by Jon Hill
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that lonely garden where an itinerant preacher and healer cried out to his heavenly Father while his closest disciples dozed nearby.
With sweat falling like drops of blood, Jesus of Nazareth implored God to erase the terrible fate that was bearing down upon him. We don’t know whether at that moment Jesus could see every detail that would unfold over the coming hours and lead inexorably to Calvary, but he had already made it abundantly clear to his followers that one day he would be required to make the ultimate sacrifice.
So, why the preoccupation today with this part of the gospel story? Pondering the events of Holy Week is timely, of course, with Easter season upon us. Frankly, though, it’s the global turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic that has me contemplating those days surrounding the crucifixion of Christ.
Perhaps you, too, are one of Jesus’ followers who today are experiencing a dark night of the soul like he did 2,000 years ago in the Garden of Gethsemane. With half of humanity around the world under some kind of lockdown order, it’s hardly surprising that we’re struggling with fear, anxiety, depression — maybe anger and loneliness, as well.
Our thoughts are chaotic: How do I keep my family safe from the virus? Will I contract it and be one of those who need scarce hospital resources? Can my job or business survive the economic devastation? Will there be an end to this dark tunnel we’re going through, and will life ever be like it was before? Where is the God in the pandemic?
We can’t fully comprehend what was running through Jesus’ mind leading up to Calvary, but based on our own lives today we can imagine many of the thoughts and emotions he must have experienced in the week’s tumultuous events: The agony as he cried out to God in the garden. The dismay as the crowds who cheered him with palm branches on Sunday called for his crucifixion on Friday. The pain of abandonment by his disciples, with stalwart Peter even angrily denying him. The isolation, the searing loneliness in his voice when he shouts into a seemingly silent heaven, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The world had been turned upside down — even more then than it seems to us today in the time of coronavirus. God’s only Son, the only perfect person in human history, who healed the sick, blessed the poor, and taught about forgiveness, love and peace, was nailed to a wooden torture device.
Do Jesus’ actions show us anything about how to live as we hunker down, socially distance, and watch anxiously every day as the number of infections and the death toll keep climbing? Of course they do. Despite appealing to God to take away the agony, the ridicule, the physical and emotional pain, and the loneliness he was about to endure, Jesus yielded control of his life to a good and all-knowing God and walked willingly into that turmoil to accomplish his father’s purpose. “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” he said in the garden and then gave his life not for some vague notion of a better tomorrow but because of his love for individuals like you and me.
The story didn’t end there, as we on this side of the cross know. The gloom of Calvary on Friday gave way to dawn at the tomb on Sunday. The cave where the wounded, dead body of Jesus had lain was empty, and that changed everything. Death and decay and disorder would continue to plague first-century Palestine as it does the coronavirus shut-ins of the 21st-century, but Easter promises that these enemies of God’s perfect creation will one day be forever vanquished and that we will rejoice in glory with one another and our Redeemer.
This is why Easter is the supreme celebration of life, assuring us that God has overcome, his love always wins, our pain is never without purpose. And the overarching purpose for each of us who are followers of Christ is to be salt and light whatever the circumstances around us until, in his good time, he calls us home. The dawn will come, and we will rise, just as we proclaim in worshipping the Lord:
“He is risen. He is risen indeed!”
Jon Hill is a seasoned writer and editor for TWR. Born as a missionary kid in Thailand, he and his wife, Mary Jane, live in Carrboro, NC.