The disciples experienced all kinds of amazing weeks with Jesus, but none of them were anything like the week they headed into Jerusalem just before Passover. The crowds up north, in Galilee, clamored to get near Jesus because they hoping to see a miracle, or they were enthralled by his teachings. The people of Jerusalem greeted Jesus though they were welcoming a king to town. Their hope-filled celebration turned to ice as Jesus publicly and frequently challenged the beliefs and motivations of the city’s religious authorities over the next few days.
But Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem to increase his fan base. He was there for Passover, and gathered with his friends in an upper room of a stranger’s house steps from the site of King David’s tomb. He feasted with his friends, as they shared the ritual meal recounting the deliverance from slavery to freedom. Woven through the Exodus narrative, Jesus again reminded them of who he was – and who they were and would be as a result of following him.
It had been an intense few days, and after cups of good wine and the best food and prayer and that troubling exit of Judas and footwashing that had nearly undone them all, it must have been a relief as the group exited into the cool Judean nighttime air.
Probably a sense of corporate weariness hit them as they quietly walked down from Mount Zion into a low, green valley and then began a gentle ascent toward their lodging on the Mount of Olives. Food, wine and long days leading up to this point must have made for a quiet group as they hiked. A garden grove of olive trees, an oasis, beckoned. Jesus had a simple ask of his friends: “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Wait for me. I won’t be long.
He invited three of the group to go with him, and as he walked away from those who’d been his family for the last three years, waves of coal-black sorrow rose and crashed over him. He moved away from the trio in order to let his anguished words flow freely. He pleaded with his Father, and all that he was in that moment became a single sentence of anguished surrender: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
They’d shared cups of red wine at the Passover table a short time earlier – drinking as they celebrated God’s hallowing presence, his miraculous deliverance, and the certain hope of redemption. It was this cup of redemption he passed to them, telling them he would not drink wine again, a symbol of joy, again until God’s kingdom came. It was this cup of redemption, he said, that was his new covenant, made in his own blood, poured out for them.
Alone among the olive trees, he wrestled in prayer. Anguish caused him to sweat drops of blood; wine spilled from his soul.
Lulled by the silence of the night, the first peaceful moments of the week, perhaps, and their full stomachs and depleted emotions, Jesus’ friends nodded off only to be awakened by his heartbroken words. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Murmured apologies came, and they all bowed obediently in prayer as Jesus again moved away into the darkness. Their momentary embarrassment ebbed. They’d done far more boneheaded things before, and he loved them anyway. This assurance, and the narcotic of the nighttime once again did its work on them. They slept.
Just steps away, in that moment, became a single sentence of anguished surrender: “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he returned again to his friends, only to be met with their slow, steady, silent breathing. Asleep. Again.
It was the last intimate moment he would have alone with them.
What must have passed through his heart as he looked at their sleeping figures in the moonlight?