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Today seems like an appropriate day to post this article, written three years ago, here on my new site. To all my readers, may this season of preparation be rich in meaning for you, as you celebrate the Passover Lamb.
It is Holy Saturday as I write, the final day of my journey through Lent. Each day over the 6½ weeks Ive contemplated a scene from Jesus life where Ive encountered his remarkable gentleness and wisdom, his criticism of those who are righteous in their own eyes, his power to heal, and his ability to see into the heart to address its real need. Ive also followed a little book of excerpts from classic Christian authors like Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich. Its been a rich journey.
To add to the meaning, last Wednesday my husband and I were invited to a Seder meal. Our hostess masterfully wove together the elements of the Jewish Passover feast and their fulfillment in Jesus death. We learned how Jesus took the middle of three matzahs, representative of the Passover lamb, and broke it, saying This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Later he took the Cup of Redemption, the third cup which was passed around the table that evening, and transformed it into the symbol of his shed blood. His act added layers of meaning to the tradition. In it he inaugurated the Lords Supper with absolute confidence and assurance, looking toward his coming suffering as if past, present and future were indistinguishable from one another. It was meant to be this way, planned from ages past. The Saviour had been born to die.
Later in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is less confident. Alone in prayer, unsupported even by his closest friends, he agonizes over what lies before him. Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me! The cry evokes from the knowledge of what he must endure. Fully human, Jesus cannot imagine how he will be able to bear what is on the doorstep of the coming hours. Father, is there any other way?
Jesus knew there was no other way. He had taught this just a couple of hours before, bringing beautiful symbolism into his death as the Passover Lamb and set before us a lasting ordinance in the Lord's Supper. Yet here in the garden Jesus is fully human. In the written record his plea and his response, Not my will, but your will be done, are tightly juxtaposed, and we can easily miss the depth of the struggle in between. Twice he returned to his sleeping friends, and went back to wrestle again, alone. Angels came to strengthen him so he could persevere. Yet still he suffered so much that he sweat drops of blood. Jesus internal battle was immense.
Teresa of Avila looks at the scene from a pastoral perspective:
When we watch Jesus on his way into the garden this Thursday night, we have to wonder how great his dread must have been to cause him, who was patience itself, not only to show it, but to speak of it. Listen to him as he says: My soul is sorrowful unto death. Then ask yourself: If he admitted that his flesh was weak, how can we expect more of our flesh?
So let us not trouble ourselves about our fears, nor lose heart at the sight of our frailty, but humbly remind ourselves that without the grace of God we are nothing. And then, distrusting our own strength, let us commit ourselves to his mercy.*
There is something very beautiful in the juxtaposition of the scenes in the upper room and the garden: Jesus giving new meaning to the bread and wine around the table; and the Passover Lamb pleading to be released from his sacrifice. We see Jesus, fully divine, ready to reconcile humanity to God, and we see Jesus, fully human, struggling with the unfathomable suffering to which he was called. Because of his obedience we can be confident that we have a Comforter in whatever we are called to face. And an Overcomer who has victoriously finished his work.
* from That You May Have Life, by John Kirvan, Ave Maria Press, 1998.