He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
The opening line of Graham Kendrick’s song The Servant King could almost locate us in the season of Advent or Christmas. Yet the song could hardly be called a modern carol given that the journey from ‘heavenly babe’ to death is a pretty swift one.
Growing up in the evangelical tradition, I sang this song with gusto throughout much of my early worshipping life. As worship songs go, it is one I’m still happy to sing – not because of theology or anything so lofty, but because of the honesty of human emotions evoked by its words.
Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, surely was a ‘garden of tears’ when the weight of what lay ahead for Jesus bore down heavily upon him. For me, I’m not sure there is a clearer picture of Jesus’ humanity elsewhere throughout the Gospels. Who of us in Jesus’ position would not have felt similar and asked that the cup be taken from us?
Like Jesus’ contemporaries who expected the Messiah to overthrow Roman rule, I suspect many of us too crave the triumphant and powerful image of God found in many contemporary worship songs. Who wouldn’t want a God who rescues and saves us from the suffering imposed by our enemies? And yet, the story of our God made flesh is not one of conquest and victory, but of sacrifice and service.
I wonder if Jesus’ life of sacrifice and service would meet the criteria for the social media phenomenon of ‘living your best life’. I suspect not. Nevertheless, Jesus’ call to follow him in love, sacrifice and service is as true now as ever. How will we respond?
Servant God, In humility you came to us as Word made flesh, You who created the heavens and earth showed us the way of love and sacrifice. Help us to follow you, and to live our best life in service, and for the sake of the Good News. Amen.
Jonnie Hill, Ordinand at Northern College and member of Chorlton Central Church.
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