Jesus took the risk to invite James, John, and Peter into the garden to pray with him. He invited them to enter into his brokenness, his anguish, his pain, his confusion, his fear. The fact that they fell asleep takes nothing away from the invitation. Remember, it was night. The darkness which surrounded them reflected the night that was within them. But their drowsiness does not detract from their initial willingness to enter the garden with Jesus. They were tired. It was late. They fell asleep. Let us not be too hard on them. Who of us has not fallen asleep now and then when we have been invited to pray, to stay awake, to watch and wait? Our spirit is willing but our bodies are tired.
We remember that these same three were invited by Jesus to go to the mountain with him where they witnessed the transfiguration. Then it was easy to stay awake. Something exciting was happening right before their eyes. There was Jesus and Moses and Elijah all meeting together on the mountain. It was a glorious moment –one that these three wanted to savor and keep. Then they wanted time to stand still. They wanted to pitch some tents and camp out on the mountain of glory.
But now they found themselves in the garden of sorrow. It is easier to sleep when all hope seems gone. In this garden grew plants of pain; flowers of anguish. There were no clouds of glory or brilliant lights. No neon signs to keep them awake. No stunning displays of dazzling divinity. Here they found the heart of humanity. The sacred heart. The broken heart.
When pain becomes more than one can bear, the advice is: get some rest, you’ll feel better in the morning.
What is so human and so holy about this invitation to the garden of Gethsemane is that Jesus wanted his closest friends to share his brokenness, his sorrow, his pain. He invited them into the deepest cavern of his character. Just as on the mountain he invited them to catch a glimpse of his glory, now in the garden he wanted them to sneak a peek at his pain.
When another invites us into the chamber of sorrow, we will never escape without being changed. When we welcome another into our garden of pain, we say, “My heart is filled with sorrow to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake” (Mark 14:34). We don’t expect her to say any words that will comfort us or recite any message of condolence. We only desire that she stay with us, remain with us, remind us that we are not alone.
When we take the risk to respond to the invitation of another to enter her garden, we tred softly, gently. We know words have no meaning here. Only love and presence speak with tenderness here.
A good friend who has suffered deeply and experienced great losses in her life, now makes it a point to go to those who are grieving in her parish after the death of a loved one. She is motivated to do so by her own sense of loss and grief. Recently, she told me that when someone says to her, “I wish I could go and offer my sympathy,” she replies, “How can you not go?” This woman has been to the garden herself and she knows the pain. Even more, she knows how important it is for someone else to share the pain. That is why her ministry of grief-sharing has become second nature to her.
There will be many moments on our pilgrim’s path when we will be invited into another’s garden. Tonight, Jesus takes us into Gethsemane to learn a little more about grief, about prayer, about love. Jesus invites us to pray not from a heart that sings but from one that screams.
In the garden, Jesus invites us to love not in the winning but in the losing. And when we learn a little bit more about this quality of love, we will be able to invite others into our garden when the pain is impossible to bear alone. We will learn how healing can only come from a heart that has been broken.
(Fr. Joseph Nassal, C.PP.S., Passionate Pilgrims, C.PP.S. Resource Series, # 13, The Messenger Press, Carthagena, Ohio, 1993, pp. 71-73)