One of the most difficult funerals I’ve had to take in my ministry so far, was for a young man in his twenties who had died of a drug overdose. It was one of those situations as a minister where there is just nothing you can say, and even finding any words to express that families grief, not just for their son but also for all their dreams and hopes for his life, was impossible.
And yet, as I sat with the family there was a real sense of God’s presence. The young man’s father said something that has always stuck with me. He commented, ’It’s strange, I’ve never prayed so much as in the last few days’
It’s a remarkably common phenomenon that when we, as people, experience intense suffering, it’s precisely then that we often find ourselves reaching out desperately for God.
As we approach the final two weeks of Lent — a period often called ‘Passiontide’ because it is the time in the church year when we are drawn to reflect on Jesus’ passion — one of the parts of the passion narrative which is so often glossed over is the Garden of Gethsemane.
At Gethsemane, Jesus’ has reached the point of no return. From this point forward, he will be a marked man. There is no turning back. He knows the brutal death which is awaiting him, the death which will be ultimate fulfilment of his purpose on earth, and he chooses to continue moving towards it.
And just like the young man’s father I mentioned earlier, he finds himself praying. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.Hebrews 5.7
But what is most incredible about Jesus’ prayers, is that he cries out not for himself alone, but for us all. His prayers at Gethsemane are a deep cry for the holiness and unity of the Church, just as his cry at the cross is for those around him, ‘Father, forgive them…’
And in doing this, just as the epistle tells us, he fulfils the role of priest, of the one eternal High Priest. Through the breaking of his own body, Jesus becomes a bridge between us and the Father, and between us and one another, and between our broken selves and our true, perfect selves.
It is through his own suffering, and through his constant intercession, that Jesus creates a way for us to find peace and joy in the midst of our own sufferings now, and to salvation in the age to come.
So, as we approach Holy Week this year, will we invite Jesus to come afresh into our lives and bridge the gap between us and God. Will we allow him to write on our hearts the Father’s incredible love for us and the incredible hope of salvation? Will we ask him to bridge the gaps between us and those around us, and ask him to help us reconcile differences, and forgive past wrongs?
As Christians, we can find it so easy to explain away the significance of the cross to a single metaphor or theological formula, but in doing so we can sometimes actually inoculate ourselves against it. It can be easy to go through the motions each year, but without really allowing the reality to sink in, not just into our minds but into our hearts and souls as well.
As this Passiontide begins, may we immerse ourselves once again in the story of our salvation, and the intense suffering of Christ, and, in so doing, glimpse just something of the incredible heart of our beautiful Saviour.
This article is taken from this month’s Ministry Area magazine, which is now available in churches.