For some reason, even the mere thought of the Agony of the Garden makes me shiver.
It is like those horror movies, in which the characters reach a point where there is No Turning Back. They have to face the horror that awaits them. Even if they try to avoid the horror, they know that it’s coming for them and there is absolutely nothing they can do to stop the horror. And so it’s just a waiting game.
Waiting for the inevitable.
And by inevitable, I don’t just mean death. People have looked bravely at dying before. No, it is the horror that precedes death that can be the most terrifying. The thought of death can be terrifying. But, the thought of dying, helpless and alone and completely vulnerable to the monster?
And yet, that’s exactly what is happening with Jesus during the Agony of the Garden. Just look at this gospel account which describes this scene:
39Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” 41After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, 42saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” [43And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. 44He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.] 45When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. 46He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”47While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. 48Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked, “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?” 50And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him. 52And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards and elders who had come for him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53Day after day I was with you in the temple area, and you did not seize me; but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness.”
And so I love this picture, if only because it seems to illustrate the horror that awaits Jesus:
Jesus and His disciples are in a lush garden full of trees that have fruits and nuts hanging off of them, bringing to mind the Garden of Eden. And yet, just as the Garden of Eden was infiltrated with evil, so too will this garden be infiltrated with evil. In the background in the darkness, a mob, led by Judas, comes from a twisted city which is also bathed in darkness with towers that twist ominously upwards. Even the torches, which the mob carries, don’t seem to give off any light at all. Indeed, it is more reminiscent of hellfire.
The only light that shines from this picture is the light that comes from Jesus, the apostles, and the angel that comes to minister to Jesus. And yet, that is hardly any comfort. The disciples sleep soundly, oblivious to the nightmare that they will soon experience. Jesus is kneeling down, His hands raised in supplication as He asks for the cup, which symbolizes His Crucifixion, to pass from Him. But the angel, which is ministering Him, still presents a chalice to Him, indicating that this cup will not pass.
He will be crucified.
And as I look at the picture, I can’t help but think of all the times that I was afraid and wondered if God was listening to me or even cared. Because when you’re in pain or you’re scared, these are the sort of thoughts that can creep up on you and make you wonder whether maybe God was playing a sick joke on you.
And then I would pray the Sorrowful Mysteries and remember, no. God doesn’t do that. If anything, He would rather suffer if it would help take away the pain.
After all, that’s why He chose to die.
So that we may live.
And that gives me the strength to say, “Thy will be done.” Because even though sometimes I am scared and suffering and I can’t see a way out, I know that Jesus was once in the same spot. He understands. And still He said, “Thy will be done.”
As Christians, we are called to carry our crosses and follow Him. May we also have the courage, even in the face of extreme suffering, to follow Jesus, no matter where it takes us.
This blog is part of a blog series about meditations of the Rosary, in honor for October, which is the month dedicated to the Rosary! This artwork, as well as many others, are available in my book, The Sorrowful Mysteries, which allows you to pray the Rosary prayer by prayer, with each prayer illustrated with gorgeous religious art. If you would like to learn more about the books, click here!