After the Last Supper, Christ and his disciples travel to Gethsemane, where Christ tells his disciples to wait while he goes to pray in solitude, asking only that Peter, James, and John accompany him. We know this moment well. It’s the moment where the whole weight of the world and sin seems to be crushing down on Jesus, where he is so overcome that he begins sweating blood and he asks the Father to take the cup away from him, if it be the Father’s will to do so.
But the reason for Christ’s torment in this moment is important. We could say simply that the stress of his life became too much—that the people rejecting his teaching, the Pharisees (and now the Sadducees as well) relentlessly moving against him, even his own disciples not understanding him simply became overwhelming. In that moment of intense stress, he broke down. He collapses, and begins to sweat blood (which we know is a medical condition associated with physical or emotional stress). But to attribute Christ’s pain in this moment as pure psychology is “folly,” as Guardini puts it. It misses the essential reality of who Jesus is—the Son of the living God, become man.
It’s not his rejection by others that so affects him in this moment, or even the lack of understanding by his followers. It is sin itself. Christ, perfectly pure without any stain of sin on his soul and at the same time God from all eternity, feels the tremendous emptiness and isolation of sin more acutely than we ever could. In perfect unity with the Father, perfectly holy, nobody but the Light could ever grasp the utter blackness and void of sin more fully. He looks upon the world and sees this darkness everywhere, affecting everything and everyone, consuming the world that retreats from the Light. In his perfect knowledge and love, he is immensely pained by it. Not even his impending death is the cause here, as he accepts it willingly as the Father’s will. No, it’s the weight of sin that is his to bear.
This is perhaps best understood when we realize Christ would have felt this even if he had been accepted by the people. Even if the Kingdom of God were to arrive as it ought to, by command and acceptance, Christ still would have felt that isolation. Man’s sin was so great that Christ did die at our hand, but even if he hadn’t that weight would still be felt.
It’s a very convicting thing to think about. We are so used to our sin we barely think about it. We sin all the time and just accept it as the way things are. Perhaps we pray or go to confession later, but I would wager for the vast majority of us we do not do so nearly as often as we should. Sin doesn’t seem to bother us. It’s just a fact of life. We live in sin, and yet we don’t have the slightest clue about it, and what it does to us.
Yet here is Jesus, collapsed in Gethsemane, so overcome by his love for the world and his simultaneous knowledge of the depths of win within it, our sin, that he begins to sweat blood. If only we had even a tiny taste of the sense of sin that Christ had, we would understand better. Perhaps then we would take sin seriously. It’s not enough to pray only that my sins are forgiven, both those I am aware of and those I am not. We must also pray that our spiritual sensibilities be transformed by God such that we can recognize sin for what it truly is. Perhaps then we would understand.
Every day of Lent, I am writing a reflection piece on two chapters of "The Lord" by Romano Guardini. If you'd like to read or follow along, you can find the full calendar of where we're at below, or Click Here for the main landing page.