For many millions of Christians around the world Easter is their most important date of the year , and falls this year on Sunday 31st March .
To understand what this means and to have some insight into the events leading up to the crucifiction, we asked Rev Ian Hadfield the Vicar of AllSaints church to retell the story .
This is his marvellous tale to be appreciated by Christians and non-christians alike .
It’s nearly midnight when Jesus and the 11 disciples leave the upper room and descend through the streets of the city. The roads are lined with the fires and tents of the Passover pilgrims. Most are asleep; there has been a large evening meal. Those awake think nothing of this little group of men walking the dusty roads.
They pass through the valley and ascend the path that will take them to Gethsemane. The road is steep. They stop to rest. Somewhere within the city walls the twelfth apostle darts down the street. His feet have been washed by the man he will betray. His heart has been claimed by the Evil One. He runs to find Caiaphas the High Priest.
The final encounter of the battle has begun.
History records it as a battle of the Jews against Jesus. It wasn’t. It was a battle of God against Satan.
And Jesus knew it. He knew that before the war was over, he would be taken captive. He knew that before victory, would come defeat. He knew that before the throne, would come the cup of suffering. He knew that before the light of Easter Sunday, would come the blackness of Good Friday.
And Jesus is afraid.
When he reaches the garden, Jesus turns his eyes toward his circle of friends. It will be the last time he sees them before they abandon him. He knows what they will do when the soldiers come. He knows that their betrayal is only minutes away.
But Jesus doesn’t accuse. He doesn’t lecture. Instead he prays. His last moments with his disciples are in prayer.
But he doesn’t pray with the disciples, he prays alone. The disciples choose to sleep rather than wrestle in prayer.
Never has Jesus felt so alone. What must be done, only Jesus can do. No angel can do it. No angel has the power to break open hell’s gates. No human can do it. No human has the purity to destroy sin’s claim. No force on earth can face the force of evil and win – except God.
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Jesus confesses. Jesus, the carpenter, implores, Jesus the man, peers into the dark pit and begs, “Can’t there be another way?”
But there was no other way. Jesus could not have walked away from it, even though part of him longed to do so.
Jesus could not have backed out of the plan because he saw you. He saw you in the middle of a world which isn’t fair. Jesus saw you cast into a river of life you didn’t request. He saw you betrayed by those you love. He saw you with a body which gets sick and a heart that grows weak.
He saw you staring into the pit of your own failures and you looking into the mouth of your own grave.
He saw you in your own garden of gnarled trees and sleeping friends. He saw you in your Garden of Gethsemane – and he didn’t want you to be alone.
He wants you to know that he has been there too. He knows what it is to be plotted against. He knows what it is like to be torn between two desires. And, perhaps most of all, he knows what it is like to beg God to change his mind and to hear God say so gently, but firmly, “No”.
For that is what God says to Jesus. And Jesus accepts the answer. At some moment during that midnight hour an angel of mercy comes over the weary body of the man in the garden. As he stands, the anguish is gone from his eyes. His fist will clench no more. His heart will fight no more.
The battle is won. You may have thought it was won on the Cross. It wasn’t. The final battle was won in Gethsemane. And the sign of conquest is Jesus at peace in the olive trees.
For it was in the garden that he made his decision. He would rather go to hell for you than to go to heaven without you.
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