Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His discipled, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.”  And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee He began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then He said to them, “ My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.”  And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping and He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me with one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:36-41

On a Thursday evening, two thousand years ago, Jesus ate a supper with His disciples, which we now call “The Last Supper.” During this supper, He got up from the table and washed the feet of His disciples.  One of the disciples, Judas, had already agreed to betray Jesus.  He washed the feet of Judas anyway.  Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times that night.  He washed Peter’s feet, as well.  All the disciples would flee from fear except for John.  Jesus knew that, and He still washed the feet of all of them.  He wanted to show them what it meant to serve.  He was the Son of God, and yet He stooped down to wash the feet of the disciples.  He wanted to impress on them that their role wasn’t to be “masters” but to be servants, and that leadership was based on service, not dictatorship.  As the supper was ending, He instituted the Eucharist, taking bread and offering it as His Body, and taking wine and offering it to the disciples as His Blood.  The covenant of the Old Testament—Laws and commandments—was replaced by love and the Eucharist.  The tabernacle of the temple, which once held the Ten Commandments, now holds, in all of our Orthodox Churches, the Body and Blood of Christ. 

After the supper ended, Jesus gave many instructions and teachings to His disciples, most of which are recounted in the first of twelve Gospels that will be read in church on Holy Thursday evening.  The first Gospel reading contained several chapters from the Gospel of John, which are known as the “farewell discourse” of Christ to the disciples. 

When He was done teaching them, Jesus and the disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Judas had left the disciples and was on his way along with the Jewish leaders and soldiers to go to the garden where he knew Jesus would be.  The betrayal and arrest of Jesus was imminent, and Jesus knew it.  His entire purpose in coming to earth was this moment.  And yet, He faced this moment as fully God and fully man.  He had the emotions of a man not only staring at death, but knowing the bridge between life and death was going to be tremendously painful.  He was about to face hours of torture and excruciating agony. He was also going to be humiliated in front of His people.  This would all happen in front of His mother.  And He was going to do it without the support of friends, just about all of whom were about to abandon Him. 

As they entered the garden, Jesus took three of the disciples—His inner circle of Peter, James and John—and asked them to “watch” with Him while He prayed.  He confided in them “My soul is extremely sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:38)  Many of us have felt this way at some point in life, so despondent that we wonder if we can walk another step, and even though most of us would never act on it, we have the thought that it would be better off to be dead than alive.  This is the kind of darkness that enveloped the mind and soul of Jesus.  A very human reaction to impending death and pain.  And a very human feeling of loneliness.  It’s ironic that someone can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.  I’m surrounded by people all the time in ministry, and there are still moments of profound loneliness, like walking down the aisle at a funeral to bring the casket into the church—the church might be full, but I’m the only one walking down the aisle and it feels lonely.  That’s just one example.  Or being in a community of people and being the only priest (for most of my priesthood until recently), it’s a lonely feeling. 

Then Jesus went to pray and asked the disciples just to watch Him, so that He wouldn’t feel so alone.  He didn’t ask them to do anything other than watch.  I’ve written before about a ministry of presence, just to be present with someone so that they aren’t alone.  Perhaps you can’t share in their struggle or take away their pain but you can be present with them, so they know that they are not alone.  And this proved to be too much for the disciples.  Jesus went to pray and found them sleeping when He returned to them.  Indeed, sometimes we have the best of intentions and still fall asleep on the job, which is why Jesus said, so appropriately, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Make sure that you make an effort to “watch” with your friends.  Offer when you think they need it.  And when they ask, make sure you don’t “fall asleep on the job.”

Jesus’ prayer to God is the model prayer.  It is honest—He acknowledges His fear and asks God the Father if it is possible for the cup of suffering to pass from Him.  He cries in agony.  Remember how Jesus wept for the death of Lazarus.  This time, He weeps for His own impending death.  He expresses emotion.  Again, there is no need to be stoic in times of stress. Sometimes it is cathartic to have a good cry.  What makes the prayer most inspiring is that at the end, He leaves His future in the hands of God.  He says to God the Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) He submits obediently to the will of God.  There is nothing wrong with asking God to take away suffering, but it is more important to ask for God’s will to be done in our lives.  Each of us has a path to sainthood, and that path will involve carrying  a cross of some kind.  Each of us will experience some pain in life, that is unavoidable.  The pain of Christ led to the salvation of humanity.  If we have a pain that leads to our salvation or the salvation of someone else, if that’s God’s will or path for us, then ultimately we should carry “our cross” as Christ carried His. 

The decision to submit to the will of God brought two things to Christ.  The first was great agony, His sweat becoming like drops of blood on the ground.  The second was that an angel came from heaven and strengthened Him.  The disciples fell asleep, but God did not abandon Him.  Just like when the pews in the church are empty, they really are not, they are filled by the angels. Well, when we feel most alone, this is when God comforts us with the presence of His angels.  We may feel alone, but we are never really alone.

Today is hung upon the Cross, HE Who suspended the Earth amid the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, Who is the King of Angels.  He, Who wrapped the Heavens in clouds, is clothed with the purple of mockery.  He, Who freed Adam in the Jordan, received buffetings. He was transfixed with nails, Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a lance, Who is the Son of the Virgin.  We worship Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also, Your glorious Resurrection. (15th Antiphon, Holy Thursday Evening, Service of the 12 Gospels, Holy Week and Easter, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas, p. 238

Even Jesus felt lonely, even Jesus cried.  But ultimately, He followed the will of God and was comforted by an angel.  Cry out to Jesus in your moments of sorrow.  Accept the comfort of His angels.  Look for opportunities to watch and to be an angel to someone else.