A Reflection on Mark 14: 32 – 35 by Revd Prebendary Alastair Wheeler
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
I wonder how you are feeling reading this? And what range of feelings you have been through over the last year or so? Emotions have been not only part of my own human experience, but also very much part of my “trade” as both a clergyman and a counsellor. Which for a British man, is unusual.
The Victorians picked up from Greek and Roman philosophers the idea that emotions are “bad”, unmanly, and to be held in, denied at all costs. In other cultures they view feelings differently, and arguably, better. For actually knowing how we are feeling, working with our feelings, is a key part of being fully human, fully alive.
In today’s passage Jesus is at the evening of the day, amongst the dark green olive trees growing in the valley East of the walls of Jerusalem, named Gethsemane after its olive press. In the mild spring evening he was surrounded by thousands of other pilgrims who had also journeyed there for the spring festival of Passover, smelling their camp fires, hearing murmured conversations.
And he is overwhelmed with feelings. Not for the first time the Gospels record Jesus’ emotions – but this time it is in response to what is facing him, rather than in response to other people’s problems or attitudes.
When faced with something awful, for ourselves or someone we love, as tens of thousands have been over the last year or so, we desperately want it “not to be so”. We want it not to be cancer, not to be Covid, not to be this threat that is getting inexorably closer. For many people prayer is the expression of feelings at one of those really bad times – perhaps sharing with God who is known and close, or just in hope of an unknown “Someone” who can do something, do anything, to help.
In the presence of his three closest companions, facing the horrendous Roman death of crucifixion for rebellion, Jesus is overwhelmed with dread and distress. Yet he is able to share them with God, whom he knew as Abba, Father. And to ask that, if possible, what he dreaded could be avoided, that there might be another way to fulfil what God was asking of him.
If you have known times of darkness, or are feeling isolated and fearful today, know that all of our feelings are part of who we are. That being someone who “feels” is to be like Jesus. (I think God the Father understands, even knows, feelings. Although much Christian theology would say that is heresy precisely because to have feelings would make God weak.)
But in our sorrows, in our joys, Jesus is definitely alongside us, knows what it is to be human – and invites us in prayer to share our deepest reality with him. For he knows, he understands.