I expect this week to do some commentary on the great hymns of Passiontide, Holy Week, and beginning next week, Easter. If there are any hymns, dear readers, that you would like to see appear on this list, do let me know.
Today's hymn, by the writer Redhead, is called Go To Dark Gethsemane. The title itself is confusing for those who may not remember what Gethsemane is. It is the garden where Jesus went to pray after he instituted the Eucharist. This is critical to understand. Adam and Even, and all we who sinned in them, impugned the goodness of creation with their act of disobedience in Eden. On the night of his betrayal, Christ was healing the world in the same place it had been wounded-a garden. By his act of obedience, "Nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt," (Mt. 26:39) the curse of sin begins to unravel.
The text of the first verse:
Go to dark Gethsemane, ye who feel the tempter's power
Your Redeemer's conflict see, watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away, learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
The rest of verse one teaches us how to deal with temptation, suffering and a point of doctrine. First, if you are tempted to sin, your best recourse is always prayer. God makes an escape from every temptation. Pray for him to show it to you. In the case of Christ, and this should really move us, the Father showed Jesus the way of escape as he prayed. I'm not saying the Father presented forsaking the cross as a real option. While Jesus may have bulked slightly knowing the amount of suffering that was coming, he knew what he had to do. But undoubtedly, the Father showed him the glory that would come from his crucifixion. And so, suffering is presented to us, not as something to be avoided, but to be embraced. For truly, on this side of heaven, suffering will always accompany the truest acts of love. But those who suffer, in the frailty of our human condition, need compassion. While Adam and Eve represented humanity in Eden, Peter, James, and John represented us in Gethsemane. They did as we would have done. Instead of watching and praying with Jesus, they fell asleep. We are implored by the hymn, not to sleep, but to consider the suffering of others and walk in their shoes with them.
The doctrinal point I mentioned above, is the emphasis on the fact that Christ was indeed human and as such could feel conflict and grief. But this last truth, is illustrated far more clearly in verses two and three.
Follow to the judgement hall, view the Lord of Life arraigned.
O the wormwood and the gall, o the pangs his soul sustained.
Shun not suffering shame or loss, learn from him to bear the cross.
We are beckoned to make the next step of the journey with Christ. From the garden to the praetorium, we watch as the Lord is found guilty of blasphemy and eventually sentenced to brutal flogging and crucifixion. Two things stand out in this verse. First Jesus had a soul-a soul up until now completely devoid of sin. As he begins to feel the weight of the world's sins upon him, what anguish his soul must have endured. The pain we take for granted that we cause ourselves, was all thrust on him at once. It's far from only his body which is hurting.
The last line calls us more poignantly to embrace suffering. Take up your cross and follow Christ carrying his. It is the path of discipleship and it's the way of salvation. Whatever suffering the Lord has given you-it hurts. But it's an opportunity to be united with the suffering Christ. And we are promised, that if we suffer with him, we will also reign with him. (II Tim. 2:12)
Finally, the last verse:
Calvary's mournful mountain climb, there adoring at his feet.
Mark the miracle of time, God's own sacrifice complete.
"It is finished" hear the cry! Learn of Jesus Christ to die.
For the pain and agony he endured, Christ deserves our endless adoration. True, as God, he merited our praise anyway. But now, looking at not only who he is, but what he has done, how can any tongue be silent? How do we do anything less but fall to our knees and thank him for his mercy? For this event, I would argue along with the Incarnation, is the great miracle. Thousands of years of pain and violence wash over the person of Jesus. He takes it all on himself and lets it kill him, for the sake of our salvation. It's an odd thing to say, we must "learn to die". After all, it is something that happens regardless of what we learn. But the point is that we carry our crosses, we are called to crucify our old man and completely to forsake sin. It is death to our old Self and the birth of what we were created to be. Christ endured and embraced death to attain a resurrected body. So too, we must die to ourselves and live for Christ. In so doing, we are united to him and will also at the last day attain resurrected bodies for ourselves, by his mercy.
Today, let us remember suffering is a good thing because it accompanies what St. Paul called the greatest thing: love.