And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
The Pandemic of 2020 is reaching its peak in the US just as we approach the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In this time of profound disruption and chaos, anticipating even more as the caseload climbs and more fellow humans around the world succumb to the ravages of this disease, my thoughts turned to the above passage from Luke (my personal favorite because he was a physician/historian/missionary). I appreciate the picture of Christ’s humanity that it reveals. I’ll mention just three elements that attract my contemplation:
(1) Jesus had habits. Apparently, when he was in Jerusalem, he would often go across the Kidron Valley to pray in the gardened slope of the Mount of Olives. As his band of followers drew ever closer to the greatest trial of their lives, their Shepherd led them into a familiar rhythm of prayer. It was this regular evening prayer time (foreshadowed by Daniel’s example before the lion’s den) that gave Judas Iscariot the confidence he needed to lead the mob to arrest Jesus.
(2) Jesus knew the fatigue of sorrow. He understood how overwhelming grief can exhaust the will and drain one’s spiritual and emotional energy. He knew that temptation to passivity in the face of catastrophic loss and even warned his follows not to give in. He knew what was coming, he anticipated the threat to his disciples’ faith, and he gave them the tool they needed to face it: prayer.
(3) Jesus was scared. He knew that betrayal, torture, isolation, false accusations, rejection, crucifixion, and death would hurt. He wished for another way. The super-human stress that he faced caused him to sweat blood and required an angelic paramedic to assist him. Yet his response in the whole affair was at once familiar and profound: he prayed. He opened his heart to his Father and bowed his will to the Sovereign of the Universe.
There is a mix of emotions for anyone going into battle, facing a real (albeit small in my case) threat of death. I think I have felt them all even if I lack the vocabulary to describe them. And though I read, study, worry and fret more than I fall on my knees in prayer, I find that it truly is the antidote to fear and the oil in the lamp of faith. Because somehow, deeper still than the dread of loss and the paralysis of sorrow’s chaos, there is love. Love bids me onward, forward, and always upward.