The Gethsemane Experience

A reflection for Maundy Thursday 2020

From the Lectionary Gospel reading – Matthew 26: 36-46

by Revd John Rackley

Jesus goes into the shadows of Gethsemane with three of his disciples and breaks his heart in the presence of God. He prays alone. It is the most honest of prayers. He is not coping well with the destruction that is approaching.

He is so close to adopting the same tone as Martha had just a couple days before:
Lord if you had been here my brother would not have die.

Father, take this cup from me!

But God will not be commanded – not even by his son. There is a greater work going on than making things better for Jesus. And because this is the case Jesus did some travelling that night in the garden.

He would travel from attachment to grief. He needed the sight and sound of his companions. But all he was getting was their snoring. He had to go into self-isolation where he would need to let go and bid farewell well to the relationships which had given him so much.

He would travel from terror to trust. The gospel writers do not hide from us the disconcerting picture of the Lord in total breakdown. He is horrified; in complete disarray and there is no going back. Trust was the only path open to him. He had to walk his path of faith. It was the will of the Father that he must now obey.

He would travel from argument to acceptance. Mary had shown him this as she had anointed him the previous day (John 12:1-11). Death, his death, was the pathway to life. It was a new life; not just for him but for the whole of creation. Gethsemane was the start of birth-pain of the new age which he had spoken of. God’s purpose could not be denied.

But not what I want – your will be done.

Hadn’t that been at the heart of the prayer he had given to his disciples way back in Galilee?

Now it was time for him to pray the prayer and live with the consequences.

Over the years I have asked people what it is in the life of Jesus that most affects them. By quite a distance it is Gethsemane. You would have thought it was the Cross, his birth or one of the parables. Not so – his terrible fight for faith in Gethsemane touches a deep note in our own hearts.

For when the future becomes totally unpredictable and we are alone with our fears we too may wonder am I up to this. We may put on a brave face for others. We may choose to remain silent when we are bursting to let it all out to protect their feelings. But it is there in the depths of our being – will my faith be enough?

It may be enough for some to know that Jesus has been there before us.

It may be enough that God in Christ knows what it is like.


It may not be enough.

For a number of years my Spiritual Director was a religious sister. She wrote very little but towards the end of her life one Easter she sent a letter to all the people she worked alongside. In it she pondered the meaning of the suffering of Christ and our own times of suffering. She told us she had reached the conclusion that in this life there was no answer, but in the suffering of Christ there was a clue to the meaning of all the suffering both his and ours.

I appreciated her caution. We have to wait and watch and pray and follow the clue.

Verily I tell you,
unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
- Jesus.

John Rackley,
Maundy Thursday 2020