Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.
- Matthew 26:39
Just now, as American troops are engaged in a war no one expected before September 2001, the Christian world turns its thoughts toward Holy Week and a conflict of another kind. But theres a difference between these two events: we already know how the latter one ends.
But the disciples didnt know. When Jesus began the final leg of His journey to the cross on that first Palm Sunday, they didnt know He would be victorious over death, nor did they know the way to that victory would be so hard to bear.
Just as many of our military forces today signed on dotted lines because they needed a job or were looking for education benefits later on, the disciples also laid down their fishing nets and left home and family because of potential gain. At least some of the 12 expected a life of power or position under this revolutionary new leader, Jesus Christ. But had either group known what the future really held, its likely far fewer would have signed up.
Often during this time of year, I turn to the book, This Cup, by the late theologian Dr. Addison Leitch. With each reading I learn something new about the bitter cup Jesus asked His Father to excuse Him from drinking.
Leitch goes deeper into the study of Jesus suffering than most of us ever understand or go. With our token Ash Wednesday-to-Easter denials, like military preparedness drills far from the battlefield, we dont fully understand what Jesus meant by the cup from which He would be required to drink, all because He volunteered for active duty that would lead to a cross. Leitch explains:
What Jesus meant when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Let this cup pass from me, was, "Let me get this struggle over with so I can get on to the cross.
At that moment Jesus asked only that the dreaded union of all the sins of mankind pass from Him. He was too consumed with that agony to think about what would happen later.
Translated into our time, this Holy Week, and this faltering Christians life, I see the lesson Jesus prayer has for me: Lord, even though I think Im praying like Jesus did, for only one thing, one need, one problem to be solved, I know thats not ever true. When I ask for relief in one particular area, Im really saying, "Id appreciate it if there were never a cross beyond the garden. I dont want to be delivered just from the thought of pain, I want to be delivered from every problem and all pain from here on out.
These war-tinged days are emotional ones for all of us. People all over the world have been praying in their Gethsemanes for months for one thing: peace, with its end to war and terror, and reunion with those who have left our sides to engage in the fight. No more wars, Lord, not just for now, but forever.
For us, too, after Gethsemane there is still the cross. Whether our crosses are clothed in physical pain or suffering of another kind, healed bodies, peace treaties and reunited families are no guarantee that all our problems will disappear.
Until Heaven beckons, there may be many more cups for us to drink. Our Lord understands that agony; at His lowest moment, even He asked that it be removed from Him. But He endured it all so we might be victorious, too.
Knowing of that victory in advance, we can drink from our bitter cups, until that day when not just one but all our cups will pass from us.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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