Day 29 (Monday) - Matthew 26:36-46

Artwork by Ben Ober

Artwork by Ben Ober

"Love is not a victory march; 

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah..."

- Leonard Cohen

My name, Brynn, means “Brave and Strong.” At least that’s what my parents told me.  The only actual, official etymology I’ve been able to find for it is hill or mountain in old Welsh, but that doesn’t really matter much. To me, Brynn means Brave and Strong and regardless of the Welsh, I like to think that Brave and Strong is what my parents always wanted me to be.

Brave and Strong is what I’ve always wanted me to be, even if it’s taking some growing into, like a little girl trying on her big sister’s clothes.  But I believe that when I’m my very best self one day, when I’m the person that God intends me to be, Brave and Strong will finally fit. 

Still.

Since we’re being honest.

In the meantime. 

There are those moments when the world gets to me, when I’m feeling defeated or depleted or heart-broken, when all I can do is crumple up in a heap and declare that the world has conquered me.  And in those moments, I feel anything but Brave and Strong. 

Jesus, like always, can relate.  Because it’s in the midst of a moment like those that we find him here, a man so Brave and so Strong that he could take on all the consequences of all the sins of all the world - and win - crying out before God in Gethsemane, lamenting like the Psalmist, pleading out of the fullness of his humanity,

“My soul is overwhelmed...”

I remember meeting with my spiritual director, Sue, awhile ago at a time in my life when I was hurting and confused.  I remember trying to explain myself but my tongue was tied, my brain hazy, everything in me seemed or sounded like a jumbled mess.  Christians are supposed to say just pretty things, I thought, to stuff our fear behind blind faith, to white-wash our worries behind Christianese, to keep our heads down and our questions tucked away where God would be safe from seeing our truth.  And as I clung to that belief, I found myself trapped, tongue-tied before God, not having much left to say.

Sue sat with me in my silence.

“When you’re being honest,” she asked after awhile, “what do you want to pray?” 

I froze.  “It...isn’t pretty,” was all I could say, my head down. 

“Then pray that,” she said.  “God can handle it.”  And I looked up and lamented like the Psalmist.

I can’t imagine exactly what Jesus must have felt in that moment, but I do know that he went where I do when I’m afraid - to his friends.  He draws his friends close.  He tells his disciples to wait and watch, but he brings Peter, James, and John, the three with whom he has developed his closest bonds, to see his struggle up-close.  Even Jesus needed his friends when he was hurting.

And then he prays.  The hymn the disciples pray in v. 30, just before coming to Gethsemane would have been from a particular collection of Psalms, 113-118, called the Hallel.  Read Psalm 116 if you can, and imagine Jesus singing these words as he goes up to the garden where he will be betrayed.  It was, as Leonard Cohen would say, a cold and broken Hallelujah.  Because here, Jesus becomes the Psalmist, lifting the “cup of salvation," the Passover promise, the cup he once asked the disciples if they could drink.  And they couldn’t.

In his prayer, Jesus is honest about his suffering, about his fear, speaking his heart to the only One who can truly understand.  And so when we find ourselves struggling under the weight of the world, we will find that Jesus has been there too.  When we don’t feel Brave, when we don’t feel Strong, he didn’t always either. When obedience is hard, sometimes it was hard for him, too.  When our prayers aren’t pretty, his weren’t always either.

And yet he chose to lean on the Father who had never let him down and never would.  He was honest when he questioned what was coming next, moved forward when all other options were depleted, trusted even when there seemed every reason not to. 

It is only a false Christ who enters this scene unafraid.  A false Christ would have been self-confident, a hailed and conquering hero who could charge into any precarious situation unruffled, unanxious, unafraid.  A false Christ would have acted confidently or avoided the cross altogether, but the true Christ, the one who really knows what’s about to happen, who anticipates what it means to die under the weight of every sin ever, who has seen what no eye has seen and heard what no ear has heard, who knows the intimate and perfect unity that comes from knowing God and what it will feel like to be forsaken, even for a blip in time, will be scared to death.

C.S. Lewis wrote from the perspective of the devil, or at least what he thought it might be, in his classic, Screwtape Letters:

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

If it were me, I imagine I might be tempted to race back to the devil in the desert and see if All the Kingdoms of All the World were still available.  I wouldn’t have to die for those kingdoms if I wanted them, not like this anyway.  

But Jesus stays the course.  He still obeys.

And in the midst of fear and grief, Jesus hangs onto the promises from his Father, submitting himself to the will he knows must win in the end and trusting that the intimate relationship he’s known with God can withstand the weight of the cross.  Jesus does what he knows he must, even as his heart is beating and his hands are shaking. 

This is not cowardice or weakness that Jesus displays in Gethsemane.  It is the embodiment of Brave and Strong.

Next, he will petition his disciples to pray so that they will not fall into temptation, knowing that left to their own devices, they will be too weak to soldier on.  And in the end, he knows it must be this way; he has agreed to it from the beginning of time.

In these final moments, the Lord Jesus is submitting himself to the Lord’s Prayer before their very eyes with every movement toward the cross.

Our Father, who is in heaven,

Holy is your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

My Father...not as I will but as you will...

Give us this day our daily bread,

This is my body, which is broken for you...

And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for

many for the forgiveness of sins.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.

For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Amen.

Pastor Brynn Harrington

Consider:

What do you do when you are feeling overwhelmed and afraid? Do you run and hide? Draw friends in for support? Lash out at those around you? When you are feeling neither Brave nor Strong, but instead feeling afraid or expendable, what do you do? What do you believe?

Pray:

Today, pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, the Lord’s prayer.

Embody:

If you are able, spend your prayer time in the posture that Jesus did. Spend some time in prayer literally on your hands and knees. Feel the floor under you.  Notice the joints that ache after a little while.  This is a posture of submission. Of deference. Of dependence. What do you notice happening in you as you pray from this position?

Pastor Aaron Engler

Listen:

My favorite song is a melding of the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 62. I think its overall message compliments the themes that Brynn has highlighted for us today. Check it out and be blessed!

Matt Modaff

 


Endnotes: 

  1. Heb. 4:15. 

  2. Ps. 119.20.

  3. For those who are curious about the etymology of my name - my mom followed up with this: Brynn is Welsh for hill or mound and sometimes that is extended to mean grassy hill that never dies.  It is also associated with the boy’s name Brian.  Notice that it means both strong and hill and they show related names to include Brinn.  Other sites might say the meaning of Brian is brave and hill, and associate it with Brinn or Bryn, both meaning hill.  One of the reasons is that hills were used for hill-forts where Celts battled in ancient times.:

    Meaningnoble, strong, virtuous, hill

    Related NamesBrain, Bri, Brianna, Briano, Briant, Brien, Brinn, Brion, Brown, Bryan, Bryant, Bryce, Brye, Bryen, Bryent, Bryon, Ryan

    Then that is combined with Ellen (Brynn's middle name) which means bright shining light—a bright shining light on a hill.  Ellen is related to Helen (of Troy) and Eleanor.  Helen of Troy, of course, was a fierce female warrior, so...brave and strong, bright shining light.