The Garden of Agony (Part 1)
Eden, the garden of ecstasy is no longer available to us. We left it in sin and shame and it cannot be regained. All the privileges it offered have been forfeited. And so every man on this toilsome journey through life, in the midst of much tribulation and much soul searching, enters the Garden of Agony.
We do not enter this garden out of choice. Destiny calls us to it and we must heed the call. Jesus said "if a man is to save his life, he must first lose it." Regardless of our socio - economic status, race, religion, or creed - regardless of our prestige, power, or intellect; the day will come when we will have to decide whether or not we'll cross over the brook Kedron.
The brook Kedron represents the sand-line between God's will and man's will. Some of us will decide not to cross over. Some of us will be unable to withstand the agony, the frustrations, the hurt, the suffering, and the despair. Some of us will not be able to cope and subsequently, look for another way out. We'll jump out of windows, we'll overdose on drugs, we'll drink ourselves to death or put a gun to our heads and pull the trigger; anything to avoid the Garden of Agony. The rest of us will confront our garden.
How we enter our garden will be largely determined by the kind of preparation we have made. Man has been a nomad and a wanderer ever since he was exiled from the first Garden; the Garden of Eden with its sinless wonders and its trees of life and knowledge. Ever since we left this garden, man has been roaming in a never-ending wilderness. Now, we find ourselves in desperate need of someone to point the way back.
Well, if we want to get ourselves together again, it is imperative that we go back to the spot where we first detoured from Christ. The hymn acknowledges this fact as it declares:
I've wandered far away from God, the paths of sin too long I've trod.
I've wasted many precious years; I now repent with bitter tears.
I'm tired of sin and straying Lord, I'll trust Thy love, believe Thy word.
My soul is sick, my heart is sore, my strength renew, my hope restore.
Lord, I'm coming home.
Somehow, we must follow the same path that Jesus trod. Jesus went all the way. He crossed over the brook Kedron; He went all the way to another tree of life in another garden. That garden is called Gethsemane.
We know that Jesus died at Calvary and rose again. But I ask that you think along with me because in a very real and profound sense, Jesus had already died before He got to Calvary. Somehow, Calvary had already happened in the agony of Gethsemane. Somehow, Jesus experienced spiritual, mental, physical and emotional death in the agony of the Garden Gethsemane.
The Gospel of Matthew represents Jesus as saying, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death." Jesus was wholly encompassed, encircled, and overwhelmed with grief. He was plunged entirely in sorrow and woe. Mark records that Jesus "began to be sore amazed and to be very heavy." And it is interesting that the great physician, Dr. Luke, is the only editor to mention "And being in agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground."
Even today, medical literature has documented this rare condition as "hematidrosis" or bloody sweat. When a person is under extreme and severe emotional and mental stress, the small capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process alone had depleted Jesus of his strength. We say that Jesus was resurrected on Easter, and in reality He was. But in another sense, He died and was somehow resurrected in Gethsemane.
We too, all of us, are on our journey. The first garden cannot be reclaimed. It is a lost paradise. And if we are going to be saved, we must somehow struggle while stumbling to pass through the second garden; the Garden of Agony. We must confront our garden because somehow, it is there where we die and it is there where we are resurrected again, or we fail forever.
And you know, experience has taught me that the greatest agony suffered in our Gethsemane is the fact that it must be suffered alone. This is true of all pain is it not? Agony is of such that other folks may empathize with us; they may sympathize for us, but there is something about agony that all of us must bear alone. It is a point in our lives when we are forced to move to another dimension; a dimension beyond the mundane, a dimension beyond the realm of ordinary everyday common activities.
When we enter our garden, we discover that it is unlike any place we have ever experienced before. It is a place of bitter anguish and a yearning desire to escape, to get away. It is a place of suffering on a titanic scale. It is a place of failing, of deficiency, of spiritual torture, of sinking of spirit.
(continued in Part 2)
* More information about Hematidrosis can be obtained at: beyondthepassion.org.
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. www.clergyservices4u.org">http://www.clergyservices4u.org. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available in July.