Ps. 31; Isa. 52:13—53-12; Heb. 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1—19:42
Sword, Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So, Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (18:10, 11).
Jesus’ Passion begins in Gethsemane’s garden; it will conclude in another, the garden of his burial (Jn. 19:41, 42). What are we to make of these florid places?
But first, let’s observe that in Easter season Hollywood releases its latest Bible epic; “The Ten Commandments”, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, “The Robe”, “Ben-Hur”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “The Passion of The Christ”, and “Killing Jesus” spring to mind.
Film makers find in the Bible a rich store of drama, pathos, story, speculation, tragedy, and romance sure to ring the cash register. I understand the latest offering is entitled, “Resurrection”.
But Scripture as entertainment is problematic. Such films invariably misconstrue the Christian faith, stripping or distracting Jesus’ significance; at best a diluted Christianity, or worst “another Jesus and a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). One such purveyor gives account of killing Jesus the philosopher and all-around good-guy, hardly distinguishable from the life, trial, and execution of Socrates.
Scripture is engaging, still the liturgical hearer observes the HS inspired matter-of-fact accounts; there are no gratuitous embellishments intended to excite emotion. This is patent when comparing today’s “Passion Reading” with re-enactments or film visuals of scourging and crucifixion.
God’s word never engenders “enthusiast” religiosity nor feelings of pity for Jesus; rather pity is reserved for those rejecting Jesus’ obedient and willing sacrifice for the sin of the world (Lk. 23:31).
Scripture belongs to the church; she is neither interested in Albert Schweitzer’s critical “Historical Jesus” nor Bill O’Reilly’s “good philosopher”. The church occupies herself with Jesus’ identity and significance as Way, Truth, and Life to which all Scripture witnesses. Jesus, out of heaven, born, crucified, and risen is the church’s lens through which all history is comprehended and will conclude on the Last Day.
Returning to Gethsemane, what are we take from our garden markers that bracket, on one side Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death, and on the other his Resurrection?
Scripture is thoroughly connected by semantic words, grammar, and context to be its own interpreter. From Gethsemane we reflect back to Eden’s garden. Man taken from the earth and the woman from his flesh, were apex of creation, intended for “tend[ing] and guard[ing]” the garden (Gen. 2:15); caretakers of their worship place with God.
By sin Adam, proved no longer true man nor son; a defrocked gardener. Disobedience marred his “image and likeness” of his Creator. In response, God promised a Fallen Seed (cf. Jn. 12:23-25), scored and bruised; a planting to crush the Adversary (Gen. 3:15). Jesus’ passion in Gethsemane would lead to the place of Satan’s crushing defeat and Jesus’ bruising death into a garden-grave; rising out of the earth on the third day.
Jesus is new Adam; whose Resurrection body is new place of God’s Temple dwelling with men. Jesus’ scored body and heart, feed a new Eden bursting with the stuff of Life: word and sacrament making men as designed, for fruitful multiplication in their Creator’s image and likeness.
Jesus is Caretaker in his garden, utterly devoted to being its source of water and nourishment in the HS. We, the church, are help-mates in keeping and guarding the place where a single cruciform eucharistic loaf is grown, fabricated, and offered to the Father. Easter morning’s irony should not be lost, that Mary Magdalene, at the empty grave, thinks Jesus is the “gardener”. (Jn. 20:15).
Like Simon Peter we tend to get out ahead of Jesus’ lead. At Gethsemane Peter once again (cf. Mt. 16:23) stepped away from Jesus’ intent to do his Father’s will. We think our “good” intentions “helpful” in advancing God’s new creation and garden; more often, we hinder. Salvation is of Christ who alone does the will of the Father.
When the church employs a sword forged by men, Jesus may intervene through one corrective or another as by restored Malchus’ “right ear”; that on another day he might hear the Voice of the Spirit, the church’s Sword for conversion in a “right faith”.
Whatever militancy is given the church’s 144,000 (Rev. 7 and 14) it is the Lord alone who is “mighty in strength”; whose victory at the cross we trust for all. It is rather our part in battle to “put on the whole [defensive] armor of God” (Eph. 6:10-17) and follow our Captain, though himself naked on the cross, is alone God’s Crusher of sin, Satan, and death.
The church is taught the ways of her Lord that we might conduct ourselves in Christ’s likeness and mind toward God. Jesus on the cross, in his crucible of suffering, learned as man a true Son’s obedience, perfected to his vocation (Heb. 5:8), keeping and guarding God’s resident Garden and his Woman from the Adversary.
On the cross Jesus was beaten to a plowshare for furrowing hard hearts; for our forgiveness he received a soldier’s spear pruning the flesh of his heart for his Garden’s watering and nourishment, the place where warfare with God is ended (Isa. 2:3, 4). Amen.