“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”
Yeshua’s voice did not falter, only paused a moment as if he were contemplating some unseen thing his followers still could not grasp after being so long with him.
“I will no longer talk much with you,” he continued. “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.”
A gasp shook the occupants in the room, the mood shifting perceptibly from the joy left by the singing of Psalm 118 to the solemn hushed expectation left by the words bespeaking the coming misfortune. Would they ever understand him? He was leaving, then they would see him. What did it all mean exactly?
The expectation of many hoping Yeshua was the greatly longed-for king who would dislodge the Roman governors from Israel combined with the conflicts with their own temple leaders kept everyone quiet as he took his leave now, thanking the hosts, beckoning to the men to follow him.
Following the rabbi down the many stairs to the deserted streets, the sound of their rhythmically falling steps emphasized the somber mood. Turning in the direction they knew well, feet shuffled across the familiar path, taking the turn over the brook Cedron. The brook babbled peacefully, the sound intensifying then dying away as they passed it, its happy splashing incongruous in the solemnness of the moment. the shadows grew darker and yet they made their way with familiarity and firm steps toward Gethsemane, the olive press where they had rested so many times during the last three years, heard the most portentous of teachings, asked the most difficult of questions, and pondered in their own hearts the most enigmatic of answers. Maybe tonight was the most difficult night of all with so many references to leaving and going to the father and them not knowing him and then these final words.
Yeshua led his closest three men to the familiar stand of olive trees, the remainder scattering among the paths because there simply was nothing left to do.
“Stay here,” he now said to the men he had brought with him. “Stay awake and watch with me. Pray that you do not enter into temptation. There will be trouble.”
He pointed to the base of one of the gnarled trees a short distance from them.
“I must go and pray there.”
In the dark and the night, away from the Passover meal table with his mind open to the coming trouble, words seemed to bunch up behind each other. So many times, words had come so easily. Tonight, since leaving the place in Jerusalem where they had eaten the Passover meal, those words seemed harder to say. And yet he finished his brief words to them.
“My soul is heavy. Death is here.”
Urgency drove him away from them. Silence began to surround him in this former place of refuge and retreat. Standing alone, looking at the surrounding trees, listening to the brook’s peaceful babbling, seeing shadows and shadows of things to come, he knew the time for his life’s sacrifice for all of mankind was finally here. His followers did not fully grasp the plan. Their questions and his acceptance and knowledge of the hard day ahead was painful on many levels.
He had been in a similar place before at the beginning of his three years with them. Tonight, this watching and praying would be even more enervating than the first time he waited and watched and prayed.
He felt the tightening of muscles, the pall of sickness, as if a ball of unshed tears and heaviness settled somewhere in the middle of the chest and extended into the insides, clamping hard, causing distress. This heavy laying on of the iniquity was starting already, and it was only the beginning of sorrows. It didn’t seem as if kneeling to pray would be enough. How could he stand this separation?
A chill wind blew, not related to the cool night in this day in the month Nissan, but rather to the gathering forces which held him. If it was time for the Prince of Darkness to be driven from the world, time to take the final steps toward putting all things under Him, the Prince of Peace was here and weary and sick at heart. It had been a long day already with the killing of the Passover lamb and the extended final discourse to his followers. Yet this night was only the midpoint of a week that would become even harder. It began with an entry into a city that was beloved and didn’t understand His love for it, continued with his purposeful driving out of the money changers from the temple. Tonight, adding to the already wrenching events of the week, He had pointed out to his twelve closest disciples the one among them who would tell the officers who wanted to kill him where to find him. The meal, the speech, the late hour was all enough for one already weary, the taking on of the duties of the Paschal Lamb and the enduring of the brief separation from his father only added to the mix.
Maybe the disciples would not sleep now. Had He not led them here? Had it always been known that someone would turn Him into the leaders so the plan could be undertaken? Some might say he should go somewhere different tonight to avoid being found by the temple guards. But that wasn’t the way. It couldn’t be the way. Maybe his men would watch out for the guards while he wrestled with the agony that began to build within him.
