It’s Thursday night. Having just had one last meal with his disciples, Jesus goes to one of his favourite haunts, the Mount of Olives. He is joined by some of the disciples. Shortly after arriving, Jesus, feeling increasingly weighed down with sorrow, withdraws from his friends and falls to his knees and prays.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
The cup remains.
An angel appears and strengthens Jesus, yet the anguish which drove him to his knees intensifies. The angel did not come to take away the pain; the angel came to somehow and in some way help him to keep going. The anguish deepens yet further, so much so that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. In medical terms, sweating drops of blood is a “rare physiological condition called haematidrosis in which, under extreme anguish, capillaries may rupture in the subcutaneous layer of skin near the sweat glands so that the sufferer emits sweat tinged with blood” (Pete Greig, God on Mute).
Reflecting on this, I call to mind the moments when I have gone through times of distress. Moments of fretfulness, anxiety and panic. Although none could ever come close to the anguish Jesus experienced, I want to use the occasions where I’ve felt darkness envelop me to somehow and in someway gauge the slightest insight into what Jesus felt. I need to do this. I could never capture and touch the full extent of his anguish, let alone survive it, but having this perspective provides opportunity to imagine, acknowledge and appreciate in some way a reality, a truth, that should never be forgotten.
My own seasons of distress have come in many different forms. Some are the consequence of my own mistakes, some the result of other peoples failings, and some simply part of the ebb and flow, the wonder and tragedy, of human life. No rhyme and no reason. And then I look to the lives around me and the world beyond my own front door. I listen to a friend, read the news or watch a hard-hitting documentary and suddenly I am halted in my apathy and ignorance, as the brutal reality of sin and how it so often causes anguish in the lives of so many, far more than I have known myself, hits me like a knock-out punch. Exploitation, terror, abuse, fraud, war, dishonesty, addiction, and immorality, to name but a small few.
How did the world ever end-up like this? It is all just so overwhelming and sad.
As I capture pockets of my own anguish and those of others, those I know and those I simply observe, I look around for something to offer release, a smile to hide the tears that surround me, otherwise the weight of what I see and feel will stop me from moving forward. It’s just too much for my own fragile shoulders to bear.
On that Thursday night, all those years ago, Jesus did not like me fleetingly capture pockets of anguish from one or two friends, the odd news story and an episode of Panorama or Unreported World. Instead, Jesus looked deeply into the the brokenness and depravity of all our lives and the sorrow that our sin, our wrongdoing, has caused each other and, above all, God. Jesus did not just look, either, for he knew there was something more, something far harder, he had to do. As the darkness of night surrounded him like a thick fog, so the full weight, the full guilt, of the whole world – the whole world! – began to rest heavily and almost unbearably on this most humble and servant-hearted of men. This was just the beginning, for in a few hours time the guilt that Jesus took on in its entirety, as if he had committed every crime the world had known, would receive its due punishment on the cross.
And so, as he quietly withdrew from his friends in the tense evening air, it’s not difficult to see why, in crying to his Father, Jesus longed for a smile to hide the tears of a fragile humanity.
It didn’t come.
I try to imagine it but I can’t. It’s overwhelming and beyond comprehension. For one person – human like me and you, yet perfect and without blemish – to on that Thursday night begin to take the place of every person, as if it was him who committed every single one of our sins, seems almost impossible and unreal. Yet I know it happened. With increasing clarity and conviction I know it was the only thing that could be done for our brokenness to be healed and every wrong word, action and thought forgiven, so that we could be eternally reconciled with our holy, creator and loving God. The way it was always meant to be. I need forgiveness, we all need forgiveness, and Jesus makes that possible.
God, as I recall my own distress and the distress of so many others, I am prompted to think about the anguish your son, Jesus, began to feel so heavily on that Thursday night and so brutally through to Friday, when he breathed his last on the cross. I know I could never capture the extent to which my brokenness, the world’s brokenness, caused Jesus such sorrow and pain, but being in a place to imagine in someway and somehow the unimaginable anguish he felt helps me see afresh the love that caused him to take on our guilt and persevere through the night and then to the cross on Friday.
And as his Father, I know his unimaginable anguish was your unimaginable anguish, too.
I am so grateful.
And thank you that the story did not end there, for Sunday came and Jesus rose from the dead so that sin and death did not have the final say. It’s a wonderful truth that brings freedom and new life to all who believe.
Unimaginable anguish paving way to unimaginable joy.