By Charles Rush
April 16, 2000
Matthew 26: 1-1 and Matthew 27: 35-46
sus was supposed to be King Arthur and he was supposed to be on
his way to Camelot. I suppose people then, like people now, despite
being jaded and worldly wise are oddly open to the fantastic hope that
the boy can pull the sword out of the stone, find the magical powers
and gifts for authentic leadership that will finally throw off the evil
overlords that have oppressed our people for centuries, lift us out of
the misery of wretched poverty, and open the dawn on a new day. We are
half hoping, as we stand along the crowded boulevard, to get a glimpse
of a knight in shining armor that we can cheer on to victory on our
I've seen it twice in feint relief of the real thing. When John F.
Kennedy was inaugurated president and he rode in an open-air limousine
down Constitution Avenue in Washington in a tux and tails. At one
point he stood and tipped his hat to the crowd. In a very odd way, we
were actually hoping, though no one ever said it, that he would be
Arthur, that somehow a new day would dawn in our lifetime, and that we
would be in the presence of something that was bigger than life.
Then again, when Prince Charles married Lady Diana, and they were
presented just outside Westminster Cathedral, bedecked and surrounded
by all the costumes of royalty, riding in a horse drawn carriage
through the streets of London. We were oddly hoping, though no one
ever said it, that she would be Cinderella, and that a new graciousness
would infuse the Royal Court, and we would be in the presence of
something bigger than life.
The people wanted that of Jesus. They wanted a hero like Ben Hur. They
wanted the Moses of Cecil B. DeMille's wide screen version, replete
with nature defying miracles, direct and unambiguous communication with
the Almighty, who could lead them out from under the boot of the Roman
legion and usher in a new day where every man could sit under the shade
of his own fig tree and there were taxes no more. All of you last
minute filers can understand this hope just now.
The people had hoped for a great coronation but that is not what we
get. We do not have Bishops in Miters, in the finest vestments,
filling the room with their censors, blessing the Anointed One in a
packed Cathedral of hushed awe. Instead it is an ordinary woman. Luke
says she was a sinner. John suggests that she may have been a
prostitute. She anoints Jesus on the head and on his feet. It is a
strange coronation and from what the disciples would remember later, it
would also be an anointing for death and burial. We hoped for a way
out. Jesus instead leads on the way through.
It was not the coronation we wanted. Neither do we get the Royal Ball
in celebration of the anointed one. We do not get the great sculpted
ice, the rows of violins playing gently, the ladies in long evening
gloves, the choice wine from Bordeaux, the sumptuous veal cordon bleu,
the Belgian chocolates top it all off. No, Jesus takes his motley
collection of disciples for a simple meal of bread and wine. There are
no after dinner toasts, no call to dancing. There is no round table.
There are no knights pledging loyalty by placing their swords on the
table. There is not wise counsel or hearty laughter.
He gives them a simple prediction that one of his closest confidants
will be the person to hand him over to the Roman authorities.
Jesus does not ride home in the limousine, elated from the wine, the
conversation. He does not have the driver stop and look out over the
reflecting pond at the glorious evening lights. From his last supper,
he retreats to Gethsemane to pray. Gethsemane means "the place of
the oil press" and that is figuratively what he does in that
place. His soul gets pressed into its concentrated essence. He prays
that God would let this cup pass from me. He prays very hard, so hard
that Luke says, he sweat blood." It may have been a profound night
but it is not a night you look forward to living through.
You can still go to this place where Jesus prayed. There are still
olive trees there. Some of the local people will tell you that some of
the trees were there in biblical times. I do not know if that is true
but olive trees do indeed live a very long time and have an ancient
look to them. It is right outside the city walls. To this day, it is
a quiet place of refuge.
Michael Knowles is right. He says that we all have our Gethsemane's.
"It is not our Galilee, the place where we learn and grow, the
place of preparation to which we may one day return in triumph. It is
not our Golgotha, the place of ending and death. Gethsemane is
somewhere in between. For Jesus, for his followers, for you and me,
Gethsemane is that place in your life where you finally know that
death, inescapable death, is on its way." It has many faces.
For some of us, it is struggling with vocation. "In the movie
The Full Monty
, one character- a middle aged manager- has held out like this for six
months. Every morning his wife packs him a lunch; every night he comes
home and tells her what went on at the office. Except there is no
office anymore. It's not that he can't admit it to his wife; it's
that he can't admit it to himself. He can't admit his fear that he
may never find another job again."
For some of us, it is a relationship. One couple, I knew had gone
through a trauma together, coped with it very differently, grew apart,
went to counseling, worked on issues, still neither were fulfilled.
Both of them were frustrated. Finally, one of them said that they
needed a few days to think, and she left town. She returned, still
thinking. For a few more days she was just thinking, neither of them
was talking. When they settled down in the evening, it was an
uncomfortable sleep, no one talking. They were in a holding pattern,
waiting to see if it was really over, waiting for a pronouncement that
the relationship was officially dead. He called me up after a couple
of days of this and said in a very controlled tone of voice, "I am
losing my mind." He wasn't exaggerating.
