were the underlying issues? In five days it fell apart. Why? Why did the cheering stop?
Psalm 77 speaks of some unspeakable horror that occurred to Israel. "Will the Lord cast us off forever? And will God be favorable no more? Is God's mercy clean gone forever? Does God's promise fail? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has God in anger ceased to give mercy?"
Who do we turn to when things are unexplainably painful? God? Our elected officials? How can we when even God seems to be absent? The Psalmist is saying that there is no consolation, not even in God, when your soul has been torn from you. But even in great despair something faithful is happening. Even when we cry out "God is not there" we express our deep desire for God.
Suffering gets our attention and forces us to look toward one another; to ask the deeper questions about life forces the believer to turn toward God. Even if it is to express displeasure and despair, we turn to God and in our cries for help, demonstrate faith.
The second question we must ask is: What are we to do? For the believer, the answer is obvious: We must pray. Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane for one reason: to pray. "Why are you sleeping?" Jesus asked his disciples. "Get up and pray with me!" Prayer prepares the soul for suffering. Jesus knew what was coming and that prayer was the only way to prepare.
Prayer does two things for us. It helps us cope with hardship and guides us from temptation. Jesus told his disciples to pray that "you will not fall into temptation." You would expect Jesus to tell the disciples to pray so that you can endure the hardship to come. But hardship brings temptation: Temptation to compromise our principles, temptation to pursue pleasure over adversity, temptation to renounce our faith in God. Peter, James, and John soon learned this lesson as they denied that they knew Jesus. They fled the scene afraid for their own lives.
Prayer helps us cope with hardship and keeps us from temptation. But there other things we can do: Pray for the families of those who have suffered at the hands of terrorists these past few years; pray for those who have suffered as a result of ill-conceived responses to terrorism. Terrorism and the fear of terrorism continue to tear at our world. Last, but most difficult of all, pray for the terrorists themselves. Our world is dealing with a culture of death; in response to it, we must offer a culture of life.
One final, more complicated, question: Where do we go from here? The answer isn't easy because life isn't easy. When Jesus left Gethsemane he went to Golgotha. There are times when we all seem to be running from the garden of our despair to the hill of our own personal suffering.
We can look to the Bible for help and guidance. At some time there has been a Gethsemane for all of God's people. For Abraham it was when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. For Joseph it was years in an Egyptian prison. Paul endured any number of Gethsemanes.
It would be dishonest to say that God makes everything all right in this world. The deaths of 3,000 who were simply going to work the morning of September 11,, 2001, tells me the world is crowded with Gethsemanes. Almost 4,000 dead soldiers in Iraq and God knows how many Iraqi citizens tells me that peace has an enormous price. Shootings in our schools and on our streets tells me that evil still sometimes gains a foothold in this world.
I have as much hope in the resurrection as anyone. But I cannot deny the picture painted by the Psalmist when he asks, "Will the Lord cast off forever?"
Where do we go from here? Perhaps the saying is true: "All paths that have been, or shall come to be, pass somewhere through Gethsemane."