At Gethsemane, in the Garden where Jesus’ passion began, modern pilgrims are sometimes told to imagine what a tale those olive trees could tell if they could only talk to us. Pilgrims in Israel typically aspire not just to walk the Way of the Cross but to visit as many as possible of the places sanctified by Christ’s presence and actions. Making his own pilgrimage there in the 1870s, the founder of my community, Isaac Hecker said: “after having been in the localities where the great mysteries which they express took place, one is impressed in a wonderful manner with their actuality. The truths of our holy faith seem to saturate one’s blood, enter into one’s flesh, and penetrate even to the marrow of one’s bones.”
Whenever we walk the Way of the Cross, wherever we do so, we all become pilgrims sharing in that special experience.
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden reminds us of that other Garden, where the human race first said NO to God’s will, and which Jesus’ prayer in this Garden is intended to undo. For here Jesus accepts his Father’s will. His YES resets the course of human history, and invites us to come along with him.
Jesus’ command to his inattentive disciples, “remain here, and watch,” was no accident. The disciples’ sleepiness signifies letting one’s guard down – dangerously allowing easy access to the power of evil and sin, always at work in the world. The disciples’ sleeping foreshadows their running away in the next scene, but meanwhile it means they’re miss out on God’s power at work in Jesus’ prayer - Jesus resisting and defeating the power of evil at the very moment when it seems to be winning. Jesus’ prayer resists the tempter and decisively defeats the devil - by being obedient to his Father’s will for the salvation of the world. Jesus’ admonition, “remain here, and watch,” is addressed to us too – challenging us to stay awake with him, and so to share in his victory – healed and forgiven for ever in his Father’s kingdom.
Meditation on "The Agony in the Garden," Ecumenical Way of the Cross, Market Square, Knoxville, TN, Good Friday, April 18, 2014.