Reflections on Faith, God & Isolation
A Lockdown Devotional for the start of a New Year:
Wednesday 20th January 2021: #18 Jesus: silence
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Matthew 26:39 “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”
We have seen Jesus alone voluntarily, spending time fasting and praying – and being tempted (see #16); we have seen him lose companions through desertion as people found his teaching too challenging (see #17); but here in Matthew 26 we observe him alone and isolated when he didn’t want to be. We see him yearning for that one voice that would bring him comfort, the voice that earlier had proclaimed to all who would listen that this was the Beloved Son of God (Matt.3:17; 17:5; John 12:28), but this time he was met with silence. At the moment when, above all, he did not want to face the future on his own, he found himself utterly alone.
At the moment when, above all, he did not want to face the future on his own, he found himself utterly alone.
As we move towards the end of these reflections we find that the experience of being alone was not limited to runaway con artists like Jacob, isolated through the consequences of his own scheming; nor the self-imposed isolation of depressed prophets like Elijah. Isolation was something experienced deeply by the incarnate Son, our Lord Jesus himself. And here is isolation at a whole new level. We know that in their isolation, God draws near to Jacob, and Elijah, and Moses, and Jeremiah. But what happens here?
The time until his death could now be counted in hours and in this chapter we see Jesus engaging first in some incremental social distancing. First the twelve, then the three, and then one- as he goes off by himself to pray; to pray those agonizing words that caused his blood to mix with his sweat: “Father, is there any other way”? Like Elijah on the mountain he encounters silence, but this time- it is a silence that doesn’t even have a voice – there’s no gentle whisper- just silence.
The agony of the garden was not primarily fear at the thought of the nails and the wood, but the existential fear of losing the comfort of his Father’s voice. This is what real isolation felt like. It was really 12 – 3 – 1 – 0. Nothing.
We know from the text that the disciples were hopeless; constantly falling asleep, no help or support whatsoever, and a few verses later this is made all the more final: verse 56, “then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” This may not have surprised Jesus but still I believe each desertion would have been a further stab to his heart. None however was as cutting as the isolation felt first in the garden and then encapsulated on the cross in the cry of dereliction “Eloi, Eloi lema sabachthani, – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
The agony of the garden was not primarily fear at the thought of the nails and the wood, but the existential fear of losing the comfort of his Father’s voice
Jacob got a blessing, Elijah got reassurance and a new task. Our Lord got silence from heaven. Yet Jacob and Elijah were undeserving in their dishonesty and self-obsession; Jesus was utterly deserving. Yet they received grace and mercy and blessing, while he received punishment and death. That is the great reversal – the wonder of the Gospel.
We are not alone, because He has gone to that place called ‘Alone’ for us: the place of silence, of abandonment, of utter ultimate isolation, so that we may never have to go there.
Wherever we are, however we are feeling today; however fearful, however dejected, however angry, God’s grace and mercy are there for us to reassure us and give us perspective. We are not alone. He will not forsake us.
Gethsemane, can I forget,
Or there thy conflict see;
Thine agony, and bloody sweat,
And not remember thee?
(James Montgomery ‘According to thy gracious word’)
Lord Jesus, remind us each day of your constant presence with us. Teach us again that you were made sin for us, so that our sin would no longer have a hold over us; that you died so that we might never die eternally, that you endured loneliness that we might never be alone.
Thank you, Lord, that though you prayed for an alternative, you knew there was no other way for sin to be conquered and for us to be bought back; and that you encountered silence from heaven in the garden so that we would always be able to hear the Father’s voice welcoming us into his kingdom. Speak to us today, we pray, and may we never forget that the door to heaven is always open to us, Amen.