Gethsemane’s Essential Oil

There’s something about tonight and tomorrow that has to be done. There are myriad ways of describing it, metaphors and meanings that the Bible and the church have used to explain what it is, but deep down the reality Jesus is wrestling with in the Garden of Gethsemane is this: there’s something that must be done, and he’s the only one who can do it.

He brings Peter, James, and John with him. He asks them to wait with him, to watch and to pray with him. They don’t.

He told them to keep awake, that what was coming would be like a thief in the night, but they can’t. They can’t even keep their eyes open. They are asleep, as good as dead to him. He is alone.

Mark makes sure to set the scene in a place called Gethsemane which means “oil press.” It names not just the Garden but also the grinding weight of the world pressing down on Jesus. In Luke the pressure is so great that Jesus sweats drops of blood. Like oil from an olive, even now Christ’s blood is being extracted.

He knows something has to be done. He prays that God would find somebody else to do it, that somehow this cup be passed from him, but deep down he knows he’s the only body God has left. Everybody else is asleep. He is the only one whose flesh and spirit are awake enough to do what has to be done.

In truth, he is what God is doing. He prays “Thy will be done,” but meanwhile he is “Thy will” being done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Of this scene in the gospels Flemming Rutledge writes, “There is a sense in which the Gethsemane scene is the opening episode of Christ’s passion, and therefore the beginning of the first day of the age to come.”

This pressing down of Gethsemane, it’s not for nothing. It’s not just for suffering. Something is happening here. Something is being produced for us and for our salvation.

Isaiah named it first, “his wounds are for our transgressions.” His being “crushed” like an olive is “for our iniquities.” And in the end, by the grace of God, “By his wounds” we shall be healed.

He is doing what has to be done.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that one of the things the church has historically offered both at the baptism of infants and and the bedside of the dying is annointing with oil. “Chrismation” they call it, from the Greek charis for “grace.”

What has begun tonight, what Christ has begun to endure on our behalf, it’s not for nothing. It is the miraculous extraction of grace from the crushing weight of our sin. What issues forth from him in the Garden proves to be the essential oil: pure grace, whose fragrance alone has the power to wake them that sleep, and raise the dead.

Knowing this, he rises up from prayer resolved to do, for you, for me, for all flesh, what must be done.

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