“Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”
The time has come. All of our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving have led us here. The parables have been proclaimed. The visits to the temple are over. Jesus has celebrated His final meal with His disciples, giving them His Body and Blood as the new Passover. They eat and drink, but before the final cup they leave the house and go out into the night. Nobody ever left the house during Passover. To do so was to tempt the Angel of Death, who took the lives of the firstborn in Egypt. As they go out singing into the night, Jesus goes to face death itself, the ancient serpent, once and for all time.
Jesus leads them down from the city, through the shadowy Kidron Valley (“Though I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm” – Psalm 23:4), and up into the Garden of Gethsemane. Here Jesus falls on His knees to pray, and in doing so begins His great Passion. He prays so intensely that He sweats blood, begging the Father to remove this weight from His shoulders (Mt 26:36-46; Mk 14:32-42; Lk 22:39-46).
At this moment in the garden, Jesus takes on all the sin that ever was and ever will be, and we see the intensity of Jesus’ struggle. As the second person of the Triune God, He can see and feel the full reality of the sin and death that He is taking on His very self. Christ feels the weight and suffering caused by every rejection of God and the significant pain and guilt left by each sin. Being fully man, He cries out to the Father to make it stop, to take this suffering from His shoulders. Being fully God, He humbly submits His will to the Fathers. The pain is so intense that angels are sent to minister to Him in His time of need.
After this ordeal He finds His disciples sleeping, and begs them to pray that they may not undergo the test. He seeks to protect and shelter them from the suffering that Adam failed to protect Eve from when the serpent tempted them in the Garden of Eden.
Before they disciples fully wake, the guards arrive, led by Judas Iscariot to take Jesus into custody. Jesus knows they’re coming. From where He stood on the Mount of Olives, He could see a lit candle from a mile away. Jesus watched the soldiers approach and never flinched or hid. In fact, He went out to greet them (Jn 18:4). On their arrival, He asks them who they are looking for. Jesus is challenging them to state their evil intent, to which they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth” (Jn 18:5). At this moment, they don’t recognize Him. Their hearts, darkened by sin, cannot recognize Jesus. So Judas, the betrayer, kisses Jesus to signify who they should arrest. The lover of all betrayed with a kiss. Immediately they arrest Him and the Passion of Jesus continues into the night.
Over the next few days, Jesus will walk the lonely road to Calvary to prove His unending love. He will contend death and come out triumphant. Every step of the way looks like defeat, but He is moving closer and closer to victory. As we walk alongside Jesus through the Easter Triduum, we have to ask ourselves some questions.
Will we stay awake with Jesus?
Will we help Christ carry His cross, or will we run?
Will we be the ones to betray Him with a kiss?
Let us pray for strength to not undergo the test. Let us look upon the Paschal Mystery of Jesus with love and adoration, knowing that it is by His stripes we are healed and with His death comes victory.