This is from my Maundy Thursday sermon last night, based on Mark 14:32-42.
I’ve been thinking about gardens a lot lately. Check out last week’s post Lying Fallow. But don’t get the impression I actually am a gardener. I’m a wannabe gardener. I have no idea what I’m doing, nor time to do it for that matter. But as I was learning about gardening, I went to a class at the library offered by the Cooperative Extension. I learned a lot, including how to treat the soil to prepare it for growing.
You see, if the soil isn’t ready, then the roots cannot grow deep. And without deep roots, a plant cannot draw from the water below the surface (which is much needed for summer survival), and it can be blown over easily in a storm. Deep roots hold a plant steady and provide it with nourishment.
As I was preparing my plot, I needed to break up the hard red clay found below the first few inches of loose earth. For that, we borrowed our neighbors’ tiller. The electric tiller made quick work of our little plot, and soon it was ready for planting. This breaking up of the earth has another name– harrowing.
Harrowing in the agricultural sense is to break up the packed down places to be ready for new planting. It is something that is needed in our own lives as well.
It’s no accident that Jesus goes to Gethsemane, a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives, to pray in his anguish. Jesus goes lots of places to pray- the desert, mountains, and just places by himself. But for this night, he goes to a garden, a place of new life and growth, to pray about his death.
It is a time of harrowing for Jesus when we see him at his most human. He prays in the garden for God to take the cup from him. But he doesn’t pray to a far-off unreachable God. He prays to Abba, Father, reminding us that in times of our own suffering God is close and present with us.
It is necessary for Jesus to go into the garden. He must experience the depths of pain and anguish before handing himself over to death. He doesn’t avoid it, or skirt around the garden. He journeys into it, and from his experience there gets what he needs to endure his coming trials.
Friends, we too must journey into the garden. We must be transformed by suffering, harrowed by it, so that the hard-packed places in our lives may be broken up. Tilled to let the roots of our faith grow even deeper. It is natural to want to avoid the garden, but we too much journey there. Reminded that though the garden is a place of great anguish, it is also a place that promises new life.
Many thanks to Dr. Bill Harkins, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary, for the imagery of harrowing.
To read more on transformative suffering: