Garden of Gethsemane (Photo Credit: Dr Mark Tronson)
So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis chapter 3 verses 23-24
Adam and Eve driven out of Eden with a sword-wielding angel behind them, guarding the way back, is a painful picture of humanity locked out of the connection with God they were created for.
It is also a picture of an intrinsic fear to religion I’m familiar with: that I will make some mistake and be shut out.
Of course I know this isn’t true. In fact, I think most Christians would agree that this fear of mine has no business with the Gospel on this side of the cross.
But even though I know this idea of mine to be untrue, I live like it is sometimes. And I don’t think I’m alone in doing so. Not only are we vigilant in identifying failures in ourselves that would see us exiled from this Garden we call Christianity, we are quick to look for things disqualifying other people.
Why do we do this? Maybe because it’s terrifying to consider that our own acceptance is entirely reliant on the love God professes to have for us. While unconditional love sounds wonderful, it’s also terrifying to have so little control. So we dress up our religion in steeples and Sundays, and a dozen other little, controllable ways to identify ourselves as “in”, like a safety net we can hold in our own hands in case God’s love is more conditional than he’s said.
And maybe this seems to work for a while. We feel safe - we are doing our part and surely God must keep us in the Garden. But what about when “outsiders” approach? How do we react when that celebrity (or neighbor) who uses language and wears clothes we don’t like makes some kind of claim to faith? Or when a stranger on the internet questions the validity of our faith altogether?
Jesus was arrested late at night in a Garden called Gethsemane. Religious leaders had ordered the arrest, threatened by the popularity Jesus’ message of acceptance had brought him. They plotted a midnight farce of a trial and an execution the following day.
Jesus’ friends had been aware of trouble brewing for a while, and in preparation had gone out and bought swords for themselves to defend him. When the arrest began, they resisted and one man called Peter managed to injure an approaching guard.
But Jesus reprimanded Peter. In fact, not only did he tell Peter and the others to put their swords away, he healed the man injured in his defense.
Here was a man in the very act of taking God to his execution, and Jesus defended and healed him.
Like Jesus’ friends so long ago, maybe the approach of outsiders to our Garden and our God can seem threatening. Not only do they threaten our sense of control over our own relationship with God, maybe we even fear they are approaching for all the wrong reasons, or to do harm, and it is up to us to defend our faith.
But of course this is nonsense.
Because the arrest in the Garden that night was in fact a crucial piece in God’s plan to bring Adam and Eve, and all of us who have come after them, back home into the Garden with him. It was Peter, not the guard he injured, who was getting in the way.
Jesus needed no defending then in Gethsemane, and he needs no defending now. He is the Defender. The Redeemer. The one who is the open Garden gate.
And haven’t we all been the man at the other end of Peter’s sword too, crashing into the Garden for all the wrong reasons, and finding ourselves confronted by unyielding love and healed in spite of ourselves? How can we possibly deny the same to other people?
Our swords will not do us any good anyway. Jesus’ friends, in spite of their apparent passion in arming themselves against his arresters, quickly abandoned him in fear. Peter in particular almost immediately betrayed Jesus profoundly. Because it is not those who defend God who love him best.
In fact, if we think we must defend God or defend his love for us, maybe we don’t really know him at all.
Instead it is those who trust in him to defend and love them with the strength and the relentlessness he’s promised who can stand with confidence in the Garden beside him.
Because this is the way of the new Garden, the Kingdom of God, the place of the Tree of Life. Jesus has ordered the swords of both angels and friends away and thrown open the door. He stands in the Garden to meet us and make us whole again, and once inside, he asks only that we stand beside him and do the same.
When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.
Luke chapter 22 verses 49-51
Christina Jones is a Press Service International young writer from the USA.