“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”
‘When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.’ John 18:1
There were two gardens. Two gardens in this long tread of time. And God walked in them both. So did frail humanity, humanity forged in the image of God forgetting themselves and forsaking God. This is the story of the first garden, but only part of the story of the second.
‘They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” Mark 14:32
When God had said “Let us make humankind in our image” (Genesis 1:26) He was silently saying, “I choose you to exist as I exist… I choose for you a loving heart, a responsible character, a propensity for truth and a volitional existence”. He was saying “I love you. I choose you”.
And every day that Adam and Eve walked past the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and chose to keep on walking, they were soundlessly speaking, silently saying to God, “I love you, I trust you, I choose you; I choose to trust your heart. I trust that your gifts are good, your words are true and the boundaries you set are good. I choose to stay. With you.”
Because love never was just a sentimental feeling. Deep love is always a choice. A choice that costs. A choice that chooses another over every other inclination, every feeling, every leaning away within. Love stays.
But they didn’t stay. They left Him. Alone. On that aching day in the garden long ago, when the first humans reached for the fruit of the tree that mixes good and evil together, they weren’t just reaching, they were speaking, they were silently saying… “God is a liar, God’s heart can’t be trusted, God isn’t good”. They were saying… “my will not yours be done on this earth beneath our feet”, they were saying “I choose… not you” to God, “I choose the absence of you, I choose the loss of you, I choose my own way and my own will and mine, mine, mine. I choose not to love you anymore. I choose to leave.”
The first human beings chose their will over God’s, their way over God’s way, the mixed presence of good and evil over the loving presence of a good God. And in dethroning God from their hearts every form of darkness rushed into the void, darkness leading to every form of sin, every form of death.
The seeds of all our destruction took root there in the first garden, when humanity said “not your will but mine be done” and led through swirling millennia of violence, sadness, sin and death to here, the second garden. Here where the new Adam, the son of David, the Son of Man kneels and faces the very same choice once more, the choice we fail in every moment with every breath to make: the choice to resist, the choice to obey, the choice to love, the choice to choose God.
The choice to stay. With Him.
‘On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,’ Luke 22:40-41
He’s known all along, along this long road, this road He’s been on since before time began, He’s known that this is where His journey would take Him, where obedience to His Father would take Him, where love for frail human beings would take Him. And it glass-shard cuts, scraping His heart.
‘He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.’ Mark 14:33
‘Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:38
Stay here and watch with me. Be here. Be with me in this hour when I feel most alone. Keep watch with me. Stay. With me.
Grief can be the loneliest journey for a soul. Words clang empty falling to the ground, and platitudes scratch the wound until it bleeds. There are just no words for grief. Only silence. The silence of filling the aching emptiness with presence, the silence of being together, “Stay here and keep watch with me”. Stay with me. To know another knows and sees and understands… it’s what we need, it’s what we long for in the long dark tunnel of our distress. And it’s the hardest thing to find.
They’d accompanied Him, these three, and the rest of the twelve. Walked alongside Him. Followed Him, given up everything to trail behind Him as He traversed Israel on this path He was on, living His name like a mission from God, building His Kingdom with every step.
But His disciples, they were never fully with Him. How could they be? They perpetually struggled to grasp this journey Jesus was on. While walking physically side by side, His path had been completely different to theirs.
The path they lived, the road under their feet was everything they hoped for, it was leading them all towards victory, power and success… leading towards Israels’ redemption and freedom from oppression. They were, after all, striding proudly in step with Israel’s Messiah, the prophecies foretold it, the crowds confirmed it …and just a few days ago it had all come to a head as He rode into town as a King. The path they were on was everything they hoped for. Everything they expected. Better.
But it wasn’t His path. This King they followed was on a road they just couldn’t recognise or comprehend. His path had no place in their minds made up, their certainty born of a historical narrative rich with fervent hope for nationhood, freedom and prosperity. Three times on the road He had tried to explain, three times He had made it abundantly clear (Mark 8:31-32, 9:31-32, 10:32-34) and three times His words had fallen on deaf ears and numb hearts full of confident self assurance (Mark:8:33, 9:33-34, 10:35-41).
They knew how things were going to go. They knew. They were certain. The road they were on was everything they hoped for. Everything they expected. Better.
But it wasn’t His road.
He spoke of suffering and death.
They spoke of success and status.
They were never fully with Him.
But how He needed them now. Now the hour approached. The loneliest moment the God of the Universe has ever faced, and He faced it surrounded by His closest friends.
They were never fully with Him.