Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:38-39 (NIV)
Strangely, I have always found immense comfort in the scene of Jesus’ dark hour in the garden at Gethsemane. It is here that he seems most human to me. He is in anguish, overwhelmed with sorrow and grief. He prays to his Father and asks if there’s a way out. He wants to explore other options. He knows why he’s come and what he must do and yet when the hour draws near, Jesus is tormented by the thought of going to the cross. He is God and holds power over death. But he is also human and wrestling with the thought of dying is grueling. His humanity is on display in its fullness and frailty here like it is nowhere else.
I am so grateful that Matthew included this scene in his narrative. Rather than paint a picture of Jesus facing his darkest hour with a detached stoicism, Matthew presents an emotional, tired, weary, [dare I say it] even fearful Christ. Good Friday is a reminder that what Jesus did for us on the cross was more than just about paying the debt for our sins or defeating death and the grave. In doing such things, he also reminded us that being human means being honest about our fears and anxieties. Jesus bore the cross with sorrow and anguish. He was wrapped in pain that ran deeper than skin. His heart grieved at the loss of life – his own. These are all incredibly human responses to a call as great as giving up one’s life for the sake of others. In seeing God himself respond in the most human of ways, we are encouraged to live into our own humanity as well. We need not put up a facade of control and strength when our hearts are weak and our spirits are broken. We need not try so hard to keep others out of the mess of our lives. We need not hold back from saying to God, “May this cup be taken from me.”
I believe it is in our honesty with God that we find the strength of resolve to say, with Jesus, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” I believe Jesus was able to conclude his prayer that way because he was first able to release the anguish and sorrow in his heart in an honest and genuine way, trusting that his Father would not admonish or ridicule him for his expression of anxiety and hesitation. We can do the same. Good Friday reminds us that God is big enough, his grace wide enough, his love expansive enough to carry the full weight of our doubts, reservations, questions, and hesitations. So come before him, wherever you are in life, with an honest heart, speak freely, know that he hears you, and ultimately find your hope in the reality that in the end, even death can’t keep you from him.