For the longest time since I was invited to ponder on the last days of Jesus, I found myself reluctant to go deep into the garden of Gethsemane. It was too much for me.
Gethsemane was a place of intense struggle.
It was where Jesus sweated blood. Hematohidrosis is a medical condition arising from extreme stress.
It was where he fell on his knees, pleaded with His Father.
It was where were his followers, his closest comrades – even the “disciple whom he loved” (John 19:26), the one who said he could drink the cup (Mt 20:22) – couldn’t stay awake with him an hour.
A love surrendered
He basically pleaded with his Father, “I don’t really want to go through this, I don’t want to suffer, I don’t want to die.”
His Father said NO. And he asked again a second time, and a third. And it was still a NO. (Matthew 26:39-44). He finally submitted. He had to consume that food. The food he’d told His disciples about: to do the will of His Father, in love and in obedience.
The Cross – the scandal of love
His back burned like fire. He cringed at every whip lash which landed on his tender skin. His crown, of thorns was 2-3 cm thick, pressed down on his head. One spike lodged on his forehead near his eyebrow. He felt a warm stream of blood flowing into his eye.
I float back to my past. I recall days, when we did street plays in Manila and Baguio, Philippines.
Someone would play Jesus. Arms open wide, waiting for the nails to be hammered, pounded into his palms. At each strike, there would be a crushing sound as the nail sank deeper into his flesh. My heart cringed at every strike.
Even in that agonizing state of body, mind, and spirit, he said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. It’s like “I forgive you even though you kill me, torture and whip me, curse and reject me”. In the trauma of his pain, he was still thinking of his loved ones: he gave his mother to his beloved disciple to hold and to care for (John 19:25-27). Where can we find such consuming selfless love?
Walking Jesus home
It must have been extremely painful, stressful, for those who loved Him, to watch Him suffer in such agony. His mother, her sister, Mary Magdalene, his beloved disciple, and a few others. RC, a dear friend, put it strikingly: these dear ones were “walking Jesus home,” back to the Father.
This Holy week, we too are in some sense walking Jesus home.
I was reluctant to enter into the garden of Gethsemane because I was afraid of pain. For someone who’s afraid of needles, the pounding of nails is too much. I was afraid of emotional pain, of what it may trigger. And this time it hit me hard, as April is, for me, a month that smells of death.
During Holy week 2018, I was sleeping on a bare hospital floor. I was accompanying my aunt/mother who’d had a stroke. I had to be there for her because she’d never been admitted to hospital. She’d never even entered a lift. Due to a disability, she’d seldom left home.
In April 2019, at PPR Kota Damansara, I was accompanying an 18-year boy at Sg Buloh hospital, after his attempt to take his own life. He didn’t make it. He left us 8 months later. That was grievous, to say the least.
In April 2020 COVID time, at Ipoh General Hospital, I was holding my niece’s hand as she succumbed to an aggressive cancer following intense radiation. She too, like Jesus, said “I do not want to suffer, I am not ready to die.” I felt utterly helpless, alone. My heart was shattered into a thousand pieces.
The Father, God, walks His beloved Son Home
At the garden of Gethsemane, the Father did not remove the bitter cup from His beloved Son, even though he had the power to do so. The Father had to watch his only son, his beloved Son go through that agony of crucifixion and humiliation.
At that fateful moment, two Supreme Beings suffered and sacrificed to bring about an eternity’s worth of possibilities for you, for me, and for the whole of creation. This is the sacred and costly conspiracy of love.
Sorrowful unto death, the Father sent an angel to strengthen His Son in his duress. I too have seen and received angels in my hours of duress.
Our cup is often so full of pain that joy seems completely unreachable. Henry Nouwen said that, when we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become. Our sorrows may overwhelm us, and makes us throw ourselves on the ground, on the bathroom floor (like Nightbirde). For me it came up to panic attacks in 2020.
But what causes us sadness becomes fertile ground for gladnes. We need to be angels for each other, to give strength and consolation.
Jesus’ unconditional yes to his Father had empowered him to drink his cup, not in passive resignation, but with the full knowledge that the hour of his death would also be the hour of his glory. His yes made his surrender a creative act, an act that would bear much fruit… his death became the beginning of a new life.
The cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy, the cup of life, the cup of blessing. As we drink the cup of LIFE, we affirm life together and celebrate it as a gift from God.
The long wait begins
Today is Holy Saturday. The silence begins when no one speaks. It’s a waiting in anticipation, from anticipated grief to anticipated hope.
It’s a waiting to receive… a transition until the silence is broken by a familiar voice that speaks our name.
In the stillness.
In the silence.
Are we ready to hear our names?
 When I was in YWAM DTS (Youth with a Mission, Discipleship Training School)
 Henri Nouwen, “Can you drink the cup?”, 1996
 Quote by James Hanvey SJ.