I don’t know where to start……so whenever that happens, I go back to scripture. What a beautiful scripture, Jesus at one of his most vulnerable moments, goes into a place called Gethsemane, meaning oil press. Luke places Jesus on the Mount of Olives, and John’s Gospel places him in a garden, so when you combine the Gospels together, that’s how we get the Garden of Gethsemane.
I like the idea of Jesus going into a garden at his most vulnerable. He goes to the garden, a garden I imagine not unlike the one Adam and Eve played in as children, or the one I hear some of you talk about in your own yards and balconies, whether it be a years or potted plants. Jesus goes to the place, I imagine, where people planted vines that produce grapes, grapes used to make wine that was then poured into a cup and became a symbol of a new covenant.
Gardens are places that can grow wild and untamed, overgrown. They’re places that become a haven for birds and bees, moles and owls, creatures of all kinds including rats if you live in Marin. Some inhabitants of the garden we love, some we wish would go away, just like people, just like circumstances, each have a purpose, each there to teach us a thing or two about tolerance and acceptance and celebrating diversity.
Gardens are also places we go to to sit, to think, to reflect, to admire….Gardens are life affirming, and it’s into this life affirming setting that we follow Jesus this morning…..
Jesus is grieving and it’s into this life affirming setting he enters. Scripture tells us he’s deeply distressed and troubled, And Jesus himself names it out loud; “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
Naming what we’re feeling, when in distress can help to release it, can help to give it less power. Jesus names his own anxiety. He’s known he’s heading to the cross for a long time. He’s preached about it, taught about it, and now grieves the reality of it. He falls to the ground, and prays to God for another way. Remove this cup….
How many of us have found ourselves, on our knees, metaphorically or literally on the ground as Jesus is, or in our beds crying into a pillow, or in a locked bathroom so the kids can’t walk in, or in the backyard or in the car, searching for a way to breathe deeply and praying to God for change, for another way, or a way out? Grief can be all consuming.
This is Jesus at his most vulnerable praying to God for another way. Remove this cup, take this cup. Take this burden, take this cross….and then, follows with the most important prayer we can pray, not my will but yours. Your will be done.
We’ve all experienced our own version of this….of going from wanting it all to different, to acceptance. And when we finally accept, it’s usually through grace, and not anything we’ve done, except to pray, your will, not mine. Accepting that what happens next is not in our control, not our employment, our next job, longevity, health, your children, your spouses, the next wild fire, or even of how dinner will turn out. We can do our best to influence outcomes and we can find ways to mitigate the lousy circumstances of our life, but ultimately the only thing we have control over really is our response…..which includes ….trusting in a God that God has you, God has you whatever happens, God has you.
Prayer from Beth that I shared earlier this week-
Me: Okay, God, here's the thing. I'm scared. I'm trying not to be, but I am.
God: I know. Want to talk about it?
Me: Do we need to? I mean, you already know.
God: Let's talk about it anyway... We've done this before.
Me: I know, I just feel like I should be bigger or stronger of something by now.
God: *waiting patiently, unhurried, undistracted, never annoyed.
Me: Okay. So, I'm afraid I'll do everything I can to protect myself and family and it won't be enough. I'm afraid of someone I love dying. I'm afraid the world won't go back to what it was before. I'm afraid people will forget how to care for one another. I’m afraid my life is always going to feel a little bit unsettled.
God: Anything else?
Me: EVERYTHING ELSE.
God: Remember how your son woke up the other night and came running down the hall to your bedroom?
God: You were still awake, so when you heard him running, you started calling out to him before he even got to you... remember? Do you remember what you called out to him?
Me: I said, "You're okay! You're okay! You're okay! I'm here."
God: Why did you call to him? Why didn't you just wait for him to get to your room?
Me: Because I wanted him to know that I was awake, and I heard him, and he didn't have to be afraid until he reached the end of the dark hallway.
God: Exactly. I hear you, my child. I hear your thoughts racing like feet down the dark hallway. There's an other side to all of this. I'm there already. I've seen the end of it. And I want you to know right here as you walk through it all, you're okay. I haven't gone to sleep, and I won't.
Me: *crying. Can we sit together awhile? Can we just sit here a minute before I go back to facing it all?
Part of facing it all, has to do with coming face to face with our own mortality which is exactly what Jesus was faced with. Some of you have been faced your own mortality for years, and it’s not entirely new, some through sheer age, some as you’ve battled cancer, grieved the loss of those you love. Some of you are all too familiar with the second half of this prayer that Jesus prayers….….yet not my will but yours… I hear so many of you impart your wisdom to me….not that many of you use Jesus’s exact words, you have your own prayers, or mantras…they sound like this…..
It is what it is
This too shall pass
The only way out is through
It’s in God’s hands
Some might call these over simplistic cliche’s. I would call them collective wisdom that comes form years of living and experiencing those garden moments.
As most of you know the past few weeks have been very busy for Beth and me and all of my colleagues. And no one is complaining. In fact it’s a privilege to be able to serve our community and to be able to do so not alone, but with colleagues in the Presbytery and also many of you who have reached out and shared with me the ways you’re going deeper into relationship with God during this time. And maybe you don’t use that language. You tell me your connecting more with your families, your friends, those you haven’t connected with in years, reading more, praying more, whatever it is, it’s deepening your compassion and I see firsthand the fruits of your spirit coming even more clearly into view.
Charlotte was with me this week and all of these changes in her own life had her feeling drained of energy. We decided she needed a sick day without being sick like when she was little. So I stopped what I was doing and made bacon and eggs, and then she asked me to watch a movie with her and I knew I had more work to do, and then I heard Gladys voice in my head telling me to take advantage of that moment. And by the way Gladys voice in my head is never subtle, it’s loud and clear.
So Charlotte and I watched Funny Girl. Which was a movie my mother also loved. And over the course of those few hours, my internal rhythm shifted and quieted down and usually I might have fallen asleep, but instead, I was all too aware of the gift that was that moment, and I didn’t want to fall asleep and miss a minute of it. I could hear the words Jesus spoke to Peter, James and John that day, “stay awake and watch.” And while he may have asked them to keep watch as he knew soon he’d be arrested, I heard the words more like the advice Jesus gives time and time again, to stay awake and be present to our the moments of our life, the gift of it…
The more we stay awake in, in the garden places, in the beauty and in the vulnerability, the more awake we become to the gift of it all. And the more willing we are to be vulnerable to the grief and the pain of it, the more we can come to the garden and let God hold us there. And the more we allow God to hold us there, the more deeply aware we are of all the life affirming miraculous simple moments of our lives, like watching an old movie or watching the tree branches move in the wind, connecting with old friends, and with new friends, knitting prayer blankets, smiling at others on walks, making breakfast for dinner, building a fort to play in, saying I love you just a little more.
May this holy week be like no other you’ve experienced. May it continue to deepen your sense of the holy, as you remember the garden is the place where life begins.….Deep in the earth of any garden new life springs, deep in the darkness of a womb, new life is born, all new life begins in the place of darkness, and from that darkness will come growth and beautiful fresh radiance. That’s the God we trust in. The one who makes all things new. The one who has us, holds us, and carries us through…..God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
 Alexander John Shaia, The Work of the People