He could feel the gathering storm, the physical heaviness, the words of a desperate prayer forming and not yet spoken, only melding into a groan of discomfort. The wind shifted, the silence grew deeper. He found himself lying prostrate on the rough dry dirt, his head filled with the pounding of so many generations of anguish and grief. Years of rejection, heavy sadness that held the gut, squeezed the heart, broke in waves, mingled with the knowledge that so many in the last three years had turned away, their eyes closed, yes, but causing sadness nonetheless. So many were so close. But tonight, the falling short of the entire human race, the ugliness of all of it began to comingle with his building river of tears. At first they were quiet, stinging the already tired eyes, slipping down weather-roughened cheeks. He could taste salty rejection on the lips, his breath now coming in gasps, the waves strengthening and subsiding till immersed in his discomfort it seemed as if he would be the only one here in this lonely place. And yet temporarily submerged in this deluge of pain was the knowledge that he was not alone. Had he not said the Father was with him? It seemed that the muscles in his stomach tightened on the slicing pain a wayward human race throughout ages of turning away from the relationship He had designed for it caused. The choices it had made and would be made after this night combined to form its own selfishness, concentrating on its own downward spiral into its own pursuits, turning away from Him, and finally turning on itself. The abandonment of the Creator by the created filled his insides with discomfort, tears rushing upon each other for exit from weary, gentle eyes not yet brandishing flame, but tonight, only sad. The breaking of relationship, the reconciliation he would offer by his own death to fix it and the separation from his Father in the process seemed insufferable here in this place.
“Abba, came the anxious, strangled utterance from deep within his breast. Abba, a word denoting complete dependence on his father who would in that one crucial moment in time separate himself from His only begotten son, leaving him to be the sacrifice whose heart would be crushed if only for an agonizing moment in time.
It wasn’t for nothing that he had told his disciples to take the bread and the cup to remember him, making no stipulation on the number of times because it seemed perhaps in this one place that there was enough heavy darkness to merit ones constant remembrance. Displaying power, going to paradise to redeem those who waited and then going to his father to present the sacrifice for those who would believe in him, and then returning to Galilee after the resurrection to leave final instructions before returning to his father with his work completed would happen. Before any of that, getting through this moment was as necessary as all of it.
At this point, there was a sudden if subtle release of tension, a weak sob into something other than the base of the olive tree that had stood here for centuries perhaps prepared for this moment. Weeping came in waves, breaths off rhythm, causing a physical resistance against the forces that would tear him from the inside out. Faces flashed before weary eyes, sweat glistened on the forehead and back. He laid his hand against his brow, wiping the sweat away and looked at his reddened fingers. Did the streaming tears play tricks with his vision? He held his hand away from his face to inspect it more closely, knowing in his heart of hearts as one who had designed the body that the red tinge was blood. He caught his breath, the agony cresting as if to fever pitch, then let it go in a barely audible, painful sigh. The temporary subsiding of such agony left him weak, paralyzed from grief and iniquity and weariness, made harder by the watching of faces contorted with pain and the ripping apart of hearts that so desperately longed for Him. He felt something on his shoulder, as if it were the fluttering of wings and did not look. He could not look. He did not open his eyes, not till the subsidence of weeping and a gasp had escaped him. He lay spent, his breathing eased by warmth that had embraced and succored him.
“If it is possible,” he wept more easily, “let this cup pass from me.”
Silence grew more profound around him, the brook’s soft babbling decreasing slightly in respect for the distress of its maker. Did his heart rate decrease only slightly? Did the pressure on his insides ease just a little? Could his tears flow more easily without physically hurting so much? If He knew what the easing was, he did not know if in this single moment he had strength to turn and look. Maybe there was a slight turning of the head and the tentative opening of one eye. Did he recognize a face?
“It is you, angel,” he said, knowing finally that it was one who had been with him in his last discomfiture.
“Hello, dear Lamb,” said the angel. “Yes. We meet again. I came to you after your forty days in the wilderness when you were weak. Human flesh is weak, dear Lamb.”
There was no answer.
“This time I am the only one sent to you. The father sent me here to provide you with the comfort which you will provide to so many. Just lie here. Easy. There is time.”
Fingers tenderly wiped his face. The caress of fingers across the cheek, under the eyes, around the forehead and onto the head seemed to slowly press tendrils of strength into him, quieting an aching heart, loosening the heaviness, relieving the tears. The thought formed to place his heavy head on the breast of the angel and it was there without executing a physical movement. How could he take the sin of the world on himself? It would all start, it seemed, with an angel hug.
A shudder passed through him. The angel wiped his eyes.
“I will go talk to them,” he whispered.
“Your men? They’re not awake,” the angel said in sympathy for the Lamb and no judgment for those who slept unaware of his agony. Who was the angel to judge? Had the angel not been sent at the request of the father who had responded to the son’s silent cry for help?
Sensing his weary wish to rise, The angel helped him to his feet. Calvary’s Lamb leaned on the supporting hand. There was only the slightest hesitation.
“Go talk to them and then come back here,” the angel said. “You still need me. I’ll wait for you here. There’s time. Judas hasn’t gotten the guards yet.”
He turned away from the angel and walked toward the knot of sleeping men. He stood over them, observing with red, wet, kind eyes. Stepping to the senior among them, he bent and touched the sleeping man’s shoulder, laying his hand gently on it till the man opened sleep-laden eyes and looked up into the face of his teacher.
