Thursday, 29 March 2018

Maundy Thursday: Not so much an answer but a presence

After celebrating Passover and speaking of his death in bread and wine Jesus and the disciples move out of the city to the foot of the Mount of Olives to the fragrant, peaceful Garden of Gethsemane.

Sometimes our deepest thinking is done when we break away from routine or busyness.

With just a few disciples for company Jesus now moves away from the bigger group to pray.

Although the gospels are written in Greek some writers have him addressing God in Aramaic, as Abba – an unusual, but not totally uncommon, name meaning Father or Papa.  A respectful yet deeply intimate term.

Paul Gerhardt, in his hymn, O Sacred head, reflects this sense of intimacy with God in the verse that ends:
O make me thine for ever,
and, should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.

Jesus has a crisis in Gethsemane.

He would have known what crucifixion meant and he knew it was coming his way.

The crisis boiled down to a question: Was this the only way?  Could there be another way?

In our painting Jesus is seen almost clinging to the rock in utter despair.

This isn’t quiet, gentle prayer.  This is raging, questioning, desperate prayer.

We are never honest if we only ever talk of prayer in serene and bright tones.

Of course it can bring comfort but there are times when its outcome is challenge – challenge to take the hard road.

Surely this account of Jesus is one of the most precious we have in scripture.  At his deepest point of need, when hardly anything seemed to make sense, when questions filled his mind and he felt so alone – Jesus does not walk away from God, but instead, turns to God and prays. 

The mystery of suffering, in all its forms, sometimes comes close to overwhelming us.

One way to see it and go through it is to believe God’s response to suffering isn’t so much an answer but a presence.  His presence, to stand alongside us, to hold us, and share the suffering with us.

There is just a hint at Gethsemane that Jesus found a certain equilibrium as he prayed – enough of one, at least, to end those angst filled intercessions with the words: Not my will, but yours be done.

Perhaps the battle of Good Friday was won on Maundy Thursday by Jesus in a garden called Gethsemane.

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