For some of us, it is our passion, our whole way of life. I saw a
documentary of a family of farmers in the Midwest that were struggling
to keep their farm alive. Third generation farmers on this land. It
wasn't just what they loved, it was simply who they were, but they were
betwixt and between. For a variety of reasons they were on the edge of
bankruptcy. Night after night, the Mother of the farm family would
return to her desk after the kids were in bed. She was punching a
calculator. She did the math again. She did it again. She would go
talk to some people. The next night she would do the math again. At
one point, it is late at night, she pushes her coffee back, holds her
business plan in front of her. Her husband crosses the room and stops.
She looks at him. He looks at her. They shared a Gethsemane moment in
Gethsemane is that place where you know the end is coming, where
death and failure and darkness lie in wait for you, and you wish, so
much like Jesus, that there were some other way. You know you're there
when you can't tell the difference between numb and empty. You know
you're there when you find yourself, like Jesus, face down on the
Gethsemane is a place where your soul gets pressed and our essence is
distilled. It is a time for spiritual inventory. In the face of
impending death, our perspective changes. Suddenly, some of our
shallow attachments dissipate, our petty concerns fade away. Suddenly,
we are frightfully aware of how much time we have wasted, how much idle
diversion we let pass for living. Suddenly, we want to be profoundly
connected to our loved ones. Sometimes we are overwhelmed at the
degree to which we have taken these relationships for granted, lo these
many years. Now they have a felt gravity of importance.
And we find ourselves giving voice to the wider, deeper questions of
meaning. In the short time we had on this earth, what is it that we
will leave behind that is really significant? Was my life really worth
living and what were the things that made it so? What was it that we
were really proud to have done?
It is not a bad idea for us to spend some time in reflection on
these questions during Holy Week, when the end is not upon us. I was
reminded of this last week reading a letter to the editor in the New
York Times. The letter was in reaction to an article describing the
changing work ethic on Wall Street, how more and more young people are
bucking the total immersion, total commitment in exchange for big money
and big perq's that defined the previous generation. The article
pointed out that more and more people are starting to ask for a more
balanced life. One woman wrote to observe that time is an irredeemable
commodity and that in her experience the one thing most threatening in
the working culture of financial services are people who will not be
She makes an important point and it is this. We are not in the
Whatever your commitments and many of us are deeply committed in time
to something specific... whatever that commitment is, make sure you
believe in it and that it reflects you. Every time you have a pensive
moment and you think to yourself, "this will all be over in a few
years and then I will be able to do what I want to do, then I will be
able to start living." Every time you think that make a spiritual
note about it. You are on risky spiritual ground. Be careful. Time is
irredeemable. Make sure that you that your living really reflects who
you are. Of course, very few of us are consistently integrated in our
purpose. Most of us make some trade off's. But be aware when you are
doing it and be careful. Because when you get to your own Gethsemane,
those spiritual trades will all come due. And I'm not talking about
some angry God calling your life into judgment.
I'm talking about coming to grips with yourself, your conscience, and
It is the big questions that you
No, in Jesus, we do not get King Arthur. No one comes to save the
day for Jesus. We do not get Camelot or triumph. Instead, in the
events of Holy Week, Jesus turns to face his own death.
No band of Angels come to rescue him.
Instead, he is left alone with his thoughts, his fears. He prays. He
comes face to face with the question of his own integrity, his own
spiritual purpose. No one can really do that with him, let alone for
him. At the end of the day, it is our spiritual integrity and
spiritual purpose that will see us on through. Possessions will fade.
Position will fade. Even our friends and loved ones will fade in
comparison. In the end, spiritual integrity and authentic purpose are
the only things we take to the grave.
Robert Mansfield was a white man, the headmaster of a white school
in South Africa in the 50's. He took his athletic teams to play
cricket and hockey against the black schools until the department of
education forbade him to do it anymore, and so he resigned in protest.
Shortly thereafter, Emmanuel Nene, a leader in the black community came
to meet him. "I've come to see a man who resigns his job because
he doesn't wish to obey and order that will prevent children from
playing with one another."
I resigned because I think it is time to go out and fight
everything that separates people from one another. Do I look like a
knight in shining armor?"
Yes, you look like a knight in shining armor, but you are
going to get wounded. Do you know that?"
I expect that may happen."
Well you expect correctly. People don't like what you are
doing, but I am thinking of joining with you in the battle."
You're going to wear the shining armor, too."
Yes, and I'm going to get wounded, too. Not only by the
government, but also by my won people as well."
Aren't you worried about the wounds?"
I don't worry about the wounds. When I go up there, which is
my intention, the Big Judge will says to me, 'Where are your wounds?'
and if I say, 'I haven't any,' he will say, 'Was there nothing to
fight for?' I couldn't face that question."
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