“Go to dark Gethsemane, you who feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see; watch with him one bitter hour;
Turn not from his griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray”.
These words by 19th century hymn-writer James Montgomery are on my mind as I read in the gospels about what happened in the garden of Gethsemane. I invite you to join me in meditating on our Lord’s anguished prayer in Gethsemane during the coming weeks leading up to the remembrance of his death and resurrection.
If we wish to offer ourselves to God during this season, it may be helpful to observe the Lord’s example as he “offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Hebrews 5:7).
He went to the familiar place where he and his disciples had often gone for a retreat. It was a grove of ancient olive trees located on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem. The name Gethsemane means “oil press” and it was probably a place for squeezing oil from the olives that were harvested there. The gospels tell us he knelt down (Luke) and then he prostrated himself with his face to the earth (Matthew) as poured out his soul in prayer.
In the preceding hours, he had been praying for his disciples (John 17). Now, in the garden, facing imminent death, Jesus prayed for himself. He knew what was coming. He had already surrendered himself to fulfill the purpose for which he came into the world. But his soul was troubled.
“Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28)
Here we see the human Jesus as he faced the sorrows of death. We see his agony over the terrible prospect of bearing the sin of the world. We see the exhaustion of his grief and his desperate loneliness in the crisis.
We are invited during this Lenten season to offer ourselves up to God in surrender and prayer, as Jesus did. This may be something like what Paul the apostle had in mind when he wanted to know Christ in “participation in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).
You may be entering your own private Gethsemane experience: a disappointing turn of events; a surprising bit of bad news; confusing circumstances. It has been said that the crisis prepares us to pray. “Turn not from his griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray.”