“Now my soul is troubled. Father, save me from this hour!” Do these words recall similar passages from scripture? These words of John’s Gospel resemble the Agony in the Garden of Matthew, Mark and Luke. “My soul is sorrowful even to the point of death” (Mark 14: 34). Also, our second reading today (Hebrews) reads: “During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had power to save him out of death …” Jesus knew distress of mind and soul, worry and agony, as do we.
Why does today’s liturgy focus on the theme of agony? The grain of wheat must die before it yields a rich harvest. The man who loves his life must hate his life in this world in order to enter into eternal life. Jesus’ agony is a powerful Holy Week theme.
Why do I focus on Jesus’ agony? Distress of mind and soul, worry and agony loom large in pastoral practice. Crucifixion, thankfully, is not regularly encountered. Agony is met in various forms. We speak of an experience being sheer agony. We talk of agonising moments; of agony and ecstasy. Some newspapers offer agony aunts. Christ’s death on the cross is, of course, at the centre of our salvation. However, the agony in the garden, as an experience, is perhaps something we more easily understand and therefore share with Christ.
Uniting ourselves, imaginatively, in our moments of distress with Christ’s agony in the garden may assuage our suffering. Repeating slowly “Now my soul is troubled …” the words of Christ our Saviour may help our troubles somehow mature and yield a rich harvest.
In Mark, sorrowful and fearful of the cup he must drink, Jesus prays his way to a deep sense of obedience to the Father’s will. Today in John Christ ends with a wonderful phrase from the depths of his hour of suffering “Father, glorify your name”.
Ian Tomlinson SJ