Under Pressure

Published 26th March 2024 by Aike Kennett-Brown

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Mark 14:32-35 (NIV).

The events of Holy Week are like an epic movie that takes you through all the emotions. The disciples must have been euphoric as they witnessed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds welcoming Jesus as a king, spreading their cloaks and branches on the road, shouting, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ and ‘Hosanna in the highest’ (Mark 11:9-11). The following day we see Jesus’ righteous anger overflow, as he overturns the tables of the money changers, and clears the temple area of those selling merch, who in turn must have been pretty angry as Passover week was probably a ‘best seller’ for doves. Onlookers may have felt bewildered, as Jesus is not behaving in a way that yesterday’s crowd expected.

Jesus continues to teach in the Temple, however his messages of love for God and love of neighbour are interlaced with more ominous parables predicting his death, and apocalyptic end times. He does not succumb to the flattery of the Pharisees, as they try to outwit him with religious questions, but instead issues warning against the teachers of the law. His popularity is dropping rapidly, not just amongst the religious leaders, but also amongst his own disciples. I wonder what emotions were going through Judas Iscariot’s mind as he watched a woman pour a very expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ head, as he reclined at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, in Bethany? Perhaps, shock, jealousy, indignation at the loss of earnings from the potential sale of this perfume, or bitter disappointment that Jesus was not the sort of Messiah he was expecting? Luke’s gospel describes how, ‘Satan entered Judas…[who] went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.’ Luke 22:3-4 (NIV).

Judas’ betrayal is not the only one over the course of this week. At the last supper, Jesus predicts that even one of his closest three companions, Peter, before the cock crows twice, ‘will disown me three times.’ (Mark 14:30). Peter, undoubtedly deeply wounded by this accusation, is emphatic that this will never happen, and declares he is willing to die with Jesus. As the emotions, and drama builds, we get to the nighttime scene where Jesus and his disciples go to the Mount of Olives, and enter a place called Gethsemane, so that Jesus can pray.

I learnt on my trip to the Holy Lands last summer, that Gethsemane means olive press, and that in the first century, a ‘garden’ was an agricultural garden, and not an ornamental one. It would therefore make perfect sense to find an olive press on the Mount of Olives. We also visited a reconstructed olive press on a tour of ‘Nazareth Village’, an open-air museum in Nazareth that reconstructs and reenacts village life in the Galilee in the time of Jesus. It was here that I learnt that olives are pressed three times. The oil from the first pressing was sent to the temple, the oil from the second pressing was used for food and the oil from the third and final pressing was used as oil for lamps. Our guide pointed out the symbolism that Jesus was pressed three times when praying in Gethsemane.

Today, there are wizened old olive trees preserved in an ornamental garden of Gethsemane, and the Church of All Nations is built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have wept tears of blood, as he wrestled in prayer with God about what lay ahead for him. Jesus implored his disciples to stay awake, however, overcome by fatigue, they fall asleep, unaware of the unfolding drama, whilst Jesus knew the enormity of the next few hours. As I sat admiring the beauty of the church, designed to resemble the night, with mosaics of olive trees and star-studded night sky covering the ceiling, lit by the sun streaming through purple stained-glass windows, I wondered if I would have had the stamina to have stayed awake and prayed alongside Jesus, under pressure from all sides? I suspect, like the disciples, my ‘spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’ (Mark 14:38 NIV)

As we enter Holy Week, I wonder..?

What are the things that you are wrestling with God about in prayer?

Is there someone who is under pressure, that you can you offer to pray alongside?

If you are feeling pressed on all sides, or perhaps abandoned by volunteers or colleagues in your Messy Church ministry, remember that support is on hand. Our prayer team would love to pray for your situation and our ‘Alongsiders’ team are available to talk through any issues, please get in touch.

Aike Kennett-Brown

BRF ministries Messy Church Ministry Lead

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