There is a beautiful Taizé hymn inspired by Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the lyrics: “Stay with me, remain here with me; watch and pray.” This song lends itself to the Ignatian practice of unwrapping Scripture passages by imagining oneself within the passage. For instance:
I imagine myself having left the Passover table with the rest of the disciples. I am confused and overwhelmed by everything that has just happened. Jesus says he will be leaving us. He took the bread and wine and said it is his Body and Blood, “the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” What does all of this mean? And what kind of a Master washes his followers’ feet? It’s always the other way around. He said, “Love each other as I have loved you.” What kind of love is this?
These thoughts swirl around in my head as we all walk together. We make our way to a garden called Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus is so upset. He asks us to stay with him, to stay awake and pray. We sit down under some olive trees as he goes just a little further up, a stone’s throw away. He falls on his face on the ground and says, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.” He is shaking because he so agitated. I have never seen him so upset. He wipes his brow. It is a hot evening, but it almost looks like he is sweating blood. Seeing Jesus like this pains me to the heart. I want to go to him and comfort him, but he has asked us to keep watch, so I just close my eyes and pray. The night air is heavy, and I feel myself drifting off to sleep.
As I reflect on my experience in prayer, it strikes me that Jesus asks his disciples to accompany him that evening to Gethsemane. We see in Scripture that Jesus would often go off to pray alone. Yet, on this night, this night of his most profound suffering, he wants the company of his friends.
This is striking because he is about to die for these friends—and, indeed, for all of humanity. From a human perspective, it is unusual for someone who is about to be condemned to death for a crime he didn’t commit to ask the person who actually committed the crime to come and be with him. The human instinct would more likely be to push that person away and not to want to see that person at all.
Jesus, though, while fully human, is also God. And our God is a God of relationship. He came to redeem us and he loves us, personally, throughout the process of redemption. He doesn’t push us away—ever—even when our human sense of justice would deem it justifiable. At Gethsemane, Jesus demonstrated that with God’s justice, love is the overriding factor. His love remains at all times, even when we don’t expect it and when we know that we don’t deserve it. And God requests us to remain near; God desires our presence.
This evening, we enter into the Paschal Triduum, the summit of the liturgical year. We will be walking together through the events of Christ’s final days on earth. As you recall these events, place yourself in the Scripture passages each day. Observe how your experience of the passage affects you and what feelings arise within as you watch the scene unfold.
If you were at Gethsemane with Jesus that night, and he asked you to stay there with him, would you?
Think of Jesus walking with the Cross, looking at you, requesting your presence.
Think of Jesus on the Cross, requesting you near him.
Stay here with me, remain here with me.
Feel that Love, looking at you. Tenderly.
How will you respond?