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Jesus in the Garden: An Alternative Reading of Maundy Thursday

We understand Jesus’ expression of “Father, take this cup from me” as an  expression of his desire to not suffer and to not die “if possible.” But consider that Jesus was then, and is now, a “people person” – he’s all about relationships with other people. Sure, he understood the theology behind what lay in store for him, and he understood the reality of physical abuse, injury and agony that awaited.

So what really pained him, caused him anguish in his soul, was the impending loss of relationship with his friends. The betrayal, denial and abandonment at the hands of his closest friends was humiliating; anticipation of this brought about the deepest of suffering. But Christ the Reconciliator, who came into this world for the purpose of creating relationship, knew the power of forgiveness, that damaged personal relationships can be repaired and restored.

So, why the intense distress in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus knew he would never have the occasion to experience life’s activities and blessings, challenges and opportunities with his friends, acquaintances, and yes, strangers whom he had yet to meet. He came into this world to create new relationships between God and humanity, and he was abundantly and intimately successful. To leave these relationships grieved him; he suffered this loss with such intensity of emotion that his “sweat became like great drops of blood.”

Knowing it has to be this way does not really make it any easier to accept. No matter how we reinterpret it, spin it or contextualize it, this kind of loss is devastating. And we understand that.

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