The Pain Before the Cross

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On Good Friday, the day on which Christians commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and death, I make time to read the story in the Bible.  I feel it’s appropriate to remember the torture and excruciating physical pain that Jesus endured as a sacrifice to save us from our sins.  I want to show respect and adoration for Jesus’ suffering and not simply skip to the happy part of the story – Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday.  But this year, I’ve found myself dwelling on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  

After the Last Supper in which Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover, Jesus took three of them to Gethsemane where “he began to be sorrowful and troubled.”  Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  (Matt. 26:36-38).  

Then, Jesus went away from the disciples and “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.’”  Twice more Jesus went off by himself, away from his sleeping friends, to pray, begging God to rescue him from what he feared would happen.  (Matt. 26: 39-45).  While Jesus was willing to submit to the events that were already in motion, he pleaded with God to stop them and find another way.  

In another version of the story, an angel came to strengthen Jesus, but even so, “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  After he finished praying, he was “exhausted from sorrow.”  (Luke 22:43-45). 

Jesus was in the depths of despair, consumed with worry and anxiety.  He was scared.  He was so distraught, he felt like he was going to die.  He hadn’t been arrested or physically assaulted yet, but he felt weighed down by the heaviness of fear and uncertainty.  He suffered emotionally and mentally.  Jesus did not feel a sense of peace or calm.  He was broken hearted and crushed in spirit.  

Most of us have experienced emotional and mental turmoil.  At those times, we may think that no one understands our pain, not even God.  But Jesus knows what it means to grieve to the point that the next breath seems impossible.  He knows how it feels to beg God out of desperation and agony.  He even knows the misery that comes when things don’t work out how we’ve hoped and prayed.  

So, when we experience anguish and darkness, we can trust that God is not a far-away deity who has never felt the way we feel.  We can pray believing that God wants to comfort us because he’s been there.  As we approach the cross and resurrection, let us remember that in addition to physical pain, Jesus knew the torment of heart and mind.  God understands us, cares for us, and loves us.  Today and always.  Amen.    

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