When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

In the Garden of Gethsemane

The full moon was shining as our Lord and the disciples came down the outer stairs from the upper room. The streets were still, except where sounds of merry voices came from the houses where happy people sat at the Passover table. The little company met no opposition on the way, and passed without hindrance through the city gate. The road ran down the hill into a deep valley, crossed the bridge of a little stream called the Kidron, and then climbed the ascent of the Mount of Olives. Over the brook, at the foot of the mountain, was a little garden of olive trees, called Gethsemane.

On the way they had continued the conversation of the upper room. Did they remember, as they went down, the words of the psalm about the valley of the shadow of death? Into that dark valley they were now descending. "The time has fully come," the Master said, "of which I have been telling you. The Pharisees and Sadducees will take me, and mock me and scourge me and spit upon me and kill me. And you, my friends, my dear friends, whom I have chosen to be with me, who have stayed beside me even when others turned their backs, even you will desert me. It is written, 'I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.' " Then Peter, speaking first of all, cried, "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." To which our Lord replied, "I tell thee, Peter, that this very night before to-morrow dawns, even in this night before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." But Peter declared more earnestly than before, "Lord, I am ready to go with thee both into prison and to death. Even if I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise." Likewise also said they all.

So they came into the garden, and he left the disciples by the gate, saying, "Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder." But he took Peter and James and John with him into the deeper shade of the olives. The others sat upon the grass in the moonlight, some thinking, some sleeping, some listening to faint sounds as of one in great distress crying to God in prayer, but the words were lost in the babbling of the running brook, or in the rustle of the wind in the leaves of the trees.

Peter and James and John went with the Master. And he began to be both troubled and amazed. The more clearly he saw the certainty of his approaching death, the more impossible did it appear. He was not afraid. Even then he might have escaped easily. He had but to walk out of the garden gate, and on along the road over the Mount of Olives, past Bethany, into the country, and no man would harm him. If he would but live in peace and quietness, no Pharisee nor Sadducee would touch him. All that they wished for was that he would be silent. He might still live, if he would return to the bench of the carpenter. But that was utterly impossible. He had come, the Son of God, in the name of God, to teach the truth of God. That was his whole life: he could not imagine himself living and not doing that.

But that he who thus came, on such a mission, with such a message, should be rejected; that he whose heart was full of love should be hated; that they to whom he came should kill him,—this amazed him, with a sad and dreadful amazement. And he said to the three, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here and watch with me." And he went forward a little, and fell upon the ground, and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass from him. Must it be? Must this calamity come? To die was little, but thus to die was terrible beyond all speech or thought. That the Pharisees and Sadducees should kill him, the very clergy of the church, with the approval of the church people,—this was what broke his heart. If the common sinners of the street had hated him, he could have borne it; but that the good should hate him, that men should come out of church from the act of prayer, and plan to kill him,—this amazed him and crushed him to the ground. He fell upon his face and prayed, saying, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; let me not thus die by the hands of those whom I love: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."

And he came out of the deep shadow to the three disciples, and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, who had made such great promises, "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" And then he added, seeing that they were very tired, "The spirit, indeed, is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again he went back into the darkness, and being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, saying, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done." And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come unto his disciples, he found them again asleep, partly for weariness and partly for sorrow. Then, going back he prayed a third time, saying the same words: and the third time, when he went for sympathy to the disciples, he found them again asleep. And when they waked at the sound of his steps, and were ashamed and sorry, he said, "Sleep on now, and take your rest."

But now there was a noise as of hurrying feet in the road which led from the city. Torches were seen flickering between the trees by the bridge across the Kidron. Jesus knew well what it all meant. "It is enough," he cried, waking the three, and calling to the others. "The hour is come. Behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go to meet them; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand."

Judas had gone from the last supper to find the men to whom he had sold his soul. He may have said, "The prophet is in such and such a house, in the upper room, with only the group of his apostles with him. Send a band with me, and we may take him before he goes." If so, they came too late, finding the place empty. But the next step was sure. "He will be found, then, in the Garden of Gethsemane." For with this quiet spot the apostles were familiar. Many times they had resorted thither. Judas knew every tree, and could find his way from corner to corner, even in the dim light of the moon. There he had lain in the heat of the day, and in the cool of the evening, close by the Master, and had listened as he talked. Judas knew it well. To the garden, accordingly, he brought his band of servants from the high priest's house, and now they came with lanterns and torches and weapons. And the traitor had given them a sign, saying, "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely." And as soon as he was come, he went straightway to Jesus, as if he were still one of the twelve friends, saying, "Master, Master," and kissed him.

Then they laid their hands on Jesus, and took him. And Peter, quick and impulsive now as always, stretched out his hand and drew a sword which he had buckled to his side, and struck the nearest man, cutting off his ear. But the resistance went no further. One of the other apostles had a sword, but he did not draw it. Indeed, Jesus told Peter to put his sword into its sheath. "Do you not know," he said, "that if I were to ask my Father, he would send me instantly an army of angels? But it may not be." And, hearing that, all the apostles—first Peter, and then James and John and Thomas and the others—forsook him and fled. Away they went, running in dreadful haste this way and that among the trees of the garden. And Jesus was left alone.

But as they who had arrested Jesus led him out of the gate, a single strange figure came in sight. A young man, evidently just from bed, came following after, having a sheet wrapped about him. Some of the band turned back and drove him away and chased him, catching the sheet but not succeeding in catching him. Out he went into the darkness and was lost to sight. It is in St. Mark's Gospel that this white-gowned person appears, and some have thought that he was none other than St. Mark himself. We know that Mark was then a lad living in Jerusalem, and that a few months later his mother's house was the meeting-place of the disciples. It may be that the upper room was in that house, and that Mark, awakened by Judas and his searching party, had hurried, just as he was, to warn our Lord at Gethsemane, and had arrived in time to hear how Jesus prayed while the disciples slept, and to see the great drops as of blood upon his forehead.