John 18, 1-9
Something to read
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.
So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’
They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.
When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’
New Revised Standard Version
Something to think about
Olive trees stand in Gethsemane today, with thick, gnarled trunks and wrinkled bark. Could they have witnessed the events of that fateful night, and waited silent through the years, to fix the memory and to help Christians remember the place? Probably not. These trees are very old indeed, but not quite as old as that.
But we do know pretty well where the place was. Above the Kidron valley, the western slope of the Mount of Olives is heavy with bushes, shrubs and small trees. Jesus and his friends had often lingered there, and found refuge and retreat in the garden.
They had rested in the shade, paused on the way back to Bethany, drawn breath and gained perspective when Jerusalem was hectic and fretful.
Tonight, however, their mood was tense and strained. And up above the trees, the hill turned to rough pasture. Then beyond the summit was empty desert – miles of wilderness. A resourceful person could melt away and leave danger behind.
As the lanterns crossed the valley, Jesus could have slipped out of the garden. He could have escaped the city. He had a chance to flee, and room to hide.
Yet Jesus stays calm. He contains his fears, and controls the situation. He acts out the role of a shepherd, stepping towards the danger, and guarding the friends who have trusted themselves to him. He must know that this courage will take him into the hands of his enemies, and on to the cross.
But as the torches come near, Jesus is guided by a very different light, of destiny and of duty.
Something to do
Remember when you have had to take difficult decisions, for the sake of duty, or to protect other people. Is there anyone facing a difficult decision today, who would welcome your encouragement, support, friendship or prayers?
Something to pray
At points of pressure, may God give power;
in the face of fears, may Christ nurture faith;
on days of decision, may the Spirit direct.
For the sake of Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Revd John Proctor is general secretary of the United Reformed Church.