Back to the Garden
As fish were made for the sea, humans were made for gardens. In the beginning, God created a beautiful garden for His handmade likeness, Adam and Eve, to dwell. The garden was meant for their enjoyment and was most certainly a place of matchless beauty and splendor that would put Versailles’ immaculately manicured flora to shame. Better still, the garden was a place where Adam and Eve could freely abide in God’s majestic presence. The garden was a veritable intersection between the heavens and earth. Genesis 3 casually describes God as “walking in the garden in the cool of day” as if it were a regular occurrence. When man falls, the gravest consequence is not that they are displaced from the garden’s splendor, but that they are exiled from the place on earth fit for God’s kingly presence and holiness. Much of creation’s beauty remains to this day, but the uninhibited access to God was severed when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s one command. Like a fish out of water, humanity was suddenly without their creator, the living water needed for their temporal and eternal life.
Throughout the Old Testament, God made temporary arrangements for Him to dwell with His people via the Arc of the Covenant and ultimately the Temple. However, these were imperfect substitutes and a far cry from what it must have been like in the garden. They were limited by a sole priestly representative who could approach God on the entire Hebrew’s behalf. That priest had to then make sacrifices in accordance with strict specifications. Finally, his access was only permitted during certain windows a few times a year. The days where God could be encountered on evening walks by anyone were over. Sin had created an impermeable barrier between God and mankind and the Spirit of God was essentially inaccessible. A few men and women had the privilege of being anointed with God’s Spirit, but they were exceptions. For instance, the Spirit descended upon David when Samuel anoints him in front of his brothers. However, the Davidic Psalms are still replete with pleas that God not take His Spirit from David suggesting some level of temporality.
Time continues in this imperfect manner for centuries until one very special night that is not so coincidentally set in a garden. This garden is in the Mount of Olives, a hilltop over from God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Following his final supper with his disciples, Jesus retreats to this garden to be alone with his Father, the almighty God. It is of significance that Jesus ventures to this garden instead of going to God’s Temple as would have been customary. It represents a return to creation as God had intended it and a departure from the temporary fix that is soon abolished with the tearing of the veil. While Jesus had been anointed with God’s Spirit ever since John baptized him, it is not until the Garden of Gethsemane that we get a clear window into what that looks like. Throughout the New Testament we witness the power of having God’s Spirit through the miraculous acts and signs performed by Jesus, but it is in the Garden of Gethsemane that we see what God’s Spirit enables in the way of personal relationship with the God of the Universe.
It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that we witness Jesus in a state of utter vulnerability. Before this point we hear about Jesus’ prayer life, but it is in this moment that we hear Jesus’ actual prayers. This degree of vulnerability hearkens back to Adam and Eve being naked in the original garden and without shame. Jesus’ eternal intimacy with the Father is demonstrated and revealed as he reflects on the triune relationship before creation’s existence and the love that bound it together. Bolder still, Jesus humbly beseeches the Father to remove the cup of wrath from Jesus’ plate. In this moment, we see a fully human Jesus in genuine fear. However, the founder and perfecter of our salvation does not have a human response to that fear. Instead, he steps in faith and surrenders that fear to God declaring that the Father’s will be done. God responds by sending an angel to strengthen Jesus. Jesus had instructed his followers to pray in this manner before as he knows firsthand that is only through prayer that God is able to help us surrender to His will.
Over the course of this prayer time, Jesus returns to where he had left his three closest disciples three times to find them slumbering. Each time, he wakens them and admonishes them. He instructs them to pray that they may not enter temptation. He then says the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Many reference these words in regards to their sin life. However, Jesus uses these words to qualify his command that his disciples pray. How often are we like the disciples, in the garden in close proximity to our savior and yet spiritually asleep. Our hearts are willing to pray, even thirsty for time with our Father, but our flesh is too weak. We drift off to sleep in our prayers, allow our minds to wander, let the worship music play in the background while letting our consciousness mind to engage the earthly matters that are pressing us. I know I am sure guilty of this, at church, in times of corporate prayer, in my morning devotional life the few days I make time for it. In our consumer focused world, it is especially easy to be half asleep because of how often we are bombarded with advertisements and other demands for our attention, both good and bad. Our brains are forced to turn off to stay sane.
While it is easy to give up in light of these challenges, we must press on and press in. If we do not, we will be unable to resist temptation. If Jesus himself needed to pray, which he did regularly, how much more do we. After Jesus’ three admonishments to pray, Peter is subsequently tested three times before the rooster crows. Each time, Peter acquiesces and denies knowing Jesus. Peter had the benefit of foresight knowing that this trial was imminent, and he was still unable to keep his eyes open and follow Jesus’ lead and three reminders. The garden represents the tangent where heaven and earth intersect made possible by a resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit. The more time we spend in it, dwelling upon the sweet promises of God and seeking His divine assistance, the more God is able to help us accomplish heavenly things like resisting the temptations we constantly face. Without prayer, we are as hopeless as Peter. Peter had every benefit but prayer to face his storied trial and he failed because prayer was all he needed. As we start our weeks and days, let us preempt all we do with prayer so that our Father’s will might be done.