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The Purpose of Gethsemane

From the April 1968 issue of The Christian Science Journal

When Christ Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane, he was accompanied by Peter, James, and John, three of his most trusted and loved disciples. But at a certain point he left them, and the Gospel of Matthew records that he himself "went a little further." Matt. 26:39; And so he did, for he traversed the infinite distance between the mortal and the divine, wherein he reached the highest point of earthly experience, that is, self-surrender or willingness to bring human will into absolute submission to the divine purposes. The disciples could not, at this time, have followed him, although later each of them undoubtedly had his own experience in subduing the mortal element in order that he might realize the spiritual.

The name Gethsemane has an awesome, majestic, lonely connotation for popular thought, and the common tendency is to turn away from any path which might lead toward the experience connected with it. The word itself has the original meaning of "an oil press," a machine in which olive berries are gently but firmly pressed in order to obtain the oil so valuable to the commerce of both the ancient and modern day. Regarded in the light of this definition, the familiar name assumes wider dimensions and fresher meaning.

Gethsemane impels one to yield up long-cherished desires and to submit to the divine will—whereupon all that is rich and precious in consciousness comes forth to hallow existence and glorify its purposes. This may begin as a disciplinary process, against which all that is personal and mortal in thought rebels, for human sense is prone to cling to false estimates of happiness, reluctant to yield them up, and resistant to any experience that challenges deeply entrenched ambitions or habits.

Gethsemane demands first a willingness to subjugate human will to the divine purposes—a necessary experience, though perhaps harsh to pride, self-love, self-importance, and so on—the preliminary to the final step of ascension, wherein the husk of fleshly beliefs is relinquished. Even Christ Jesus drew back momentarily from the demand for absolute self-subordination and prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Not on the cross, but in the Garden of Gethsemane was the Master prepared for victory over mortality; and the completeness of this preparation is revealed in his words immediately following his struggle, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

From the depths and heights of her own trying experiences, Mrs. Eddy writes in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health, "While we adore Jesus, and the heart overflows with gratitude for what he did for mortals,—treading alone his loving pathway up to the throne of glory, in speechless agony exploring the way for us, —yet Jesus spares us not one individual experience, if we follow his commands faithfully; and all have the cup of sorrowful effort to drink in proportion to their demonstration of his love, till all are redeemed through divine Love." Science and Health, p. 26;

Those who are endeavoring to follow the Christly path will not be surprised or rebellious when it leads into Gethsemane, for they know they may not be spared this hallowing experience, as Mrs. Eddy indicates. Love's redemptive ministrations follow the demonstration of unselfed dedication to good, love that forgives all wrongs, tenderness that embraces the world in its healing balm, and humility that is content with divine approval. Then the individual will emerge from the exalting ordeal cleansed and strengthened to deal with whatever lies ahead.

But if bitterness, harshness, depression, or resentment is held in thought, the individual will not be ready for the Gethsemane experience and its blessings but will continue with motives and nature as selfish as before.

Christ Jesus was the Way-shower for all mankind; he brought the Christ-love to bear in every circumstance in which he found himself. And the Garden of Gethsemane was no exception. Indeed, it might be termed the culmination of love, in which willingness to surrender even the worthiest of human desires was tested and found sincere. This complete self-immolation then received the comfort and inspiration of Love, for the Bible attests, "There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him." Luke 22:43;

Christian Science teaches that the strengthening, uplifting angels of God's presence are available in every Gethsemane experience. In what might appear to be the loneliest, most agonizing occasion of grief or disappointment, if one is ready to yield up the human for the divine, the reassuring messengers of spiritual inspiration will bring release from heaviness and strengthen one to go forth and face the days ahead with confidence in the supremacy of good. Dawning realization of the falsity of matter's claims to intelligence, substance, or reality transforms gloom into glory—into the transcendent consciousness of God's allness and onliness, and of man's dearness to Him as His beloved child.

A Christian Scientist found himself grievously disappointed in a friend of many years' standing. The evidence of faithlessness appeared beyond question, and for a while he felt great bitterness and personal condemnation. One day, having a deep desire to regain his peace and inspiration, he turned to Science and Health and opened it to the definition of "Gethsemane" in the Glossary: "Patient woe; the human yielding to the divine; love meeting no response, but still remaining love." Science and Health, p. 586;

Prayerfully considering this passage, he became aware of its direct applicability to his own problem. Here, although assuredly in lesser degree than the Master's, was a Gethsemane experience. He was being called upon to yield up a mortal evaluation of right and wrong, a personal concept of man as faithful or faithless. He was being forced to exchange the human, fluctuant sense of love for the understanding of Love as God—changeless, impartial, and unceasing. In wordless prayer he turned to God, asking for the strength to maintain in himself that Christly love which demanded no response from any human being; he prayed that his eyes be opened to the reality of good and the power of Love to transform his view of all mankind; most of all, perhaps, he prayed for the willingness to accept this painful experience as a prelude to glorious revelations of Love's purpose to resurrect him from all materiality, from the belief in evil as having identity or power.

When he came to this conclusion, it was only a matter of hours until this man reestablished contact with his friend and the previous harmonious relationship was reassumed. But, more importantly, he himself had gained a victory over false, personal reactions and had demonstrated the Christ-power to maintain the Science of divine Love, which overcomes all obstacles.

The crowning triumph of Christ Jesus' night in Gethsemane is described in Science and Health in these words: "During his night of gloom and glory in the garden, Jesus realized the utter error of a belief in any possible material intelligence." pp. 47, 48.

This, then, is the triumphant purpose of Gethsemane! The realization of intelligence as wholly spiritual is gained through unselfed communion with the source of all wisdom, God. The hours during which we find ourselves mentally on our knees, seeking strength from the divine fountain-head of all power, are productive of great vigor. The apparently starless night, utilized for prayer, can ultimate only in the glorious dawn of spiritual dominion. The angels of divine inspiration are circling above us, awaiting only our readiness to accept their ministrations.

Gethsemane is not a place of defeat but of transformation, wherein all that is rich and holy in consciousness comes forth to anoint and enrich existence with the exalted awareness of the power of good over evil, love over hatred, and life over death.

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