I wake up this morning to hear the birds chirping. I imagine that is how it felt the morning after Jesus’ arrest: everything is seemingly normal. People are awake and doing their morning routine as if nothing has changed. They are unaware of the importance of last night and what it means for today, tomorrow, and all of eternity. It’s just an ordinary day.
Let’s back up. Last night was Passover; for Jesus, it was the Last Supper. It’s where he tried one last time to convince his disciples that his journey will end in tragedy. They claim that they are ready to face the trials, and Peter miraculously declares that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Something tells me that he was still confused about where Jesus was going.
The other important aspect of the Last Supper is that of Jesus’ interaction with his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. I’ve thought about Judas a lot over the years, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he gets a bad rep (read Silence by Shusaku Endo if you want a new outlook on him). He does betray Jesus and turn him in to the authorities, but see how Jesus deals with him. Jesus is aware of what Judas will do, and yet he invites him to the feast. He sits with him and eats with him. He takes communion with him. Let me say that again: Jesus takes communion with Judas.
In fact, Jesus takes communion with all of his disciples. He institutes the practice on this night, and later church leaders like Paul help to grow it into the tradition we have today. But that doesn’t take away the magnitude of this moment. For centuries, we have been barring others from taking communion for a variety of reasons – sinfulness, unbelief, rebellion. Yet the first communion features someone so bitter and maligned in heart that he is about to betray his leader and have him arrested. It features someone so blind to the truth and so arrogant that he falsely declares that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. And it features all the rest of the disciples who sleep while their leader cries out in agony and then run at the first sign of trouble. This first communion isn’t full of believers – it’s full of sinners.
Following the supper, they all head out to the garden of Gethsemane. This scene is one of my favorites in all of Scripture. We have reached the end of the journey. I know that Jesus has the cross to carry still, but this is the last moment of normalcy. It is the last chance for Jesus to turn and run. He can choose to change his message and make nice with the religious elites so that everything is fine. Gethsemane is the final trial.
Jesus goes off to pray, leaving his disciples to “keep watch.” As Jesus sits alone in the dark, we see a side of him that we’ve never seen before: a side that is terrified. The mistake that I often make when reading about Jesus is that he appears emotionless and in control. He seems to know everything that is going to happen and he appears superhuman in many cases. When I get to Gethsemane, I have to rethink what I’ve read before. He has been rattling cages and challenging the status quo for so long, and now it’s time to face the consequences for his actions. He’s aware of what comes next and for the first time we see his emotions: he is afraid. This is not a man who has everything under control: this is a man who doesn’t want to die.
I don’t know about you, but this is one of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture. Jesus prays to the Father, asking to not have to follow the Father’s will. He cries out in anguish at the terrifying reality in front of him. Matthew tells us that he sweats drops of blood. Why is this comforting? Because Jesus knows what it’s like to be me. Fear is a justified emotion. Anguish is warranted. Wanting to not follow God’s will in the face of daunting oppression is understandable. Jesus knows what it’s like to be human because he is human. He is fragile. He is weak in this moment. He wants to quit.
But he doesn’t.
This is one of the most important things to remember about the journey to the cross: Jesus did it even though he did not want to. When I read the Gospel narratives, I sometimes get so lost in Jesus’ glorified appearance that I just assume he is completely fine with his destiny. He knows what he has to do and he has no problem doing it. Gethsemane puts everything into focus. These aren’t new emotions that Jesus is feeling: this the climax of everything that has come before. He is feeling this way as he flips tables in the temple. He is feeling this way as he challenges the religious elites and calls them out for their hypocrisy. He is feeling this way as he chooses to sit with his betrayer and his soon-to-be faithless followers at the Last Supper. He feels every emotion that we feel on our own journey and he follows the Father’s will anyway.
Because Jesus did it first, I can do it now. Because Jesus led the way, I can follow him. Because Jesus is like me in every way, except without sin, there is hope for me to one day be like him in every way – sinless in the presence of the Father.