Jesus said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me”. Matthew 26:38
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. 1 Peter 2:24
Somebody once said, “Anything is bearable – as long as you don’t have to bear it alone”.
I have had a very easy life – I haven’t really had much to “bear”, for which I thank God. But I suspect there’s a lot of truth in those words.
I find the dreadfulness of the plane crash in the Alps almost impossible to imagine – the destruction, the loss, the grieving for the dead, the sheer numbness of trying to come to terms with something so awful.
But for the relatives hopefully there is at least a crumb of comfort in knowing that all around you others are in the same situation. So people can cling together – sometimes quite literally- for consolation, even if there is very little they can actually do. “Moral support” is not just an empty phrase.
Or suppose you’ve just had an operation. You come round from the anaesthetic and there is no-one near – all the staff are busy at that particular moment with other patients. You feel disoriented and helpless – and totally alone. But then you open your eyes and the first thing you see is a familiar face sitting in the bedside chair. You immediately feel comforted. I’m not forgotten! I’m not alone!
If this is so, it makes Jesus’ suffering before the crucifixion even more acute. His words to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane are really quite pitiful: “Stay here and keep watch with me…” In other words, “I need you now more than I have ever needed you before. I know there is nothing you can do to make this cup of suffering more drinkable, but… just be there for me. I want to be able to look up from my praying and see that you are with me…”
And what did he find? They were asleep.
The first time it happened he took Peter to task with a real note of reproach: “Couldn’t you keep watch with me for just one hour?” But the second time, Matthew tells us, “he left them and went away once more and prayed…” As if to say, “There’s no point in disturbing them again – the fact is that I’m not going to get any help from them in my time of struggle.” So he “went away” – can you see his bowed head, his drooping shoulders, all the body language of acute disappointment? – and prayed completely alone.
Of course, it was to get even worse. Being let down by your friends is one thing. But what was it Jesus cried out on the cross? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Throughout eternity Jesus had been in intimate relationship with his heavenly Father. But as death approaches that relationship is broken. This is an aloneness which we can only begin to imagine. And it is the price that had to be paid for our sins. The perfect holiness of God and the heavy weight of human sin cannot co-exist, so a massive wedge is driven between God the Father and God the Son.
As Peter puts it in that wonderfully concise sentence (with a glance back at Isaiah 53:12): “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree”.
As we come towards Good Friday we would do well to pray for a fresh appreciation of what Jesus suffered. The old hymn asks the question, “Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?”
And the answer is Yes. Yes! “Amazing love! How can it be,/ That thou, my God, should die for me!”
Father, the story of Jesus’ suffering and death is one I’ve known almost all my life. Please help me this week not only to relive it in my imagination, but to feel it afresh, as never before. And please also bring to my mind anyone who needs me to be with them today. Amen.