Talk Two: The Garden of Gethesmane (Holy Tuesday)
It is easy to romanticise the garden as a place of innocence, of peace. This evening finds us in our next garden, where all is chaotic, and betrayal is in the air, taking us to the very depth of fallenness from grace. Jesus has withdrawn here, to the garden of Gethsemane. We hear him as he prays those words from Lamentations, so familiar to him:
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; For a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage.
It is all the more shocking that the violence begins in this place of retreat, as Judas comes, accompanied by the crowd, with swords and clubs, and kisses his friend. Jesus is deserted, and the passion begins.
Last evening I mentioned Professor Jem Bendell’s work, anticipating climate tragedy. How now we must face into the real possibility – indeed, likelihood – of climate-induced societal collapse, with long-term repercussions for life as we know it. Some scientists argue that we are in the end game: that Inevitable Near Term Human Extinction is going to happen. Whether we choose to believe or not is up to us: for me, the impacts already cause enough concern for me to lose sleep at night; to live with anxiety levels that are deeply uncomfortable. No longer can I bury my head in the sand. I feel the need to face into my fear, and work out, as best I can, how my Christian faith can resource us to face what is on the horizon, indeed already here. To be in the garden of Gethesmane, awake with insomnia, as Jesus prays for a comforter to be near, one to revive his courage, is where I need to be.
For the anxiety is real; the atmosphere is tense. This garden is not one of peace and plenty; of innocence and romance. I recall the servant in Shakespeare’s Richard II, who grumbles about the state of the nation, as the queen listens in:
our sea-walled garden, the whole land, is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up, her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges ruin’d, her knots disorder’d, and her wholesome herbs swarming with caterpillars? (Act III, scene IV)
A lament for order and stewardship lost; for care and nurture that is no more, recalling humanity’s devastation of the fragile earth.
To be in the garden of Gethesmane is to know our fall from the grace of the garden of Eden. It is to enter the saeculum, the in-between time; to be banished to live disordered by thoughts and feelings that are hard to bear. Nationally, internationally, it’s an anxious time to be alive; with all we are and hope to be clouded by threat. Our knowledge now of good and evil is to take responsibility for the garden of creation – this fragile earth – as it faces the most extreme degradation, with the story of its future a bleak one, as we watch, seemingly helpless, as the environment copes with the accelerating impact of climate change.
The Paris COP21 Agreement of 2015 saw 195 countries adopt the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The agreement set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. It all seemed so hopeful at the time. But where is the political action? It’s not surprising that people are marching and campaigning in London and major cities around the world. This is so much more important than Brexit. There’s no avoiding how global warming is melting the ice caps – and not just polar ice, but also vast regions of tundra, releasing dangerous methane into the atmosphere. How the sea becomes more acidic, and polluted. We see the major extinction of species, increased use of pesticides and herbicides in modern agricultural systems. Pollution, particularly plastic, is a real problem in the oceans, rivers, air and land, caused by personal, industrial and chemical wastes and residues. Soil erosion and desertification mean increasing shortages of drinkable water and other natural resources and ‘commons’. Extreme and disrupted weather threatens crop production.
It’s enough to make us all extremely anxious when we think of how the environment is under threat as never before. Instead of moving towards greater global co-operation on issues that require global solutions – on the environment, on security, on poverty –everything becomes more tribal, with nationalism and regionalism on the increase. The best global leadership in recent years has been offered by the Pope in his encyclical Laudato Si of May 2015. But otherwise the nations of the world retreat from international co-operation into silo mentalities. It’s hard not to be completely over-anxious and scared about the future of the planet, this blue planet that is God’s greatest gift of creation.
T S Eliot, wrote The Wasteland in the early 1920s. With images of the trenches and No Man’s Land in mind, he penned one of the greatest epic poems of the 20th Century. The Waste Land is disjointed in structure, as Eliot jumps from one voice or image to another without clear explanation, creating a world of confused voices, from a range of foreign languages, perhaps recalling the story of the Tower of Babel.
Professor Jem Bendell advocates a deep adaptation agenda to enable us to face the reality of a heap of broken images – the future – with hope. He commends Resilience – the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances with valued norms and behaviours. Relinquishment – where people and communities let go of assets, behaviours and beliefs that are not helpful; and Restoration, which is the rediscovery of approaches to live and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation has eroded. So we must actively re-wild landscapes; change our diets back to match the seasons; rediscover non-electronically powered forms of play, and increase our engagement in our local communities. How do we keep what we really want to keep? What do we need to let go of in order not to make matters worse? What can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies? His deep adaptation agenda.
TS Eliot said that humanity cannot bear very much reality. We face unprecedented challenges wherever we look – whether it is in our own lives; the Church of England today, and the rate of decline; the state of our national life, with its deep divisions; the future of the planet, and the Waste Land it looks like becoming.
Perhaps like me, you find yourself saying over and over again Christe Eleison, Lord, have mercy. For our prayer life is crucial as people of faith. We live in the world, surrounded by broken images, broken lives. We bear in our bodies the scars of our own lives, and we bear for others a little of the pain they feel. We hold the anxiety of the world, as much as we can – and through it all, we offer a reminder of God’s grace. We hold out a glimpse of God’s goodness and active grace in the world around.
To find ourselves in the Garden of Gethesmane is to remind ourselves of loss and betrayal; of what it is like to have little hope; to be alone and facing the utter wasteland of death and destruction. It is to return to the deep knowledge of God and know that we are not in control, as Jesus relinquished control over his life into the power of violence. It is to go with him to the Cross, and not know what lies ahead. Only faith, love and hope sustained him in the God who makes all things new.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
As we wait and pray with Christ in the Garden of Gethesmane, so we take the whole world into our heart and mind, placing the wastelands of this world in the heart and mind of Christ, to be taken through the days that lie ahead, and onto that most awful place of death and destruction, the Cross.