He stood over the group now and placed warm hands over his ribs, just below the heart and over the right side of the belly, comforting sore, aching muscles. He consciously gazed into the eyes of his friends and waited, seeing their confused looks.
“Could you not watch with me for one hour?”
No one moved or even seemed to see him. Even his closest friend’s eyes had wandered.
“I know,” he said with labored breaths, “you want to stay awake. But you can’t.”
He nodded his head in kind understanding and even that seemed to weary him.
The transference of the guilt of man to himself and so much sorrow forced him back to the place where his weeping had begun in earnest. He lay there now in mortal pain, so many broken hearts pressing in on him till he didn’t know when the hands of the angel had imparted comfort.
“Dear Lamb,” said the angel. “Easy.”
What other words were necessary on this dark night when the Light was suffused by grief and weariness, and human hopelessness. He bit back the pain, his cry swallowed up in the physical presence of this angel he had created. Again the fingers slowly made their way across the face of God and dispensed strength.
“If it isn’t possible that you take it from me,” was the choked whisper, “I will drink this cup. Not my will.”
The human will to escape the coming trials and debilitating pain, the humiliation of body and spirit by the evil method of execution by crucifixion was here, trying to usurp the plan and the final sacrifice that had been promised since long before man had been banished from the garden of Eden. The heart beats of grief for so many and so much made the angel tighten its grip, absorbing as it were the shock waves of such grief.
Lying beneath the tree, the warmth the angel brought to him swept through the Lamb and he loved his own.
“You want to see those men,” the angel said. “You know they love you. This isn’t easy for them. But they are sleeping.”
Yeshua pulled himself up using the tree as a support till he sat against it, catching his breath. Once again he wiped sweat from his face and looked at the red droplets on his fingers. He put a hand out to the angel. The angel helped him up for a second time.
“Dear one, your father loves you. You know that. Come back and I will show you something. Then it will be time.”
The steps were stronger now back to the sleeping men. He looked around him knowing those who looked for him here would come, soon. He looked down at the three he had brought with him, focusing his gaze on the youngest of the three. The man moved, restless, as if summoned and yet could not look directly into the eyes that had wakened him.
“Are you still resting? My children, you will be scattered after this night. Take your rest now.”
He paused as cool wind caressed him. He stood by the tree, still looking at the man.
“I know,” he told them, “you do not know what to say. It is enough now.”
He returned to the solidness of the tree, the angel stood to the side waiting to see if it would be summoned. He dropped to his knees and prayed once more, already feeling the nails and the mocking and the crushing. So many things would happen and yet they were all for the reconciliation of those who would believe he was sent from god to do not what he liked but what his father had asked him to do.
The weakness of human form dictated a staunching of weeping, though the tears would drip and the tearing separation of creator from the created till its reconciliation would continue. He would say few words in the next hours. It would require the energy he possessed to take the separation in his own body.
The angel came to him and sat on the ground now beside him.
“Remember, you will wipe away all tears, but tonight, I wipe away yours.”
He heard the soft words of the angel but did not look at it, caught up in the surrender of his desires to that of the Father’s plan.
“Your will be done, father. Not mine.”
He got to his feet, his eyes and face in disrepair. He wiped his own face this time with the sleeve of his robe and looked with now parched, tear-drained eyes for the first time at the angel. Direct eye contact drove the angel to the feet of the Lamb. He put one hand on the shoulder of the angel.
“Don't be afraid. You want to show me something.”
The compassionate Lamb took the angel by the hand and raised it to its feet.
"You’re ready now,” it said. “Open your eyes.”
The Lamb opened his eyes. Slowly, around him appeared a picture of a bride draped in white, spotless from the washing of her sins in his own blood, eyes shining only for Him. Over the ages, from this desolate place, their gazes connected.
"Beautiful!" The word spoken in reverence and love comforted him.
The image was gone and suddenly he returned to the heaviness of this place. It was time to pour out his life a ransome for many.
“I have power to lay down my life and I have power to take it again.”
The words he had spoken to his followers over and over again during their time together caressed his broken heart. Turning away from the angel, he returned to his men.
“Are you still resting?"
He pulled himself up to a confident posture as they sluggishly shook themselves awake and prepared to followed him.
"The hour has come. They are here.”
He looked back toward the tree. The angel was gone. He stood here sick and weary and stronger for tears. Obedient to death, for the joy set before him, feeling the strength imparted by the angel, he turned to see the temple guards coming down the path he had walked so many times. He walked resolutely toward them, meeting them with purpose, intent on finishing the work of reconciliation that was set before him.
Copyright © 2017 Shelley Alongi