One of my favorite Holy Week hymns (and I love a lot of them) is "Go to dark Gethsemane" by James Montgomery. At Tenebrae tonight we read from St. Augustine's treatise on the Psalms in which he writes about understanding the trials of the psalmist and joining the psalmist in those trials through prayer:"Let us now see under what evil he lies; and when he begins to speak, let us place ourselves beside him, that, by sharing his tribulation, we may also join in his prayer." That really reminded me of this hymn; the last line of each verse focuses on something we can learn from Christ in the experience of Holy Week.
Go to dark Gethsemane,
ye that feel the tempter's power;
your Redeemer's conflict see,
watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away;
learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
When Christ went to pray, he told Peter, James, and John also to watch and pray that they would "not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41) The disciples fell asleep time after time, but Jesus prayed and grieved through the weakness of the flesh. Christ did not sin, but he was tempted as one of us. One of the readings from the Letter to the Hebrews tonight emphasized this: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)
When we refer in our liturgy to Jesus teaching us to pray, we generally mean the Lord's prayer, but in this moment too, in the garden, Christ teaches us to pray, to lay our weakness before God and pray that God's will be done.
See him at the judgment hall,
beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall!
O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss;
learn of Christ to bear the cross.
When we read and sing the Psalms, we speak words of incredible suffering and shame, of crying out to God for help, calling God to not abandon us. When we walk the way of the cross we experience that suffering and shame, and we live those cries. Augustine wrote that God "has conquered the world, not by steel, but by wood. The wood of the cross seemed a fitting object of scorn to his enemies." By the cross, by this object of scorn and pain, we have all been drawn to Christ. The Gospel Lectionary reading from the second week of Lent was Jesus telling his followers to take up their crosses daily and follow him. We cannot turn away from Christ's suffering, and we cannot avoid suffering in our own lives. We can only follow the model of the One who has conquered the world.
Calvary's mournful mountain climb;
there, adoring at his feet,
mark that miracle of time,
God's own sacrifice complete.
"It is finished!" hear him cry;
learn of Jesus Christ to die.
Maundy Thursday is called "maundy" for the commandment Jesus gives: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:12-13) God sacrificed Godself for us. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast. Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God. We proclaim this in so many ways because it is key. The greatest commandment is love so great that it would lead us to die, and it is this love, love to the very end, love until it is finished, that we learn from Christ's death.
Early hasten to the tomb
where they laid his breathless clay;
all is solitude and gloom.
Who has taken him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes;
Savior, teach us so to rise.
Near the end of Tenebrae, the sixth candle is put out, and then the seventh candle is hidden. There is darkness. But that is not how the service ends. It ends with a single candle lit, a candle of hope, a candle showing us the way to the resurrection. Savior, teach us so to rise.