What the Garden really sounds like

Throughout Lent, at LNPC we are exploring the Biblical Stations of the Cross.  We have the stations up in our sanctuary, and the congregation is doing a Lenten Worship Project, bringing in images that we find in media, our lives, art, etc. and helping to construct one of the stations during worship each week.  This week, we began with Jesus Praying in the Garden, Station 1.

Praying at Gethsemane, by He Qi

Station 1: Jesus Praying in the Garden
Lenten Collage Words: Prayer, Pleading, Sorrow.

In the Garden - a reading in four parts

John:             After the strange dinner, where Jesus washed our feet, and Judas got up and left in the middle, we walked together up to the garden on the Mount of Olives as we had done so often before.  But this time Jesus was distressed and agitated, and the usually pleasant ritual was colored with a heavy sense of foreboding. 
When we arrived at our favorite spot we all began to find a comfortable place to sit under the stars and someone started building a fire.  It was a mild night, with the soft breeze rustling the olive trees, and the nervous small talk started up in the group while we waited for Jesus to sit down.

Peter:             But Jesus didn’t sit.  Instead he pulled aside me, James and John, and left everyone else gathered around the fire that was just starting up.

Jesus:            Stay here, you guys, while I go over there and pray.

Peter:            When we had gotten a little distance away from the others, he grabbed us by the arms, clinging to us.  His voice was strained, and there was anguish in his eyes.

Jesus:             This sorrow is crushing my life out! Please, Stay here and keep vigil with me.  I cannot do this alone. I need you to be with me.

James:            He walked a few paces away from us, and then he fell down on his face draped over a rock, and began to pray fervently.  We stood there for a minute in silence, then looked for a comfortable spot to sit down and wait.

Jesus:             My Father, please, if there is any way, get me out of this! Oh God! But, not what I want. I’ll do what you want. I will. But please, is this really what you want?!"

Peter:            He was so distraught!  He prayed so intensely, that the sweat was wrung out of him like great drops of blood.  But he didn’t let up – just prayed all the harder.  After a while, he got up and came back to where we were waiting.
He found us asleep.
James:             We didn’t know what to do.
He had never asked us to do anything like this before. 
He wasn’t teaching and we weren’t there to listen; he wasn’t asking us to run errands or take care of any details.
He just wanted us to sit there, near him, while he had this frightening utter breakdown. 
What can I say? We were embarrassed, self-conscious, overwhelmed and afraid.  I guess after the long, weird night, the dinner, the wine and the hours under the stars with no clear directions as to how we were supposed to help him, we just sort of… fell asleep.

Peter:             He shook us awake, well, kicked us actually, or me, at least. He was completely beside himself.  Soaked through with sweat, wild with frustration. 

Jesus:            You’re sleeping? Can’t you even stay awake with me for one hour? 

Peter:            He cried out at us, whether we couldn’t even stay awake with him for even one hour, though I am certain it had been much longer than that.  We felt terrible, ashamed but really uncomfortable too. What did he expect?

John:            He was afraid.  “This is so hard.”  he said to us. 
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak.” 
He seemed deeply and genuinely afraid.  “I don’t know if I can do this,” he said, “and I pray for you – and you should too – that you never ever have to be in such a terrible time of trial as I am right now.

James:            It was then that the lights came bouncing over the hill and the sound of a raucous crowd met our ears.  He turned towards commotion, and said:

Jesus:            Get up.  My betrayer comes.  It begins.


Tonight I want to debunk two myths about prayer.  The first one is that “prayer warriors", or those who pray a lot, those who rely on prayer, never doubt or struggle. I think we tend to picture people with strong prayer lives as those who have some kind of unshakable belief, some kind of certainty - that they pray with confidence, with sureness that they know what God wants, or even that they can tell God what God should do and God will do it.
This is one of many grave misconceptions about prayer. 

Here is Jesus praying. Jesus. Afraid. Alone. Pleading. Filled with sorrow. Knowing what is coming and wanting with everything inside him for it not to be so.  And telling God all of that. Just sitting with it in the presence of God and letting it all hang out. That Jesus – the very incarnation of God in humanity – would pray in this way, shows us that there is more to prayer than we might think.

Prayer is baring your soul to God. It isn’t censored for content; isn’t figuring out what we think God wants to hear and saying that. It’s trusting God enough to simply pour out our hearts. To plead. to beg. And it’s also trusting God enough to know yourself to be in God’s hands no matter what.

Being held by God doesn’t mean there wont be suffering. It doesn’t mean there wont be sorrow or pain. It means that those things cannot destroy you, you belong to God. And belonging to God means God wants to hear what we are afraid to say. And it means saying it can’t do a single thing to change the fact that God has got us.  God has got us.

Anne Lamott has said of her own life, "I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something [my friend] Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns." 

Jesus showed us how to pray with this kind of faith.
Praying is the language of our life together. And it isn’t always expressions of gratitude, and it’s rarely declarations of certainty. Sometimes it is pleading. Sometimes it is sorrow. Sometimes it is groanings too deep for words. That is faithful prayer.

The other myth about prayer that I want to debunk tonight is that prayer is something best done alone.  Prayer, like everything about faith really – like reading scripture, like worship, like following Jesus and whatever that means in our lives – is best done with others. 
This is Jesus’ pain, Jesus’ grief. It’s his prayer here.  But he wants his friends around him. He wants them to be near him. Just to stay awake. Just not to leave him alone. Just to share – in some small way, and despite their confusion and discomfort – his sorrow, his terror.  His prayers find courage when others are nearby, holding him in love.  It’s not about what they say. There is nothing they can do. He doesn’t want them to give him good advice or religious cheer-ups!, he just wants them to share his grief so that he is not alone.  When they are there, God’s presence is tangible.  When they are with him, for him, he finds the strength, the voice, to trust God with his pain.

We gather tonight in the garden. The first Station of the Cross, the beginning of Jesus’ last week, and we seek to follow Jesus on this journey.  And truly this room is the garden.  Because earlier today, it was filled with flowers, and tears and people who were here to share sadness with someone they love.  People who have nothing to say, nothing to do, except to stay awake with and for their friends, to be near them in their terrible grief and unfathomable loss. 

As we lift up the world in prayer tonight, those we know and those we’ve never met, as we hold up tonight people suffering in unimaginable ways – earthquakes and tsunamis, losing children, and losing hope, and as we stand with each other in all the ways death breathes down our own necks, as we stand at the beginning of this journey to the cross, we do not shy away from pleading and sorrow.

We will encourage each other just to say what is, and not to try to clean it up with religious pep talks or give God easy outs.  We will come with the world’s pain and lay it before the cross.  In other words, we will pray. With Jesus in the garden, we will pray.

But we will also stand with and for each other, we will stand on behalf of the world, we will strive to do the very most basic thing we can – to stay awake and see and hear the pain and grief, not to hide from it or cover it up.  That is the way of faith. That is the way of Christ.

"In the Garden" script copyright, Kara K Root. May be used with permission.

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