Yesterday I talked about how the sweat like drops of blood that Jesus experienced in the Garden was the result of severe, as in "over the top" anxiety and panic and how that is at odds with our usual view of Jesus' facing his impending death with serene calm and trust.
I was thinking about how one might rewrite the Garden story to reflect that and how different the image of Jesus would be.
So imagine with me that the Passover Supper has just ended. The disciples are full of roasted lamb and vegetables and wine. They are satiated and sleepy. Jesus, however, is growing more and more anxious. His heart is beginning to race, the muscles in his temples are tensing and he feels a clutching wrench in his stomach. However, he masks all these sensations and does his best to appear normal, calm, even cheerful. But his anxiety is growing. Try as he may, he knows that each minute is bringing him closer and closer to his fate. The images flood his brain and he licks his lips. They are parched and dry. He takes a deep breath and sighs. The disciples don't notice anything. They are too content to notice that panic is overtaking Jesus.
He suggests to the disciples that they go to the Garden because he wants to pray. They are happy to accompany him. Jesus often goes away to pray and besides, the Garden is a good place for a nap on a pleasant spring night.
Once there, the disciples blink to stay awake and Jesus withdraws. Before he does, he tells them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” In the middle of a panic attack, one both wants company and wants to be alone, so Jesus both wants to get away from his friends, but wants them near at the same time. He is now entering into a zone of complete terror.
It's all he can do to keep his breathing steady. The muscles in his jaws are tightening and he feels a crushing pressure in his chest. His mind races. His entire nervous system is flooded with adrenalin and his heart begins to pound visibly. He swallows hard, willing himself to calm down, but the autonomic nervous system takes over. He writhes inside with anxiety and fear. His mind races. He can almost feel the nails in his hands and feet and the thought makes him nearly dizzy with fear. It's all he can do to kneel down and beg the Father, "Please, please." His knees give out and he falls on his face, crying out, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." The last words are wrenched from a throat that is constricted. For a moment, Jesus thinks that he might actually die right there, in the Garden.
But the intensity of the panic attack ebbs and he manages to get to his feet. By now he's not thinking clearly. In fact, he's not thinking at all. He gasps for air, steadies himself against a tree and goes back to his friends. They have fallen asleep. Disappointed and fearful, he asks, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” Couldn't they see what he was going through? he wonders. Couldn't they see how much he needed them to be with him.
He turns to Peter and says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Peter thinks Jesus is reprimanding him for falling asleep, but Jesus is talking about himself. His spirit is willing to go through with what is coming, but his body is not. His body has a mind of its own and it is in full-on panic mode. The waves of fear start up again, washing over and over him until he thinks he either must go crazy or die. He runs his hands over his face, bites his lips, presses his fists into his chest. He falls on the ground, nearly writhing with the mental anguish. The words come in ragged bits. He wants to be willing, but he is terrified, utterly and completely terrified of what is to come. “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
Jesus feels dizzy, absolutely wild inside. He wants to run, to scream, to die. He breaks out in a cold sweat, shaking from the sudden chill. In that moment, the anguish is so great that small blood vessels begin to break all over his body. He is covered with blood. He looks at the drops falling on the ground in horror. He tries to pray, but his mind is so contorted with agony all he can do it cry in anguish, "Please Father. Please."
The first blood of the Passion has been shed.