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~ Praying with Christ in Gethsemane ~

On the night of His arrest, Christ “went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane...Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ ...Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping” (Matthew 26:36a, 38, 40a, NIV).

Jesus did this three times. We are told He prayed, all three times, the same words: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (v. 39b). This record, of course, is only the gist of His prayer. We know these prayers were not short for “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:43-44, NIV).

Jesus’ sleeping disciples were not privy to those prayers. They did not fully participate in His passion at that time, as they eventually did. As His disciples today, we can too. Out of our love and unity, we feel compelled to.

Keeping watch with Jesus, what would we have heard pouring out of His anguished soul, overwhelmed to the point of death? Historically, we do not know. Spiritually, Scripture points vividly to the spirit of those passion prayers. Praying those prayers as though we were with Him in Gesthsemane pulls us deeply into His passionate heart. Christ prays those prayers through us to the Father. We welcome and embrace that with all our hearts. They really are our prayers, for He became one of us for our sakes.

To prayerfully and contemplatively participate in the passion of Christ, we confidently trust in the Hebrew psalter, the book of the Psalms. The New Testament quotes this book more frequently than all others, many psalm verses being prophetic of Christ’s feelings, thoughts and prayers. (The Weekly Reflection following this one, “Praying with Christ on the Cross,” relies heavily on Psalm 22.)

Jesus “went with his disciples to...Gethsemane...and said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death...keep watch with me’...He found them sleeping...He fell down and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus may well have remembered and prayed these prophetic verses...

“My God, do not be far from me, for tribulation is near and there is no one to help (Ps. 22:11). O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship” (Ps. 109:1-5). The Christ in so many of His brothers and sisters pray this same prayer today. We still live His passion.

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am restoring  what I did not steal...I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me...You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for ones to grieve with me, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst” (Ps. 69:1-4, 8-9, 19-21). Christ still thirsts through His needy brothers and sisters. We still live His passion and prayers. “You didn’t visit Me in prison, in the ghettos, on the streets lined with the homeless in cardboard box shelters...”

“Help me, O Yahweh my God; save me in accordance with your love. Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. They may curse, but you will bless; when they attack they will be put to shame, but your servant will rejoice. My accusers will be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak (Ps. 109:26-29). We must “bless our enemies.” We must “love each other as I have loved you.”

[The Father responds:] “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet...You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:1b, 4b). We share in that priesthood. It requires total self-denial.

“You number and record my wanderings; put my tears into your bottle – are they not in your book? Then my enemies turn back to the day I cry out; this I know, for God is for me. In God whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, have I put my trust and confidant reliance; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? I am under your vows, O God; I will render praise to you and give you thank offerings. For you have delivered my life from death, yes, and my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life and of the living” (Ps. 56:8-13).Trust and confidant reliance is achieved only through self-denial and self-surrender to the Father, as the Christ exemplified. This is required to share in the passion of our Lord and Beloved. It is needed to just understand a little of it.

“The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Ps. 98:1-3). Through the house of Israel the Gospel (Good News of Redemption) was manifested to the entire world. God’s love is all-inclusive.

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek Yahweh will praise him – may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to Yahweh, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to Yahweh and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him – those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about Yahweh the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it” (Ps. 22:24-31). Upon hearing the proclamation of the angel to Mary of God’s choice of her to conceive and give birth to His Incarnate the Christ, she responded with the wondrous affirmation, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said.” Jesus prayed His mother’s words, “Let it be done according to what you have decreed, according to your will, not mine.” This must be our affirmation as well, to the world now and to those yet to be born. The proclamation is “He has done it.”

“When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ ...Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns’” (Luke 22:45-46, 52-53).

“’Now my heart is 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!’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again’” (John 12:27-28). “Our Father who is in heaven, holy be your name...holy may it be through our walk and our talk.” Save us from this hour of suffering, persecution, tribulation? Only if it glorifies your name! If suffering, persecution and tribulation serves to glorify your name, so be it! “Let it be done according to your word.”

(The Father continues...) “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ I will also appoint him my first born, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure” (Ps. 89:26-29). Let us exclaim with Christ to the Father, “You are my Father, my God, the Rock, my Savior”! Let us pray to the Father to include us in His Son’s inheritance, according to His covenant with us.

 “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:5-7). Unless we pray the same, there is no redemption for us. His will is for us to embrace His redemptive gift, the Christ. And so we participate in the passion of Christ.

This is a glimpse of the sorrowful and triumphant passion of Christ, and our own since we are His brothers and sisters. We are beckoned to wake up, to consciously join Him, and to keep watch with Him forever.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © September 19, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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