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The Weight of Gethsemane

On the weekend of November 30, 1940, there were many who gathered together to celebrate Winston Churchill's 66th birthday. During lunch, one of his closest friends raised a glass to honor Churchill, calling him "the greatest man in the world."

Larson, in his book The Splendid and the Vile writes:

"A call went up for his reply. He stood. As he spoke, his voice shook and tears streamed. 'In these days,' he said, 'I often think of Our Lord.' He could say no more. He sat down and looked at no one -- the great orator made speechless by the weight of the day."

Erik Larson

It is said that at times a person can feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Trying and painful series of life experiences. Our personal Via Dolorosa. The way of sorrows. We feel like Atlas from Greek mythology, destined to carry the burdens of the world for eternity. Burdens that we too often overestimate even as we underestimate their weight.

We acknowledge that throughout time the world has held generations safe in its bosom. Or so man believed. Epics were written. Idols were worshipped. Wars were waged. Children were born. Dead were mourned. Heroes were celebrated. Stars were discovered. Histories were researched. Lands were conquered. Families were raised. The edifices of ambition were built and destroyed and built again and destroyed again and built again and destroyed again. There was love and jealousy and hope and tears and agony and laughter.

We will pass. And this place will pass, and stars will fall and suns will rise. Knowing our true purpose in life should reduce frustration. Increase motivation. And allow for greater consecration. It simplifies our life. And helps keep our eyes on the goal ahead. The ancient Roman philosopher Seneca expressed it this way, “When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”

But some days simply lay on us like stones.

Parents feel the weight of the world at times. Caring for their children in the midst of a perverse and wicked generation. “Am I doing all that I can? Raising them to walk in the light and not stray into the darkness?” Shepherds of a local congregation carry a weight that for many is incomprehensible. They are charged with the souls of the flock. Ready to give account before the Lord. The consequence of their charge is indeed dire.

This “weight of the world” that we feel is of course a metaphor, a cliché chucked about at times without thought to its meaning. Just another way to say we are bearing some responsibility for our actions.

And then there’s Gethsemane. A night like none other throughout the annals of history.

Recognize that the temptation to not go to the cross is extreme. His burden that night was indeed great. And we learn from passages like Isaiah 53.4 that He carried our sorrows. It’s descriptive of a porter who carriers a heavy load for another person. The baggage does not belong to the porter. Another person still owns it. But the porter bears its weight. My sorrows. My burden. Individually and collectively. For you and for me. For the entire world. It was truly “the weight of the world.” 

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Matthew 26.39b

Luke tell us, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly;” (Luke 22.44a) Consider that. Reflect on the simple fact that our Lord is in agony. Jesus is not impervious. He experienced the pull of His flesh. So He asks if there is another way to let this cup pass from Him. But Jesus’ desire is not important. All that matters is the purpose of the Father. God’s will is the only thing that matters.

The weight of Gethsemane was upon Him. His hour had indeed come. And it led to the incalculable suffering of the cross. Understand that in that terrible moment Jesus fell under the judgment of God -- not because of His own sins, but because of ours. Peter describes it this way:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2.24

Lest we fool ourselves, it's the vile quagmire of corruption and sin which weighs us down the most, whether we care to admit it or not. The Christ bore our sins in His body on the cross. He was wounded so that we could be healed. He, who had no sin, was made to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5.21). His anguished wail of pain -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27.46) – reminds us of the lament of the psalmist. A psalm which begins with despair but ends on a triumphant note. You see, God has always been with His people even though they suffer. And the Christ was Himself the righteous sufferer. For you and for me.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.

Psalm 68.19-20

There are moments in life where we are tired. Tired with nothing. Tired with everything. Tired of the world’s weight we have never chosen to bear. Every day the increasing weight of the years admonish us more and more. I believe Tennyson was right when he said we falter where we firmly trod. We fall with the weight of cares upon the great world's altarstairs which slope through darkness up to God. But all of these burdens that trammel us pale in comparison to the weight of the world that the Christ carried that night and beyond.

It's the lure of sin that so easily entangles us. It is truly our burden. Our weight. And He bore it Himself. Alone. There are many burdens given to us that we are not meant to bear. We simply can’t. The drops of blood in Gethsemane remind us of this. The Christ delivered us from death.

Even when it looks like rain. And the dark clouds cover the sky. Hold your head up high. Know that the weight of the world was borne on His shoulders.

In Gethsemane. Alone.