Abiding in the Garden
I have always been fascinated by the image of Christ praying in the garden of Gethsemane all night before he was arrested. Maybe its because I'm an insomniac with an anxiety disorder that its especially meaningful in those moments when I've been filled with dread to remember that Jesus experienced something similar.
Many of us have walked through the Holy Week story by attending Maundy Thursday seders, Good Friday services, Holy Saturday vigils, and of course, Resurrection Sunday celebrations. Maybe we've had our feet washed or tasted the bitter herbs at a passover meal. We've pricked our fingers on a crown of thorns, or walked the Stations of the Cross by candlelight. We've sat in a darkened sanctuary and watched the Christ Candle extinguish as the words are read, "It is finished." We participate in these acts of worship because we see the value of walking through Christ's passion, of joining him in the story and trying to imagine ourselves walking that dusty road to the cross.
Sometimes though, the story of Christ in the garden can be easy to miss in the Holy Week journey. Crammed in between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, we don't always spend the same amount of energy and time examining this part of the story as other bits. By the time Christ is getting to the garden on Thursday evening, most of us are already asleep.
This year, Holy Week is so different than normal, and there are different parts of the story that have been speaking to me in new brand ways as I've prepared for our worship services together. I've had time to stop and remember this passage, when Jesus, in agony over what is to come, turns to his disciples and says, "Remain here, and watch with me" (Matthew 26:38)
Spoiler alert: They don't. Christ returns to find them asleep. Three times in total, he returns from his vigil to find them sleeping.
For all those restless nights when I was comforted by the thought of Christ knowing exactly what I was going through because he too had suffered, this year, I find myself relating uncomfortably to the disciples. I am tired. I am worn out. What I really want to do is close my door, shut out the world with all its troubles and go to sleep, safe and sound where nothing dangerous or difficult can touch me.
"Sleep" for me can also mean tuning out. Shuttering up and binge-watching Netflix or reading three books cover to cover. There's nothing wrong with relaxing with some entertainment. But lately these things have taken me to a place without a virus that threatens all I care about or an economy that's at risk of collapsing, and I often I end up wanting to live there. I don't always want to live in the places that God has called me to keep watch. I don't always want to answer my phone, or reach out and text people to check in on them. I don't always want to keep vigil, praying for the world and for Christ's Kingdom to come to Earth. I don't always want to pray for the Holy Spirit to show me the things I need to surrender to God, or the places that I am called to go. I want to escape. I want to sleep.
In John 15, verse 5, Christ was trying to prepare his disciples for his imminent death. He told them: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
In the midst of my most uncertain times, I have been reminded that Christ abides with me by that image of Him in the garden. Even when he was crying out that the Father would take away the cup of death from Him, as soon as he realizes that this is the only way for humanity to be redeemed, he accepts the road ahead. Christ has accepted me and loved me, despite my failings, even unto death on a cross. He accepted his suffering to make a way for me to wholeness and fullness of life in Christ.
The song "Abide with me" is a beautiful meditation on what it means that Christ abides with us in life and in death, which is why I chose to record this song for Maundy Thursday (see video below). When I am starving for the presence of my friends and family in quarantine, Christ is present with me. When I am weighed down by fear, he is at hand with blessing ready to pour out. When everything around me is turbulently changing and filling me with uncertainty, Christ is yet unchanging, steadfast and abiding. When life gives way to death and decay, Christ shines through the gloom and invites us to join him on the Way of resurrection.
Because Christ has kept watch with me in my restless nights, I can keep watch with him in the garden. Because Christ has abided with me, I can abide with him and bear fruit.