Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:39-42
During the last week of Lent, we reflect on Jesus’ last actions here among us. What were his final thoughts and words? Knowing that Christ does not do anything “just because”, it is a worthy task to explore these things, meditate on them…pray about them.
Today we, like disciples, come to the Mount of Olives with Jesus. We see in today’s passage that this was a usual practice for Jesus. The practice of prayer, in all circumstances as we saw last week, becomes especially important in the circumstances of this week’s prayer focus.
Jesus comes to his Father alone, quiet, and in darkness. He knows his situation, and although he is willing to do what The Father has asked, he nevertheless, makes one last petition….”let this cup pass”.
What about you? Do you pray in the dark? Not actually in physical darkness, but do you cry out, as Jesus did, in the dark circumstances of your life? Do you, like Jesus, take a step away from all other things and people to come quietly and alone?
This passage shows us many things about Jesus, and many things about how we are to pray.
1. Jesus goes “as usual”- When faced with dark circumstances, we can go to what we know. The habit of prayer being already established, is readily available for us to enter.
2. Jesus withdrew- Although we can, and should, pray anywhere and with others, there is a time to withdraw from all things of this world, all others, and pray for ourselves, by ourselves, and to our Father– alone. It is in this quiet darkness we can let go of all that might inhibit us from coming close to God in true, honest, emotion.
3. Jesus humbles himself– We must come to the Father humbled. Perhaps on bended knee, perhaps not. Our physical posture doesn’t matter- God is not concerned with outward appearance- it is our inward humility that He is after. When Jesus prays to his Father, he comes kneeling, but more than that, he humbles himself with his words. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” Jesus knows that he has been chosen by God to bring us all into communion with God. It is Jesus who will, by his death, bring us all close to our heavenly Father. He understands fully what he is asking, yet he asks. He is not just asking to not die, he is asking that God change his mind. Jesus does not set down the cup, rather, he holds the cup out and asks God to take it. He knows it is not his place to refuse, but God’s to remove. In this, Jesus humbles himself to the Father. We must come to God in our darkness and recognize what we ask, it is ok to ask, but we must recognize what it means to ask God to change his mind, or reveal it. We must come not to set the cup down, but to ask God to remove it, or give us strength to hold onto it.
4. Jesus submits- We can ask, but we also must be willing to accept whatever answer is given. Jesus shows us that submission to God’s will is always the answer. We must be willing, in our darkness and fear, to submit to God’s will, His sovereignty, His plan.
In Matthew’s version of this prayer, we see something else about Jesus’ prayer practice. According to Matthew, Jesus repeats this prayer. When we are in dark places, sometimes we feel like we must have a unique prayer each time we come to God. Yet, sometimes the most earnest prayers are those simple, honest, responses to our circumstances, “Please God, don’t. Please God, pick someone else. Please God, not me.”
When we come to God, in our darkest hours, we can remember Jesus’ example of praying to His Father on the night of The Greatest Darkness. We can also remember that it is because of this night, the night of Jesus’ prayer in the dark, that our darkness will not last. In His Light, there is no darkness at all. Because of Jesus’ great sacrifice…that night to God’s will and on the cross, we can always look toward the light of His great love for us even when we pray in the dark.